How I Manage My Money Anxiety

How I Manage My Money AnxietyI just spent a large amount of $$ on plane tickets for a trip I’m taking over spring break. I’ve known I was going to make this purchase for a while, and I’ve had the cash in my bank account for about a month, but I’ve been putting off actually buying because every time I thought about it I had a minor freakout. So much money. What about my net worth goals?!

It amazes me over and over again how much my emotions about money impact my mood on a daily basis. If I’ve just gotten paid, I feel flush and ready to meet emergencies and setbacks head-on; if I’m contemplating a big purchase, my emotions get more complex, as I both want the thing (who doesn’t want a spring break trip?) and worry about the lowered levels in my savings accounts. I definitely don’t have the kind of cushion where I can be all “eh, who needed that $700 anyway?” Herewith, my not-guaranteed-foolproof techniques for pulling myself together and acting like a grownup!

Rule 1: Don’t Panic

I break this one all the time — like, the reason why I was putting off buying the tickets was that I had a very mild choked-breathing episode every time I thought about it — but it’s a good rule anyway! Panic or anxiety can be good if you don’t usually feel them, because if they’re unusual feelings, then if you have them it’s probably a sign something is genuinely wrong and you should pay attention. But if you’re, how shall I put this, prone to them, it’s a different story; in that case, instead of focusing you on what’s important, panic is paralyzing.

Rule 2: Make a List

There’s a reason why I love budgeting so much: it lets me make lists, and I love making lists. Like any other money emotion, this one is about giving me control — over my cash and also over my own responses. In the case of my plane tickets, when I started to feel that anxiety, I reminded myself of all the reasons why it was ok to spend this money: I had it saved specifically for this purpose, so I’m paying in cash, not credit; I have a secure job for the next 18 months, so there’s time to keep building my emergency fund and I don’t need to hang on to every dollar; this is a trip being made for really legitimate purposes, and while I’m on it I’ll spend varying amounts of time with four good friends, get some sunshine to break up the winter blahs, and even do some work by giving a conference paper. The list reminded me that this was a reasonable decision, not an impulse buy that I was going to regret later.

Rule 3: Get It Off the Balance Sheet

This is another way to remind myself that I have control over this decision. Once I’d bought the tickets, I went to YNAB (affiliate link; gets you a $6 discount) and immediately entered the purchase and moved enough money from my travel fund into my checking account to cover it; then I went to my bank’s website and made the same move. Well before my next monthly update, I will already have paid off the credit card using this pre-saved money. Not seeing the charge sitting on my credit card will help, because I won’t look at the card and think “Oh (&^)*&^#, I’m in debt!” Once it’s paid for and the card goes back to zero, the whole thing will be over and done with and I’ll calm down.

Rule 4: Relax and Enjoy It

I’ve been working hard on my money for the last year. I’ve made some fairly serious sacrifices, like living in a rented room instead of an apartment, and cutting way back on food costs, in order to get to where I am now. But refusing to spend from my travel savings account isn’t going to get me to financial freedom within the next few years. I’m going to be working over the long haul. In the meantime, I have to get used to allowing myself to spend money on the things I’ve saved it for and not guilting out about it! Otherwise I will be a relatively richer but much more stressed out 60-year-old one day, and that sounds like it would produce more wrinkles than I want to have.

[ETA: Here’s a nice post from Fig at Figuring Money Out with more really good tips.]

27 thoughts on “How I Manage My Money Anxiety

  1. Great tips. I have money anxiety all the time! Sometimes it makes me turn into a money-ostrich with my head in the sand. I’m working on it though!

    1. thesingledollar says:

      A money-ostrich is a perfect way to describe how I felt when I was putting off making the purchase for no good reason!

  2. dojo says:

    Writing it down and planning always helps us, too. money is emotional, no matter how much we’d like to say otherwise. The moment you have it all written down and decided, it’s easier to handle the decisions and improve in the future.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      It is *so* emotional — because it’s about desire, so of course it is. 🙂 I’m glad that writing it down works for you too.

  3. Alicia says:

    I can be a money paralyzed quite frequently. I’ve gotten much better about it, but I recognize I am a worry-wart, and it’s kind of obnoxious for me – I can’t imagine how annoying it is to the people who have to listen to me 😛

    My post today was basically this list. Don’t panic, think it out and analyze the situations. 🙂 I’m already more relaxed about it… well, not the tenants giving notice part of it, but the RRSP and tax part of it.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Yeah, I think at least 50% of PF bloggers must be perennial worrywarts, otherwise we wouldn’t feel moved to blog 🙂 (Also, my blog is an attempt not to annoy my IRL friends who would otherwise have to listen to me.) I’m glad posting calmed you down some about the taxes, but I’d be *super* upset if that were me (stay tuned for my own tax freakout in a month, LOL.)

