Confession: I’m 34-years-old and afraid to look at my bank account.
No matter what the amount is, I seize up with fear that we are one step away from bankruptcy. It’s near panic-inducing. I’ve attempted budgeting before, but I can’t make an excel spreadsheet with formulas for shit and eventually give up. It’s a cycle I’ve repeated for years.
Besides a real inaptitude for math, I know where most of this comes from: childhood trauma. No disrespect to my parents, but my relationship with money was fraught growing up. I knew you could lose it. I had an example from my mom of how to rebuild after losing it, but I never learned how to simply manage it as an adult. How to need it, but not fear it.
Ever the therapist, when I spoke to my mom about my budget woes she introduced me to a concept called “poverty consciousness.” Poverty consciousness is the belief that there isn’t enough to money to go around (among other things); just about anything that you want or think you and others need, or that is important to you. It has nothing to do with how much money you have.
And wow if description didn’t read me for complete filth.
It was always easier to remain blissfully unaware of our finances, plus my husband has pretty much been in charge of that side of things since we got engaged when I was 22. It’s not that I wanted to be in the dark; I just couldn’t find the light and every attempt left me frustrated, scared and confused leading me back to the comfort of familiar ignorance.
That approach doesn’t lead to frank, informed conversations with one’s partner about money. With moves, more kids, new jobs, orthodontia (gahh) we fell into a pattern of not talking about it. I continued to spend without understanding the status of our accounts.
Budget Breaking Point
Things finally came to a head when my job unexpectedly ended and suddenly we really had to see what a one income household could look like. My secret shame over finances was a toxin I held on to for far too long. I reached my breaking point and asked my sister-in-law if she had any pointers for budgeting and, like a girl after my own heart, she had an excel template replete with formulas! And not just that, she talked me through how to use it. How to go through your actual spend first and then build out a budget. Track it every month and take control of your life. I needed that emotional support on top of the actual template because for me money is deeply personal and my relationship with it is complicated. I think that may be true for most of us.
It took me hours to parse through all our expenses and ultimately the convo with my husband to review the numbers and see what our output vs. input was led to ugly crying from me and a bewildered look from my husband (this all tracks). Although it was scary and I was emotionally hungover the next day from my crying jag, we’re going to be ok. I am going to be ok. I now have knowledge about our finances and with knowledge comes control and that is power. That is power over fear. There is power in knowing who your electric company is and wait, how much do we spend on Uber Eats? to actually create a budget we can stick with. (And yes, I acknowledge that there is a certain amount of privilege in my ignorance over the years, but it’s one I am finally ready to face.)
It won’t be easy. I already have this feeling of lacking – poverty consciousness right there – but it also feels like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders. My secret isn’t so shameful. I’m not alone in this struggle and I can receive help IF I ask for it.
We don’t talk enough about finances and I’m not sure that’s a good thing. I know I’m not the only one who wishes there was a “Budgeting 101” class in high school (along with a “How to Navigate Taxes” class for that matter). Maybe that just means we have to take it upon ourselves to be more transparent. Ask for help or give it when needed. We can talk about finances (just not Bruno).
If you want the excel template I use leave a comment here with your email address.