Confession: I’m a bit high strung when it comes to my personal finances.
If you’ve read my book (shameless plug here), or followed me for a while, you probably know that I filed for bankruptcy a few years ago after chronic illness and an emergency surgery left me with tens of thousands of dollars in medical debt. Though I am grateful every day to be alive, I cannot say that I went through that process unscathed. There is something terrifying about filing for bankruptcy. Not only can it be incredibly humiliating and humbling, but it alters the way that you look at yourself and the way that the rest of the world looks at you. Before 2015 I was a homeowner, and a bright young professional who was well on her way down the path of success. Though the successful part remains true, there are certain things that have become very difficult for me as a result of having filed for bankruptcy. I find that people are less willing to take a chance on me – even when I can demonstrate that I’ve been paying my bills on time – because the bankruptcy is like a scarlet letter of irresponsibility attached to my chest. People don’t care WHY I filed, they only care that I did. And therefore I’m usually no longer considered worth the risk.
Though I don’t regret my decision to file for bankruptcy, I have to say that I was not expecting it to change the way that I look at money and finances as much as it has. I haven’t used credit in more than three years – in part because I don’t like to, and in part because I don’t feel it’s worth the hassle of trying to qualify. It’s draining to be required to explain to people several times over why this black mark on your record exists, and so most days I’d simply just rather not. This means, however, that I spend only what I make each month – there is no credit cushion to help out in times of stress, and when unexpected bills arise, they have to be paid for with current cash – there are no credit cards to defer them to later on.
Which brings me to my topic for today – letting go of that feeling of lack.
I wasn’t a child who grew up without things that I needed – I was fortunate enough to have parents who always made sure that I was fully provided and cared for. As I became an adult, I’ve learned how to take care of the things that I need and want on my own, and as a result, live a very comfortable life.
However, experiencing financial hardships as a single woman has left me with a very different view of the way my finances are managed. What’s more, my quests toward minimalism, and toward financial independence require that I see everything that I do as transactional. So, when I look at financial decisions (even very small ones, such as buying a book or going out to eat), I don’t look at them as “This costs ____ dollars” – I look at them as “This costs ____ hours of my life” – however long it took me to earn the money to do the thing.
I realize this is quite an odd and neurotic habit to have developed, but for the most part it has been a good thing. It makes me slow down, and not spend my money frivolously. Looking at it this way gives me pause, and I have time to reflect on whether or not this is a thing that will add value to my life – whether it is actually worth the trade-off of sacrificing my time in order to achieve it.
There are times, though, when unexpected expenses arise, and I find myself fighting to stave off a panic attack because I get frustrated at needing to spend money on things that are not in my “plan”. For example, yesterday I went to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription, and was surprised (and horrified) to find out that a medication that I generally pay about $15 for each month will now cost me $156 per month. My first thought was “I don’t have $156 for this!” and it took everything that I had to not break down crying in the middle of my grocery store.
When I got back to my car and managed to calm myself down a little, I was able to gain some clarity on two things:
- – It isn’t that I don’t have the money to pay for this – it’s that I don’t WANT to use my hard earned money on this because I do not find enjoyment in it.
- – I am fortunate and blessed beyond measure – and life is both too short and too sweet to allow setbacks like this to ruin my entire day.
The thing is, I remember a time in my life where I did not have the $141 to make up the difference. I remember a time when this would have been completely devastating to me, because I would have had to choose between having this medication that I absolutely need, or having something else (like food, gas in my car, etc.). I have lived through not having enough, and there’s a sort of post-traumatic stress that remains with me because of that.
But I don’t live in that space now. Now, an unexpected $141 is an annoyance (albeit a big one), not an emergency. Spending money on my medication is necessary, and my family will not go without food because I choose to do so. I’m not squeaking by on $28,000/year anymore.
And you know what? Even when I was, somehow, I was still provided for. Whether it was luck, or family, or grace, I’ve managed to make it through to this day.
It takes remembering that on days like yesterday, when I want to fall into a fit of worry and frustration, that the Universe hasn’t let me go just yet.
I don’t live in a place of Lack – I have everything that I need, and operating from that space of scarcity simply blocks my ability to receive the things that I both need and want for my life. And if I don’t live there anymore, why would I continue operating my life from that place?