  4. Christine says:

    Travelling is such a huge expense but the experience is priceless! I’ll regret buying a pair of jeans or going out to eat but I don’t ever regret a cent I spend on travel 🙂 They money I spend while shopping abroad is a different story though…

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Hee, I am going to have to strictly limit my shopping on this trip! Hopefully I can lie around on the beach a lot and not be tempted to pick stuff up.

  5. Strandedrocks says:

    What has been going through my mind is a struggle between being extremely frugal (à la Mrs. Frugalwoods and her non-existing entertainment budge) to wanting to attend a play because Molly Parker is cast in it or finding that Radiohead remix I must now buy on iTunes. I think Mrs. Frugalwoods is awesome and I thought I could start living the life of dwindling consumption but at the moment I can’t/won’t and I have to be ok with that. I guess I am trying to find MY own balance and reading all these blogs and seeing so many different ways of lives has muddled my mind a bit and it wasn’t until your fourth rule that I told my self to just pause and relax and enjoy.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      I’m glad my fourth rule helped! Blogs are awesome and I get so many ideas from so many people, but in the end, you have to figure out what works for you, which isn’t going to be quite the same as for anyone else. If one of your life goals is to see plays, I think that’s great (it’s one of mine too) — you just have to budget for it 🙂

      1. strandedrocks says:

        What is with your retirement bar on the right? It’s at $0 even though there is $10,000.

        1. thesingledollar says:

          Oh, it’s at 0% because it’s for my 2015 goal and I haven’t put anything into it yet for January. But maybe that’s confusing and I should set it to 42% instead. I was actually thinking of doing that last night, so I should probably go for it.

  6. Jordann says:

    I feel your pain! I get major anxiety before big purchases. I think the trick is to just remember that you’ve planned, you’ve run the costs, you know you can afford this, you’re fine!

    Have fun on your spring break trip! 🙂

    1. thesingledollar says:

      I am so psyched about the trip. Four days in the sunshine! 🙂 It helps with the pain of having made the big purchase. I agree with you that remembering that you’ve planned is the key.

  7. Michelle says:

    I often have money anxiety too, especially this year since we have a ton of huge expenses we are most likely going to have to pay for. Great list on managing anxiety!

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Thank you! I’ve been working really hard on the anxiety thing this year and it might be paying off in finding good techniques. Good luck and take deeeeep breaths 🙂

  8. Chonce says:

    Great tips! I’m a list person too 🙂 This is an issue that a lot of us super goal orientated people (self included) deal with. Sometimes it’s so hard to not feel guilty or have anxiety for spending money on luxuries and fun things like trips when you have strict financial goals in place. But it’s important to look at the progress you’ve made and the fact that you work hard therefore you WILL reach your goals, so I say relax. Everything will be fine.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Yeah, like I said to Alicia, I think all PF bloggers are worrywarts by nature — otherwise we wouldn’t be so into the blogging thing 🙂 But the whole point of doing all this work is so that we have the money when we want to spend it! So yeah, relaxing right now is a good idea.

  9. Great post! Money anxiety is a real thing and it definitely needs to be managed. Otherwise we’d all drive ourselves crazy!

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Thanks! I have a tendency to drive myself around the bend in unhelpful ways so I’ve been working on getting better control 🙂

  10. When I am on track with my savings goals I get these same feelings! Mine may be caused by the fact that I have fallen off the wagon a few times with my savings, so I never want a good thing to end. 🙂 Still, taking a vacation is a great thing, especially since you have saved, planned, and aren’t going into debt over it! The worst thing ever is spending a vacation agonizing over where the money for the trip is coming from.

    1. thesingledollar says:

      I know, it feels so good to put it in savings instead of spending it that I think I’m now going overboard, worried that I’ll never save again if I start spending! But it’s good to overcome that and use the money for what I saved it for. 🙂 I agree, I don’t want to travel on credit ever again!

  11. Tennille says:

    I too have money anxiety. I tend to go back and fourth on the decision to buy anything over $100.00. I think these tips are great and I’ll have to give them a shot the next time I have a big purchase come up.

    P.S. I also have YNAB and love it!

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Thanks! I hope they’re helpful. Hard-won experience over here 🙂 YNAB is great — at first I thought, how much better could this be than any budgeting system, but after using it for a few months I’m more and more convinced. I actually enjoy using it, so the process of money management becomes fun rather than depressing.

  12. Great tips. I find myself getting worked up about spending sometimes too. You’ve planned for this trip, now it’s time for you to enjoy it!

    1. thesingledollar says:

      Thanks! It’s easy to get worked up, as you say — we’re so focused on keeping costs down right now that it can get hard to actually spend 🙂

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