Not too many years ago, I felt like a slave to money. I couldn't stop obsessing about how much I made, how I was going to pay for college for a child that not only wasn't even conceived but wasn't even thought of, and how I was going to buy a house; I needed more money because more would allow me to live my lifestyle, save for the future and buy a nice home. It's taken me a few years, many journals, and the birth of my daughter to realize that what I need can't be bought with money. I "need" the love, support, and respect of my husband. (I say need but really I mean want. I need oxygen, food. I want a healthy relationship with my spouse. There is a difference.) I need some of the same from my child. I'm blessed beyond belief and that really has nothing to do with money.
Don't get me wrong, money is important to me, very, very important to me. However, it doesn't have a binding effect like it used to. It's a work in progress and a constant struggle to balance out my life, but I've identified my goals, both financial and non-financial, and my values. I try to live my life in alignment with these values and goals: every decision I make takes me back to these two areas.
How did I get here? Well, the long drawn out story will be posted somewhere else. The short story is that I started by journaling a lot about my feelings, I wrote about why I felt the way I did about money, and then I read a lot. I've read many self-help money tomes on how to get my financial life in order. Once you read a few, you get the gist of everyone's message which is to spend less than you make and save a chunk for living your life now and in the future. Sounds simple, but it's oh so hard! The first simple step (besides educating myself) was to track exactly where my money went. How much did I actually make? How much exactly did I spend on health care, groceries, concerts, insurance? I made my husband track just how much he put in parking meters:) (We have a line in our expense chart for parking meters...I know it's crazy, but I really, really needed to know where we were spending our money!) I learned from this monthly snapshot what was important to us and where we were frivolously spending money. Nothing surprised me except that we pay about $700-800 a year for a Harley motorcycle that sits in our garage for a huge chunk of time. (I've since made peace with the fact that this expense exists, but will certainly be one of the first to go if we are ever in a bind.)
Finding out where our money went helped to move me to the next step which is to evaluate our expense reports and make sure what we were spending money on was in alignment with our financial goals and values. Then, I made saving a priority (which I've always done, but I kicked it up a notch.) We've always saved to my 401(k), a traditional IRA, and a Roth IRA, but we didn't have an E-fund set up. So, in addition to those savings vehicles, I established an E-fund with HSBC. Within a few months I've already built it to $4700. It is a rush to see my savings grow, to check how much money 5% interest really brings in. That rush used to be full-filled with shopping, but not anymore.
I'm in a much, much better place in my emotional-financial house since I created a game-plan. I can only make so much money, I can only save so much money, I can only do a finite thing with money. If I lost every penny today, I would still be ok. If my marriage were to dissolve, I'd be ok (albeit, very, very sad, but ok.) I have a wonderfully supportive husband, a gorgeously smart child, and we all have good health and love for one another. Sure, I'd stress out and find a way to rebuild our savings, but I would be ok. What gets me out of bed in the morning is knowing that I make a difference to someone in the world, right now, I make a difference to my family and friends.
I'm going to close with a quote from Liz Perle's book, "Money, a memoir". "As long as I had believed that financial security purchased emotional security, I'd lived a dependent, conditional life. Conditional on the individuals, families, institutions--even fantasises--that I'd invested with the power to take care of me. When I made that quiet contract with cash so long ago, I'd trusted that money would compensate for my emotional needs. As a result, each time one of those sources of security disappointed me or disappeared, I was left in a state of fear." I used to feel this way about money and relationships too. I feel blessed that at the young age of 31 that I know that I don't "need" anything or anyone to be ok. Money doesn't define me or my values or character.