Me, Myself, and My Money Issues

I have never had an easy relationship with money. When I was a kid and my family was very poor, I thought of little more than how much it sucked to have so little of it. When I was a little older and my family was less poor, I hated that my mom wouldn’t allow us to spend more of it. Since becoming an adult, I’ve been constantly afraid that I would once again not have enough.

The topic of money has been coming up in my life a lot lately. My income has become more erratic than I’d like, Jared and I have discussed the multiple ways we let money (and our issues surrounding it) affect our decision making, Faiqa and I have talked about how money affects the way people treat each other, and a commenter on a another blog even mentioned my finances yesterday.

It seems it’s time for me to make peace with my money issues.

I’m not sure where to begin.

The realization that it is money that could prevent me from achieving the life I want makes me angry. It makes me angry at those who have been fortunate enough to be born into or accumulate enough wealth for an apartment in Manhattan. It makes me resentful at destiny for leaving me without. It makes me ashamed for dreaming outside my income bracket.

At the same time, the idea of running out of money terrifies me. I’m afraid not only of the physical consequences of going without, but of the social and emotional ramifications of failing. I’m afraid of being judged a failure, irresponsible, and somehow less than those that did not fail.

I’m afraid of that moment when you know that you cannot make a purchase because you do not have the resources. It makes my stomach turn and my heart pound. It makes me simultaneously angry, frightened, and sad. The instant of denial quickly balloons into the threat of a lifetime of suffering. I’ve gone to ridiculous lengths to stave off that feeling in the past.

I realized recently that I had accumulated most of my possessions — the shoes, the household decor, the ill-fitting clothes and imitation bags — not out of a desire to have, but out of a need to acquire. Buying things — the physical act of making a purchase — made me feel safe. It made me feel like I was in control. It provided me with a sense of security that was often missing from a tumultuous childhood.

Keeping things was merely a way to justify having bought them in the first place. Getting rid of things that weren’t being used was an acknowledgment of my weakness, it was admitting that I had consumed for reasons other than need, which triggers an entirely separate issue I have with money:

Frivolous spending leads to poverty and insecurity.

Since I was 16 and going on weekly shopping trips with my best friend, using the money I earned waitressing to fill my closet with my own symbols of security, I have been relying on quantity to make up for a lack of quality. I have hunted ruthlessly for the bargain in order to calm my guilt about shopping. I have also used frugality to allow me to acquire more items with less money, an easy way to bolster my confidence and sense of security. I was, in a sense, addicted to the transaction and desperate to find ways to get more bangs out of each buck.

I can’t do it anymore.

My fear of money has become exhausting. I’m tired of the limitations it puts on my life. I’m tired of the influence that fear has over my future. It has begun to taint every move I make.

For the first time in a long time, I’m dependent on savings on a monthly basis. Instead of the usual hoarding of cash that I do — a habit that adds to my sense of security — I’m taking money away from our nest egg every single month. This was technically the plan, but in the back of my mind I had hoped that something would happen that would allow us to travel without depleting that savings. I’d hoped I’d be able to work hard enough, earn enough so that I wouldn’t actually have to use the savings we’d set aside for this trip.

Living on savings, even if it was planned, is scaring the crap out of me. Add to that the fact that I’m not getting my regular shopping transaction fix, that I have no idea what our financial future looks like, and that other people have discussed my family’s finances publicly on multiple occasions, and it’s no wonder that my issues with money are finally coming to a head.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure yet how to resolve them. The fear is swollen at the surface like puss, but I can’t seem to find the right angle that will release it. I’m just putting one foot in front of the other right now, acting as if money and I are right with each other, trying to move with the fear instead of because of it. I’m desperate for genuine relief.

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