Fun fact: I went to Afghanistan for a year to pay off my student loan debt. The amount stressed me out so much that I thought going to a war zone was the best solution. Did it work? Sure. Were there consequences? Most definitely.
I made more money than I ever had, but I also got PTSD, a bunch of side effects from immunizations and my life was regularly at risk. My stress level compounded, and I made some risky financial choices, like robbing Peter to pay Paul. Was all that worth paying off $40,000 in debt? At the time, yes! Then I financed a shiny, new car for $40,000 and ended up in Afghanistan again.
I had to break the cycle.
My Relationship With Money
I clearly had a toxic relationship with my finances, but I had to get to the root of the problem. One, I had to realize that having more money wouldn’t make me happier. This thought process was confirmed in a study of participants who each had a net worth of $25 million or more. I would probably just keep repeating the same bad behavior I always had unless I was proactive about changing my ways. And two, it took me about 30 years to get to this mindset so I couldn’t change it overnight.
I was a six-figure earner with about $450,000 in debt. The debt was all I talked about. I was trying to get a second full-time job in addition to my small business and freelance tasks. To be fair, the majority of the debt was my mortgages and I still had a positive net worth. However, I was losing sleep and my good sense because of the sheer magnitude of debt.
I didn’t want to owe anyone anything, but my debt controlled everything.
I couldn’t eat out because I was $450,000 in debt. I couldn’t travel to see my family because I was $450,000 in debt. I even went back to the college student diet of ramen noodles for a while. I was “bougie” about it though and didn’t use the little spice pack. I seasoned it myself and added additional toppings from a garden that I started in an effort to save money on produce.
My whole life revolved around my debt. I drafted and signed a debt repayment agreement with myself. I had a debt tracker and a prioritization list, the latter which was taped on my office wall and constantly attacked my psyche and stressed me out even more. I let anyone within earshot know I was $450,000 in debt and I, in turn, isolated myself because no one wanted to be around my negativity. The way I was handling my debt, not the debt itself, was ruining my life.
Capitalism – Financial Literacy = Nouveau Riche
Have you ever heard the term “nouveau riche?” Merriam-Webster just defines it as “a person newly rich.”However, Vocabulary.com has the definition I always associated with the term:
“The term nouveau-riche is a derogatory term meant to mock people who have a lot of money but don’t have the good taste to spend it in a ’classy’ way.
In a sense, that was me. I was catching flights, not feelings. I once paid $6,100 for a flight upgrade. Not the flight, just a better seat and service. Did I have an amazing trip? Yes. Was I looking back with a tinge of regret once I kept swiping and getting loans I didn’t need? Heck yes!
I’m Not the Only One Stressing
Going through all of that money made me feel very isolated, but I know I’m not the only person who’s been stressed out over finances. We’re used to hearing about financial issues being a top cause for divorce. Financial problems continue to be a top predictor of divorce. Marriage aside, about 75 percent of Americans are stressed about money more than anything else. Some people have an actual finance-related psychological disorder.
Among millennials, 71 percent say they are stressed because they don’t have a sufficient emergency fund or enough saved for an unexpected expense. When you’re stressed about money, your body can have a negative reaction. You might sleep less or have increased blood pressure. In some cases, stressing over money can cause a dangerous hormonal imbalance. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to get your financial life in order and avoid these health issues.
Ways to Cope with Money-Induced Stress
Don’t despair about your money woes. There is light at the end of the tunnel. Below are several different methods of tackling your financial stress.
- Be Positive. Be kind to yourself. Forgive yourself for past mistakes. Being negative just increases your stress.
- Determine your money triggers. For instance, my trigger is debt. Other triggers can be bills, saving for the future, and/or a spending habit.
- Set up an emergency fund. The rule of thumb is to start with $1,000 and work your way up to three to six months worth of expenses.
- Get a better job or a side hustle. We live in a gig economy, and you can get your piece of the pie.
- Reduce your spending. Cook more. Skip a few coffees or make it at home. Small changes can add up to dollars saved.
- Communicate with your partner honestly and regularly. Working together toward reducing stress is a much healthier option for your relationship.
- Make a plan. Create a budget or a debt-payoff strategy. Control what you can. You can control your payments, savings, investments, etc. Life doesn’t have to happen to you.
- Get help from a professional. Hire a financial planner, accountant or a money mentor. There are also a ton of free resources available.
- Stop letting envy control you. Don’t let social media be your barometer.
My New Money Mindset
To start over with money, I had a “come to Jesus” moment. Literally. I read a book called “God’s Plans for Your Finances” which helped put things in perspective. I also read blogs and listened to podcasts about training your mind to handle money at any level. I speak positively about my finances, and I encourage others to do the same. I set up an emergency fund, and I’m using the snowball method to pay down my debt. I am eliminating the smallest balances first and working my way up to bigger balances. This enables me to see my achievements happening quickly. The downside is that I may end up paying more in interest on the larger balance. However, my mind prefers seeing the zero balances in the short term and that outweighs the potential interest.
I got rid of the fancy car, and I got a roommate. I cook more and stress less. My debt is dwindling and my income and net worth are increasing. There will be no more deployments. I will (probably) not get a second full-time job. I will forgive myself for my past financial transgressions. I will learn from my mistakes. Of course, it would have been much better if I had done this when I was making a lot less so I could avoid the pitfalls of my people, the “nouveau riche.” Better late than never.
How do you deal with financial stress? Have any more tips for the community on getting into the right money mindset? Leave a comment below and share.
Flanice Lewis holds a bachelor’s in management from Howard and an MBA from Colorado Tech. She is a breast cancer survivor, speaker, personal finance blogger, world traveler, and ramen lover. In her spare time, she helps small businesses grow.