Money anxiety

I've been freelance writing full-time for almost two years now, and I'm finally getting used to the financial rhythm of working for myself. I have one steady gig that pays really well, and a variety of other things that fill in the gaps. For once, I actually have a small amount of discretionary income that I don't have to spend on hospitals and copays.

The irony is that this terrifies me.

Being broke all the time sucked, I'll give you that. I don't miss it, not one bit. What's hard for me is not so much having extra money but figuring out how to spend it. I went to college in a really small town that had limited opportunities to spend money, and I was too busy studying most of the time to buy anything besides the occasional latte or ice cream during my late nights at the school newspaper. Then, too, the ED kicked in full force.

The restriction mentality went far deeper than just food. I restricted food, yes, but I also restricted money. I was afraid to eat and didn't feel I deserved any nourishment. I also didn't think that I deserved to spend any money on myself. That mindset has been very hard to break.

It was, I must confess, rather useful when I was flat broke. I really didn't notice all that much since I didn't really spend anything anyways. Now that I'm working through this mindset, and now that I have at least some money to work with, I'm finding it really complicated and scary. I have to be very careful to have a substantial emergency fund on hand since I don't get any disability insurance through my job. As well, my income can vary widely from month to month, so again, I have to be careful.

But now I'm getting to a point where I don't have to be as careful, and the fact is that I'm not sure quite how to deal with that. The restrictive financial mindset was less anxiety-provoking because I knew what my decision was going to be before I made it. The answer was no. I would spend money on ED stuff without much anxiety, simply because I was thinking that having said items would decrease my anxiety. I could justify it as a "necessity."

I feel very guilty when I spend money. For instance, I went to a young professionals happy hour thing tonight since it looked like a good way to network. So I went. I was an anxious wreck for many reasons, especially the whole meeting-new-people bit. But I was also nervous about spending money on food and drinks, and on gas as well. I nearly backed out about 80 bazillion times just this morning. The group was....okay. I got a drink and a snack, and it really didn't set me back all that much.

For me, spending money has two different anxiety provoking components: deciding what to buy and then actually spending the money. Being nice to myself still causes nearly traumatic amounts of guilt. I can pay my mortgage and car insurance with nary a twinge because I know they're necessary. If I want a place to live and a car to drive, those things have to be paid. Okay, fine. But then there's all of the things that aren't strictly necessary but not really ridiculous, either. Like yarn. Or a new book that I can't find at the library (or has over 100 holds, so the library may as well not have it since I won't actually be able to check it out any time this millennium). Or even something at the grocery store, like the crumbled goat cheese that was on sale. I didn't really need the cheese, but it looked like it could be fun and I loves me some goat cheese.

I couldn't bring myself to type "I wanted it." I hate that I want things. I feel needy and greedy, and neither of those things sit well with me.

Needing and wanting are part of being human. It's not something I judge other people for, and yet here I am. I'm like that with a lot of things, though.

I don't know what the solution is. I don't know how to get over this hurdle. This thinking is so ingrained that it's hard to shake it off. I just wish it were easier to loosen the hell up.

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Anonymous said... roommate says that I should support the economy, and that helps a little. Also staring at a budget spreadsheet, realizing you have enough, and carefully budgeting money out "for fun." Carrying cash. These are things that sometimes lower the barriers for me.

drstrangelove said...

This. I am so completely right there. I always have had a hard time spending money, on food especially, but on myself in general. Now in recovery, I still find it nearly impossible to spend money on myself, and it definitely still affects me at the grocery store.

For me childhood was a huge component in the money situation. We didn't have a lot of money and I always felt a lot of guilt when money was spent on me, even food-wise.

I'd love to know how to get over that... Even though there's still a little twinge of "that's the best thing to do" (not spend money/spend as little as possible).


hm said...

Sometimes "fun money" feels depressing too, b/c it comes with all kinds of insecurities... If I decide to spend it on clothes, what if I can't find something that looks good on me? If I decide to spend it on going to a movie, what if I can't find anyone to go with me? Allotting money towards fun means not only giving yourself a treat and facing your insecurities that tell you you don't deserve that, but also it means stretching your boundaries and doing new things or reaching out to new people to join you. It means stepping out of your comfort zone of usual-ness. It is anxiety provoking.

On the upside though, major progress in moving from a space in which "do I deserve to eat" was the #1 stress to a space in which "do I deserve to have fun" is now a stress. That's major progress, even if it feels crappy. I imagine you will acclimate to having fun regularly at some point just as you have acclimated to eating regularly. It's ok for it to be anxiety-provoking right now- and healthy for you to be processing it and fuming about it and working it through. Tackling it and taking it on.

