As an enthusiastic believer in the merits, if not the truth, of astrology, I often take the advice of astrologists and set aside a half hour or so for reflection every two weeks, on the full and new moon. One thing that astrology does well is encourage time for reflection, which the modern Western world often does not. A couple months ago, an astrologist I subscribe to recommended a reflection focused on your relationships with your body and money. As I sat down to journal on aspects of those relationships I wish to improve, I hit a roadblock when it came to brainstorming concrete action steps with money. In contrast, I have done a lot of work with my body, beginning in eighth grade when I developed anorexia and continuing throughout the next four or five years. Thanks to this work - as well as to outside support, and also to sheer luck - when I brainstormed concrete action steps regarding my relationship with my body, the biggest problem I came up with was having too many pairs of socks and underwear with holes. I decided my body deserved better, so I bought new underwear and socks. Simple as that! However, I had never actively worked on my relationship with money, and I felt lost.
I knew it would benefit me to work on that relationship, because ever since I graduated and became financially independent in June, I have experienced undue anxiety about money. Although I work at a job that I like, and that will probably lead to a good career, I am not paid as much as many of my friends are paid. While I do not make much above minimum wage and am trying to live an active, single, social life in a major city, I still find that I have enough money to take care of necessities, have some fun, and build my savings. Yet despite having what is objectively enough money, I have gone to Walgreens and stood in the toothpaste aisle, almost hyperventilating due to the anxiety I felt about choosing the PERFECT toothpaste at the BEST price. I have also come close to hyperventilating at “normal” grocery stores, overwhelmed by all the choices and afraid I will overspend and/or not pick what I most want and need. (I am too accustomed to the limited-choice model of places like Trader Joe’s, and I don’t often step outside that comfort zone.) While I have bought my own toothpaste and groceries (and many other things) for years, this summer was the first time that everything I bought came solely out of the money I made, not from a combination of my money and my parents’ money. This new reality upped the stakes for me, bringing out the worst aspects of my perfectionism: my indecisiveness, especially in the face of the glut of choices in our capitalist society; my discomfort with anything other than a huge cushion of savings; my maximizing tendencies (e.g., if I don’t absolutely love this toothpaste/latte/you-name-it, it’s a waste of money; read more on maximizers vs. satisficers here); and many others.
I didn’t know with whom I can talk to about this, partly because I felt too much shame around a) making less money than my friends, and b) having these feelings when I have what is objectively enough money, and when so many others lived in abject poverty. So I was stuck. I felt too much shame to talk to friends; I didn’t want to pay for a therapist (surprise, surprise); and whenever I brought the issue up with my mother, she either got frustrated at my irrationality or upset at herself for raising me in the lower-middle class home that bred some of my anxiety in the first place. On the other hand, the situation wasn’t dire; I did not hyperventilate every time I spent money, and I could feel my anxiety lessen as the weeks went on and I became more accustomed to financial independence.
Transition periods have always been hard for me. Funnily enough, though, I expected this transition to wreak havoc on my relationship with food and my body, which is what most transition periods have done in the past. But that’s the wild thing about mental health; you cannot always foresee the challenges on the horizon. Luckily for me, even a couple months ago, this transition period was close to ending; I was close to fully being in a new era of my life, and my anxiety around money was less crippling than ever. But I still thought I should seek advice and put some work into my relationship with money, and I still didn’t want to talk to any person, over the phone or in person, about this. (That’s the great thing about advice blogs!) Alas, I did not write to an advice blog. Instead, I thought about the last time I wanted advice without talking to someone. What came to mind was a time near the end of high school when I had made some progress in my relationship with my body but wanted to do more work. Through my obsessive habit of internet stalking all manner of body-positive gurus, I stumbled upon a woman named Geneen Roth and went to the library to check out her book Women Food and God. This book ended up really helping me in high school, and now, as a college graduate, I thought I would try to find a similar book about money.
After reading reviews of various books, I checked out Emotional Currency: A Woman’s Guide to Building a Healthy Relationship with Money, by Kate Levinson. A quick search for this book, or for Women Food and God, shows that I am obviously more interested in psychological and spiritual work than in anything like Weight Watchers or a practical personal finance program. With my body, my goal is not to lose weight, and with money, my finances are fine on the surface; it is just my underlying relationship with them that is fraught.
The thing with any self-help book is that you cannot just read it; you actually have to do the suggested exercises and/or your own active reflections (e.g., journal entries) as you read. For me, truly experiencing a self-help book requires doing anything that requires more work on your part that just consuming ideas. I have to say that I have not persisted far in active work with Emotional Currency, partly because I’m juggling many things and partly because I’m resistant to tackling the topic of money. But, in the spirit of commending myself for consciously seeking advice when I felt I needed it, I will say this: I have done several exercises in the book that have helped me rinse out some of the murkier feelings I associate with money, and I am proud of myself for going from a place where I was completely clueless about how to handle this relationship, to reflecting on what I had done in past, similar situations and effectively applying that strategy to the issue at hand. I think that more often than not, a little mental push is all we need to see the situation in a new light and apply some of the wisdom we already have inside us.