by Vicky Monroe
In the introduction post I wrote a few weeks ago, I mentioned that I was going to start therapy to try to work through my financial anxiety. I thought I had overcome my financial anxiety after a previous round of therapy I did a few years ago. But this period of high inflation and economic uncertainty has caused my money worries to come back.
Background On My Financial Anxiety
To help anyone who might be going through the same thing feel less alone, I thought I’d share a bit more about my struggles. I worry far too much about “what if” scenarios like losing my freelance writing clients and not being able to pay my bills. In reality I have emergency savings and a partner with a stable job, so that’s unlikely to happen. But if you’ve ever had financial anxiety, you know money worries aren’t always rational and can be hard to shake!
You would think reminding myself that I have emergency savings would make me feel more secure. But I still feel this sense of financial precarity no matter how much money is in my savings account. I also struggle with feeling like I’m “behind” financially. I think I feel a lot of pressure to succeed financially in part because I’m a personal finance writer.
I’d feel like a hypocrite if I made financial mistakes in my personal life and continued writing articles advising others on how to improve their money situation. So I always strive to optimize my finances. I spend a lot of time making plans that will allow me to spend less and save more.
But at a certain point, you can’t be any more frugal without making yourself miserable. My therapist has reminded me that life is meant to be enjoyed. He’s encouraged me to spend money on fun without feeling guilty like I usually do. So I’m trying to embrace a more relaxed approach to my finances.
Where Do These Worries Come From?
My therapist and I have also spent some time digging into the root causes of my financial anxiety, which is helping me work through it. One of the potential contributors to my anxiety is the way my parents spent money during my childhood. My dad is a salesman and earned multiple six figures throughout his career. But my parents still lived paycheck to paycheck because of bad spending habits.
Watching my dad struggle to pay the mortgage while earning a high salary has made me feel like I’ll never have enough money. If he wasn’t financially stable on a high salary, then how will I ever be secure on a much more modest income? Because my parents almost lost their house and got buried in credit card debt during the Great Recession, I’ve also become very debt-averse. I don’t even like having a mortgage balance, so I’ve been trying to pay off my home early for peace of mind.
Again, these feelings aren’t totally rational. Logically I know the reason why my parents racked up debt and don’t have savings is because they mismanaged their money. But I can’t stop my anxious lizard brain from worrying that I’ll end up in a bad financial spot just like they are.
FIRE and Extreme Frugality
To make sure I don’t follow in my dad’s financial footsteps, I think I’ve overcorrected and become too frugal. I discovered the FIRE movement in my teens, which inspired me to become a personal finance writer shaped the way I view and approach money as an adult.
The FIRE movement advocates saving and investing a huge chunk of your income so you can become financially independent and retire early. But if you’re not a high-earner, it can be hard to save 40% to 75% of your income like some FIRE adherents do.
Trying and failing to meet aggressive financial goals has only contributed to my anxiety and feelings that I’ll never have enough money. So I’m trying to keep a bit of distance from the online FIRE community for now while I work on my financial anxiety. I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to revisit the idea of FIRE in the future when my income grows.
Therapy has helped me a lot so far. Digging into the causes of my money worries is helping me overcome them and avoid triggers like reading FIRE forums. My therapist has encouraged me to be gentler with myself and take a more relaxed approach to my finances. I’m already starting to notice a change in my mood. My partner agrees that I seem calmer and happier since starting therapy. I’m looking forward to continuing the process and seeing how much my financial outlook improves in the coming months.
Have you ever dealt with financial anxiety? If so, did you make any lifestyle changes that helped relieve your money worries? I’d love it if you’d share your experiences and tips in the comments section below!