Please be less than 25. Please be less than 25.
I wouldn’t let myself look at the screen next to the cash register, nor the woman passing items under the barcode scanner. I stared down, waiting for it to be done.
“$45.76,” the cashier said.
My stomach turned in knots as I handed her my credit card. I had gone to the store for just a few things, and did not expect to spend this much. How could you be so careless? I berated myself. I texted Ethan for reassurance, which he gave easily. I looked at our monthly budget and the numbers, and finally after a few hours, I realized it was just $20 more than I anticipated and not enough of an overage that we could adjust in other spending categories.
Money has long been a big stresser in my life. My family never went without the necessities but it wasn’t always easy for my parents. I went to college on scholarships and loans and worked part-time jobs for rent and grocery money (I had three jobs my senior year), with help from my parents from time to time. In the professional world, I worked at newspapers and non-profits, which aren’t exactly lucrative employers. For three years, while I was in the Peace Corps, I didn’t have an income nor was I making student loan payments or contributing to a 401K. Since I got my first checking account, I have never not constantly worried about how much money I have and how much I am spending. However, if there was ever a time in which I could relax a bit, it would have been this spring.
I had recently got a promotion that came with a pay increase, making the best money I ever have, and after eight months out of work, Ethan got a job with a salary that was nearly double of what he was making prior. Also, I had no debt. I finished paying my student loans last October, and we never carry credit card balances from one month to the next. I had a nice savings built up and, while it wasn’t nowhere near the amount it should be for my age, I was making progress on my retirement. Now we weren’t swimming in money, Scrooge McDuck style (remember, we were also planning a wedding at the time), but we could go to dinner with friends or buy a new sweater without thought.
Giving up this slight financial ease to go back to school was a rather difficult choice to make. And, for a lot of people, money is a big deterrent from things like graduate school. On top of that, those in the mental health profession don’t make great money, so it would be years, if ever, for me to get back to the salary I had been making at my previous job. But I made a promise to myself long ago that I wasn’t going to let money stop me from doing the things I really wanted to do with my life, and so I had to be willing to make sacrifices in other ways. There was an option to keep my job and go back to school, but to be a part-time student would extend my program from three years to four. I also thought about doing both full-time, at least for a year, but I knew that I wouldn’t be able to give my all to either and that’s just not how I wanted from my graduate experience. Thankfully, I did get a full-time graduate assistantship that pays for my tuition, and all I needed account for was living and school extras, such as fees and books.
Ethan will help cover some of our shared expenses, and I received some student aid to help cover my share of the rent and specific-to me bills, such as my phone and gym membership. While I also have a healthy savings and do receive a small stipend from GA position, it’s probably that I will the next few years, but for now I want to focus on school so we have to pare down. I may have to turn a friend down for happy hour, and Ethan will have to pass on a video game he wants. We will have to be more conscious about our groceries, and we likely won’t be going to many concerts or plays in the next three years. We are also trying to protect the things that we do want to spend money on by cutting other places. For me, that’s my gym membership, and for Ethan that is weekly trips to Chipotle. We met with a financial advisor, who assured us we are doing all the right things, and we made a budget that we go over every week. By most measures, we are in a good place.
The biggest struggle for me, though, is defaulting to the scarcity mindset and allowing myself to feel so much shame around money. I am panicked each time we spend money. I bought two pairs of leggings from Old Navy the other day because I live in black leggings and my others had holes in them, and still I was nearly in tears for spending the money. I have never been an extravagant spender and I have to still be able to enjoy my life, but I don’t know how to do that yet without having a near panic attack each time I use my credit card. At some point, I have to stop putting so much value on the money itself and giving it so much control over me. The thing is, I have worried about money my entire life and not once have I ever not been OK. I have many memories of being wonderful places and with wonderful people that are disrupted by financial anxiety. At some point, I have to say no, this isn’t going to bother me this time.
I am very lucky that I was in a financial position where I could quit my job and go back to school and that I have a husband who can support us. I understand that I have a lot of privilege working on my behalf. Even so, the next three years will have to be tight and we will have to say no on purchases we really want. That’s OK; that’s the sacrifice both Ethan and I agreed to make when I went back to school. The key, though, is reign in some of my worries about money and trust the plan we’ve put in place, and trust myself to make good money decisions. This is a pivotal time for me, and I don’t want to look back on it and only see worries over money, so I have to do the emotional and mental work around money. It’s going to take sometime, and I am not exactly sure where to start other than to talk about my fears around money on this blog, but I am willing. I guess that’s the first step.
It’s your turn to share. Money is a hard thing to discuss and something we often shy away from. What’s the best advice you received around money? What are your favorite budgeting tools and tricks? How do you deal with money anxiety? Leave a comment with your tips!