I’d like to say that this is a post about getting rid of your anxieties with money. The reality is that this post is more about exploring my own anxieties with money, why I have them and how I combat them.
I have thought about and worried about money since the 7th grade. I grew up in a very blue collar home with parents who struggled to make ends meet on a monthly basis. After years of working low paying jobs, my parents started an auto parts business. The business opened when I was 6 years old and I don’t really recall a time with the business that it wasn’t a financial struggle. The early years were okay and the store even had a couple of employees (besides my parents) but as the years went on it became more and more of a financial chess game.
From the time that I was about 12 years old, I started helping out at the store. I can remember vividly sitting in the office at the store watching my mother tally up the sales from the day while also going through and prioritizing the bills that needed to be paid. To this day I can still feel the tension and stress of watching her trying to cover the store’s bills while at the same time needing to pay the family so that they’d have money for the mortgage, food and all the other expenses that a family has.
As a child, I can remember always shopping at the lowest cost grocery store and eating store brands with nearly no exceptions. We ate the blue collar classics like hot dog casserole, fish sticks and I can’t even begin to guess how many different ways that we ate hamburger with various noodles or rice. My parents always included vegetables (store brand, of course) and we never went hungry, which I’m incredibly grateful for. Don’t get me wrong, we weren’t destitute or anything, but we were living a lower middle income life and often times struggled to support that lifestyle.
As I progressed through my teen years, I stumbled along looking for a calling in life. I was absolutely sure that I did not want to try to carry on the family business when I reached adulthood. I talked to my parents often about the fact that I didn’t want to take over the family business. The thought of taking it over and the financial stress of it all was too much for me to deal with and I think they understood.
As I turned about 22 or so, they finally shut the business down. While some people would have run from the debts that the business had, my parents spent years paying off every last bit of it with income from their new jobs. These new jobs weren’t exactly high paying (custodian and healthcare book keeper) but they were enough to make ends meet and, with personal sacrifice, they honored all of the debts from the business.
After the business shut down I found a job working in a warehouse while I attended community college part time. It felt good to have money in the bank and not feel like we were just around the corner from doom and gloom. I ultimately saved enough money to pay my way through college and got a degree. From the time that I graduated college, I’ve never been unemployed and have always made enough to live a firmly entrenched middle class lifestyle.
Since starting at the first job out of college I’ve never really needed to worry about money, yet there is always a bit of anxiety in the back of my head. All these years later, I still sometimes feel like that kid watching my mom juggle the bills, anticipating not being able to pay the bills if an unfortunate event occurs.
So, how have I dealt with the feelings of financial anxiety during my adulthood? I’ve done a few things that have drastically helped me live a relatively anxiety free life. My wife and I carry no debt, other than a mortgage and owe far less than our home is worth. We save the maximum amount that we can in our retirement accounts, we save for our daughter’s college and we maintain a sizable savings account balance. Having no debt (other than the mortgage) and keeping 9+ months of cash in savings are the two biggest factors that help us live without fear of the many financial speed bumps that we might encounter over the years.
I think we’ve done a good job of “living for today and planning for tomorrow” but I’m often bothered at the fact that I have such a defensive approach to money management. I think my early experiences have definitely made me more risk averse and made me always think about what “could” happen. It’s something that I’m working on conquering but it’s not an easy habit to change.
So, this post isn’t a lesson on how to squash your financial anxieties. I think we all have different experiences that shape our approach to money management. Understanding why you manage your personal finances the way you do can go a long way towards making changes that will help you financially succeed going forward.