You'll figure it out. :)

Esther said...

It's really interesting that you feel the way you do about money. Feelings like this persisted beyond the end of my ED also..just as depression, anxiety and insecurity have remained by my side, even years after anorexia and I parted ways!

I love your bite by bite approach to recovery.. maybe sometimes that's an approach that can be applied to other difficulties.. like the money thing. One step at time..Xx


Act your way out of this behaviour, rather than trying to think your way out? xx

Molly Koch said...

I can relate so much to this post. Spending money makes me feel so guilty, even when it's a necessity. Even when I do have money saved up, it's really hard not thinking that I don't deserve the item. Take nail polish for instance- i loooove painting my nails but buying nail polish is a real struggle. It takes me probably a half hour while standing in front of the nail polish section of the store to decide whether or not I "really want" it, if I deserve it, or if I'm being too greedy. So I totally understand that whole mindset.

hm said...

Hahaha- wish I could "like" the comment above by Charlotte'sRant...

Anonymous said...

Wow - this is a timely post for me. I'm a recovering bulimic and I tend to have a "binge and purge" attitude to money (I mean "bingeing" on clothes & books as well as actually spending money on binge foods.) My way to "purge" after spending money on unecessaries for myself is to give greater or equal amounts to charity. Then I run out of money and end up calling my parents to bail me out. I've been very, very tempted by payday loans but have managed to avoid them so far - I know they would trap me in borrowing more and more to pay off last month's loan. I am breathtakingly lucky that I have generous and resonably well-paid parents. (Of course, this luck means more guilt, which means more binge-purge spending. It's absurd.)

I recently was given a large amount of money by my godmother. I called my parents and ridiculous a.m., trying not to cry. The ultimate First World Problem - I have too much money and it makes me guilty! If it had happened a few months ago, it could easily have pushed me into an overdose (which I know is ridiculous, but I am ridiculous.) My parents helped me to have a sensible plan for the money.

Anonymous said...

"I couldn't bring myself to type 'I wanted it.' I hate that I want things. I feel needy and greedy, and neither of those things sit well with me."

This really resonated with me; I feel guilty for spending money just because I want things. And I've noticed that I have a similar need to justify eating - I don't simply eat because I'm hungry, but feel compelled to reassure myself that eating is necessary because "I feel weak and shaky" or "it's been four hours and I've been walking around a lot" or "everyone is sitting down to dinner and I have no choice." To me, being hungry is akin to "wanting" food - somehow weak or greedy.

Lauren said...

I never thought about how my relationship to money relates to my eating disorder...thank you, I've been having money anxiety lately too..

As I was reading your post I really related to how you talked about restricting money like you restricted food. I'm a recovering bulimic and definitely have treated money in similar ways as I did food. Like sanabituranima, I also "binged and purged" on money, so much so as to go extremely deep into debt from my erratic spending behavior. I would feel so guilty about it, which would make me feel even worse, which would make my eating disorder behaviors worse, and I would just go round and round this vicious cycle, I'm sure you know how it is..

Now years later after being abstinent and being "recovered" I am still really struggling with the money aspect. I try to apply the same things I did with the eating disorder trying to change my underlying beliefs & thoughts and getting to the root of the problem - and I too am hitting these stumbling blocks.

I know for me it has something to do with the belief that I don't deserve it or aren't worthy of the abundance, and I don't know the solution either. But we've just gotta keep growing and learning and eventually the answers will come!

BTW I'm new to your site and I'm loving your posts :)~Lauren

Anonymous said...

Could you put aside a small amount a week to start off and it has to be used for something fun or enjoyable? Not a need. So for example even small like getting a manicure or buying a decorative thing for your place.
I feel as you treat yourself to more and see it is ok the mindset will gradually change. One day you may even say hey I actually feel good about this. I got something or did something that actually lifted my spirits. Certain things in life are small pleasures but they do add happiness to life.
I'm thinking in therapy you have worked on the guilt/not deserving. I wonder what helped you lets say with the ed that you could use now to feel better about treating yourself?

Unknown said...

petersmith said...

It means stepping out of your comfort zone of usual-ness. It is anxiety provoking.

Unknown said...

You can take comfort in the fact that each time you confront it, the feelings will become less strong.

Here's a blogpost of mine about money anxiety in retirement

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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nour·ish: (v); to sustain with food or nutriment; supply with what is necessary for life, health, and growth; to cherish, foster, keep alive; to strengthen, build up, or promote


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