50. Fear of Money, Budgets & Knowing Your Numbers

I believe that money is one of the most difficult personal relationships we have. And for me, that's definitely the case. I have struggled with my relationship with money ever since I was in college. I've had a job since I was 15 and so I've been making my own money for quite awhile but, I didn't have true bills until I was in college. Unfortunately, I had no idea how to manage money. I didn't have to know until I should've already known - if that makes any sense. In other words, I've been learning as I go.

My Money Relationship

Over the last year or so I've finally taken my relationship with money more seriously and have decided to stop living in fear.

I can remember several instances where the idea of looking at my bank account or opening up my bills gave me such anxiety. It was really tough to face the reality of how much owed versus how much I actually had in my bank account. During those times, it was easier to just not know and hope for the best. I understand that to some people, that mentality may make no sense. But when you're drowning in debt, working more than ever and not able to make ends meet, it's a very scary situation.

I grew up in a home where we didn't really talk about how to manage money. When money was brought up it was usually around how something was expensive or how we couldn't afford this or that. And we were a middle-income family - we weren't living in poverty to the best of my knowledge but we also were not rich by any means.

But I don't ever remember a time where we talked about how much college was going to cost, how it was going to get paid for (outside of student loans), what getting student loans even meant, what type of a college degree you should go for so you can pay back those loans, how you should spend your money in college, etc.

And, I'd like to say for the record - I don't blame my parents for any of this. I just think it's a generational thing. Their parents probably didn't talk to them about money and so they didn't really realize we were supposed to talk about money either. And as much as I wish that had played out differently - it doesn't do me any good to wish that.

I've always lived paycheck to paycheck. Actually, the only time I think I haven't lived paycheck to paycheck was when I was 15-17 years old, working as a server at Steak N Shake and literally making so much money. I had Adidas drawstring bags filled with money because I didn't have a bank account yet. Now, in all reality, it may have been about $300-$400 from tips but, that's A LOT of money to a 15-year-old.

Other than that moment, I've always lived paycheck to paycheck. I've always been chasing money while my bills have been chasing me. I've always had a job, thankfully, but for some reason, the income has never been enough. Plus, when you add in student loan payments, it's even harder.

I remember living in New York City and being more broke than I'd ever been in my life. This isn't something I've openly talked about before but I think this is the time to do it. I moved to New York City with $1000 in savings and a part-time job at Athleta for $10/hour lined up. Thankfully I moved into my sister's apartment and my rent was dirt cheap. I also didn't have a closet and my bed almost touched all 3 walls. I remember the day after I moved in we all went shopping. Well, my sister's shopped while I walked around. And we were in one store and I just started crying. I was so scared and I had just paid rent and utilities on my first month's rent in NYC and I was now down to $500.

I was only making $10/hour and only working 3-4 days a week. How in the WORLD was I going to make it another month? I had no idea - and standing in that store that day it hit me like a ton of bricks.

I hustled to find new jobs. I remember on one of my days off I sat in bed and applied for 15-20 jobs straight. I don't even know if I changed out of my pajamas that day. I got a call from Sweaty Betty and got an interview. I had nothing athleisure to wear so I went to Macy's and bought a bunch of clothes, kept the tags and receipts and wore it to my interview. I took all of those clothes back the next day.

Thankfully, I got the job. It was full-time and paid a little bit more than Athleta. I worked hard and eventually got a promotion that got me a $1 increase. I hustled & hustled & hustled until I asked for another promotion. At this time I had also been applying for other jobs because I was drowning in credit card & other debt. Sweaty Betty went with someone else and I took a job with Lululemon that was a 2-hour commute one way.

I was making the most money I had made so far in New York but now I was waking up at 4 am to get to our 7 am managers meetings and not getting home sometimes until almost 11 pm. I knew I couldn't hold on to this for long. I finally switched to a different store in the city but ultimately decided that it was time for me to come home.

I thought my relationship with money would get better being in a cheaper city but, finding a job isn't an easy task. I took the same approach that I once did that day in New York, I sat down in Albert's apartment and applied for so many jobs I was losing track of what I had applied for.

Times were really tough during these days. Bills didn't stop coming in but money wasn't coming in either. A lady in a Facebook group posted about a job that sounded perfect. I applied and got it. 6 months later I got a message on LinkedIn for another opportunity that I had been waiting years to get and that leads me up to now.

As you can see, and as many of you can relate to, the struggle has truly, truly, always been real for me. I've constantly been trying to make ends meet and get away from living paycheck to paycheck.

Throughout all of these circumstances, the #1 thing that has helped me stay afloat is a budget.

The Power Of Budgeting & Knowing Your Numbers

About a year before I moved to New York is when I had my very first excel sheet budget. It's the simplest thing ever but it works. It's the one I still use to this day. Budgeting takes the guesswork out of everything. Yes, it requires that you open your bills and look at your bank account but I'll tell you how to do that in a minute.

When you enter your numbers into the budget and see exactly what needs to go out and exactly what's coming in, your anxiety or worry around making ends meet can lessen. Because, now you know if you have enough to cover your expenses and if not, you can look at what you can cut back on or how much you need to ask your loved ones for to help you out.

The LoDownLiving Blog
My actual budget

And I promise, asking family or friends for money - while it can be scary, it's scarier to get your wages garnishes, it's scarier to be evicted, it's scarier to get your car repo'd, it's scarier to get late fees. Asking for help means you're recognizing that things aren't okay and you're leaning on those who understand and love you at this moment.

So how do you get the courage to look at your bank account and your bills?

You have to be really clear on what you want your relationship with money to look like. You have to know with conviction that your past with money does not determine your financial future. You have to understand that money is neutral and that it's what you think about it that makes it good or bad.

Believe me, I understand that not having money is one of the scariest things to experience. I've been there and have lived that. I know that. But I can promise you that by just looking at your bank account and bills and giving gratitude to whatever you see is the most important first step to improving your financial relationship.

If you'd like, create an entire experience around it. Turn on some music, grab a glass of wine and look at your numbers. Maybe you can even light a candle or burn some sage to release any negative emotions around your numbers. But this is a crucial, crucial step.

I want to leave you with 6 steps you can do right now to lessen your fear of money & help you face the numbers. And yes, these 6 steps are ones I currently use as well.

  1. Start talking about money.
  2. Create a budget.
  3. Do an audit of your bank account/expenses.
  4. Read blogs of people who have become debt free (Cait Flanders, The Worth Project, The Minimalists, Mr Money Mustache, Broke Millenial)
  5. Understand what you want your financial future to look like.
  6. Recognize that your past does not predict your future.

I hope this conversation around money was helpful & inspiring. I know these conversations aren't easy ones to have but, I believe they're so important. We should not be in debt and unhappy simply because we're scared to talk about something. Afterall, this is the rest of our lives we're talking about.