Taking care of money

There are a lot of things I do wrong with money. I’ve been known to grab a few dollars from my emergency fund and occasionally overspend on my monthly budget. None of these things are horrible offenses but they also aren’t shining examples of my money prowess. However, my biggest money failure isn’t actually spending too much…it’s not spending enough.

I don’t spend money on myself. Honestly, it’s as simple as that. I love buying gifts, going on trips and even splurging on meals out with friends. But in the past few years, even those purchases have come with a side dish of guilt.

And the one thing you’ll never catch me buying is a treat for myself.

I wasn’t always like this though. Before my financial world crashed around me, I was much better at self-care. I would treat myself to a few massages a year, buy the occasional latte (just because) and never sweat a fun outing that I really wanted to do.

I’ve been working since I was 16 and I always had money in my savings account. I never had a problem with blowing my money, but I also didn’t have a problem with spending some of it either. I occupied the elusive ~middle ground~ and it was nice.

When I was unexpectedly cut off at the age of 20, everything changed. I had two choices: drop out of college halfway through or figure it out. I figured it out, but it came at the expense of my mental health.

There were so many different heartaches involved in my final two years of college, but the main one was fear. It was the first time in my life that there was no safety net. If I missed a rent payment or tuition check, then I had to figure it out…alone.

At the time, Alex was living across the world in London, my mom was living across the country in Oklahoma and my best friends were living in various cities across the state. With my support system spread out across the world, I felt as if I was physically alone too.

In order to make it through my first year supporting myself, I had to suppress my emotions. If I had felt all of the pain, loneliness and financial stress that accompanied that year, I would have imploded.

I slashed my budget to the absolute bare minimum and learned to live on peanut butter and pasta. My goal was survival and self-care was a luxury I couldn’t afford.

Today, my financial situation is drastically different. I’m debt free. I have a full-time job with benefits and a healthy emergency fund.

The day I became debt free.

But for some reason, I’m still stingy with myself. Every time I spend money on something fun, I start to sweat (literally) and feel waves of guilt wash over me. I check my accounts every day and even though there is more than enough money, I constantly worry that there isn’t.

It’s an exhausting way to live.

And recently, I’ve realized that it’s rippled out into other areas of my life as well.*

Without even realizing it, my charity donations have gotten smaller, and I’m much less likely to buy Alex a surprise gift or treat my sister to dinner after a long day of work. These things may seem small, but I think they are symptoms of the bigger issue: my attitude of generosity.

By being stingy with myself, I’ve become stingy with everyone else as well.

Driving to work last week, I listened to Farnoosh Torabi’s So Money podcast. The interview was with Dr. Daniel Crosby. As they began to discuss his childhood, it came out that Daniel’s parents were extremely debt averse and had paid off their mortgage by age 40.

I was immediately impressed.

However, that wasn’t the end of the story. The pay-off came at a cost. There were no family trips or delicious dinners. Instead, there was constant scrimping, saving and stress.

Daniel’s parents are now grandparents and their advice for their son is to NOT do what they did.

Daniel explains, “My dad has actually moderated his ideas about debt over time and has encouraged us to not do some of the things he did…Now they have a whole lot of money and they don’t have that time back…He preaches something different to the grandchildren because we did miss out on some things…Now my mom is in poor health and they have all the money they need, but they don’t have the opportunity.”

His story hit me hard because I could easily see myself as Daniel’s parents—scrimping, saving, planning for the future and constantly stressing about money.

But that isn’t what I want. I want to enjoy life, travel without freaking out about every penny and live with a generous heart…and a generous wallet.

I treated myself to frozen yogurt yesterday. There was no reason or occasion. I was alone at the mall and had just finished running some errands. After paying for my yogurt, I sat down in the sunshine with a view of the mountains and took the first bite. It tasted like self-care.