I founded The Holistic Wallet to spread my wealth of knowledge on good financial behaviors and beneficial money habits. That’s why you’re reading this, right? Because you’re seeking the same results I had when I was just like you back in the day, reading a personal finance blog post, too… except times a thousand.
My newsletters and blog posts are jam-packed with examples and lessons I picked up on my financial journey so you can streamline your research and integrate my experience into your life and recreate my success.
But one of the factors I often leave out that was pretty helpful in achieving the success I had in paying off $50,000 of debt and stashing just as much in savings over a 5 year period was that I inherited a large fortune from a wealthy relative.
Actually, I was a personal finance addict.
It started out innocently enough, as it goes. I graduated from college with over $50k worth of student loans, credit card balances, and a car loan and I was fortunate enough to land a job in the financial industry at the height of the Great Recession.
Still waiting for the economy to turn around and kind of traumatized by the crisis, I refused to take my paycheck for granted and researched the best strategies to improve the financial shape I was in. I devoured advice from savvy financial planners, frugal minimalists, extreme couponers, and debt hacking experts. (Financial fangirl much?)
In the beginning of my journey to financial empowerment, I felt like I was part of something bigger than myself. I had access to a niche-y but dense community of people who wanted to take back our economic power from the socio-economic systems that failed us (or where we failed ourselves) and we were all in this together. It felt really, really good.
Getting your finances in shape involves lifestyle changes similar to changing any kind of “bad” habit whether it’s exercising more, cutting back on processed food, or not checking Facebook every 10 minutes. Trying to spend less, earn more, pay off debt, grow your savings, keep your grocery budget to $50 per week, etc. involves very conscious and deliberate lifestyle changes.
Track your spending. CHECK. Make a debt repayment plan and automate it. CHECK. Monitor your budget. CHECKITY CHECKITY CHECK.
I was doing really well. And when you’re able to sustain new and improved habits, it looks like you just have more willpower than everyone else. You’re able to will yourself to stick to a budget. You’re able to will yourself to turn down new clothes. You’re able to will yourself to leave your credit cards at home.
But no one sees that you’re actually satisfying a craving, not denying one. Until I read up on changing habits and mustering up willpower, I didn’t see it either.
See, I always loved my budget. I was proud of it. I loved plugging my debts into debt repayment calculators and tracking my figures on spreadsheets. I loved shopping for the best savings account rates and credit card bonuses. I loved finding ways to profit off of the big banks who used to profit off of my financial ignorance.
I devoured each page of Money magazine the way I did TeenVogue back in middle school. I put my savings in accounts with the highest interest rates. I shopped with the credit card with the best cash-back rewards and paid my balance in full each bill. I monitored my bills and due dates meticulously to avoid any overdrafts or late fees. I checked my credit score every week and I tracked my net worth in a spreadsheet every other week.
All of these things felt really, really good. And, clearly, I was just replacing one indulgence (not caring about my finances) with another (obsessively caring about my finances).
I craved the way it would feel to be debt-free. I craved the way it would feel to not worry about not affording something. I craved the way it would feel to be in total control of my finances.
By the time I had paid off my debt and stashed just as much in savings, I was so obsessed with personal finance that it started to make me anxious.
I often felt like I was forgetting something and I was constantly re-checking my numbers. I’d eventually reassure myself that my finances were in great shape only to repeat the exercise several days later.
It was like I was trying to find something wrong. I was trying to find something new upon which to improve.
Eventually I set up this money coaching business. (YAY!) It gave me another outlet to pursue a good number crunching and financial strategy session. But, again, it was just me satisfying another craving, indulging in something that I enjoyed.
I was constantly testing out new personal finance apps. I used my business as an excuse to run my personal budget in 3-4 apps simultaneously. I figured out what worked and what didn’t and what I would do differently to make the mightiest app of them all if I could ever get around to finding a developer. (I didn’t.)
You may think that you can’t possibly overdose on personal finance, but when you spend most of your waking minutes obsessing over it, you kind of forget to live your life.
I became that grumpy old lady, waving my cane in the air, muttering “I’m not giving the MTA my hard-earned $3 to cram myself into a filthy subway!” So I didn’t visit my friends in the city nearly enough because when I think “financial freedom” I think dying alone in a pile of money. (NOT.)
One morning, I woke up at 3am, panicked about my finances. “Do I have enough in savings? Maybe I should start using that other credit card instead if I’m going to need to buy airfare soon. What’s today’s date? What bills do I have coming up?”
I had complete control over my finances. I was consciously choosing where money was going and yet my finances felt totally out of control. I was obsessing over my finances like it was market research for my clients and students for what? So I could turn them into the same obsessive maniac I was?
I realized I needed to establish boundaries in the same way I did trying to control my finances, being conscious and present, but not obsessing.
My net worth was not my self-worth. And maybe having less money in the bank but living a life full of balance might be the healthier option.
Now I’m at a place where I still try to spend less than I earn, I save for a rainy day when I can, and I still don’t buy stuff as a pursuit of happiness.
I stopped using a budgeting app, I started doing my variable spending with cash so I wouldn’t obsess over the data on my credit card statements, and I only look at my bank accounts when I have it scheduled on my calendar to review.
I spend my savings when I need to and I don’t feel guilty about it. It doesn’t feel like sabotage; it feels like a healthy balance of money in and money out.
And debt isn’t actually the worst thing in the world if you’re smart and deliberate with it and it’s helping you pursue a life goal, paying interest on things that are worth paying interest on.
I finally became the person my clients and students strived to be: in control of my finances but not obsessively. Knowing enough, spending with intention, but not over-restricting when the budget gets a bit tight.