emotional spending

I filed for bankruptcy when I was 23 years old. Fresh out of college and pregnant with my first child, I was desperate for a clean slate. I’d accumulated thousands of dollars of debt in my five years as an adult and I couldn’t fathom another way out. Okay. I couldn’t fathom a faster way out and I desperately wanted to start over.

I added bankruptcy to a running list of failures that included getting kicked out of the honors program in college, graduating late, and getting pregnant before I knew how to be an adult. Each failure was a tiny death, my good girl image fading with each disappointment. If I wasn’t the high achiever that people expected me to be, then who was I? As my certainty decreased, my need for external validation increased and so did my habit of overspending.

I thought I could keep my bad habits and still get by as long as I kept up appearances.

After the bankruptcy, I got pregnant again and wanted more space for the new baby, so my partner and I moved into a bigger, more expensive apartment. Rent was due on the first of the month, but that was just a suggestion to us. We paid late more than we paid on time.

Once we were so late that the landlord called the sheriff to come put us out. I remember sitting in the living room looking around, imagining the knock on the door, the strangers in our home, the neighbors watching. Our treasures would be piled up and thrown out on the curb like trash — the crib and all the toys, the picture frames outlining our smiling faces, even the furniture that we used rent money to buy.

When my partner showed up with the money at the last minute, my relief only went skin deep. Thank God I wouldn’t have to tell my family. Thank God I wouldn’t have to deal with the embarrassment. I cared more about us looking like a normal, happy little family than I did about our toxic financial habits.

I didn’t know it yet, but I was suffering from financial imposter syndrome.

According to Maggie Germano, financial imposter syndrome is “the belief that you’re just bad with money and will never be able to improve. The idea that your past financial mistakes define you as an irresponsible person. The belief that money is bad, and that you don’t deserve to feel financially comfortable. It’s the scarcity mindset. It’s avoiding your money instead of facing and fixing issues head-on.”

I was educated, ambitious and gainfully employed but completely unaware of my value and purpose. I was searching for some sort of fulfillment, but I didn’t know what it was or how to get it. Like a drug, spending money put me under a spell that made me feel special and free, but only for fleeting moments.

Under the spell, it was better to get a payday loan than to miss out on a last-minute trip that I couldn’t afford. It was a good idea to spend unplanned money on an outfit for an event because the newness gave me confidence. Spending money on my kids was always justifiable. I’d sign them up for whatever they wanted to do and I’d figure out how to pay for it later.

I jumped from side hustle to side hustle to increase my income and with each attempt, I quit when the money didn’t come fast enough. When I was making $40K, I told myself that I really needed $50K to be comfortable. When I was making $50k, I told myself I needed $60K to make ends meet. With every salary increase, I immediately increased my expenses.

What drives this anxious pursuit of more, more, more?

We live in a competitive society, where status is often measured by possessions and appearances. Some of us spend beyond our means to maintain a carefully crafted image and keep up with the material world. What we physically have becomes more important to us than who we authentically are, and we fall under the spell of spending and consuming without consciousness.

My spending triggers were everywhere — television, music, social media, magazines, billboards, even just casual conversation when relaxing with friends. When I felt ugly, I bought. When I felt sad, I bought. When I was bored, I bought. When I was happy, I bought. Spending money was the sweetest escape, but it was always followed by guilt and withdrawal.

Over the years, there were many times that I strategized to change my habits by setting up budget spreadsheets and keeping journals to document my income and expenses. Even with a clear awareness of what was coming in and going out, I continued to make decisions that satisfied my emotional discomforts instead of doing what was wise for me and my family. I was failing to set them up for a prosperous future and I hated myself for it.

So, how did I break the spell?

I had to start being honest with myself. I knew that relief would not come from a quick fix like a higher salary or winning the lottery or even from budgeting my way to financial freedom.

To break the spell, I had to address the identity issues that fueled my beliefs about money.

To break the spell, I had to find the value in who I am and not what I have.

This time, I wasn’t looking for an escape, I was looking for a shift in consciousness. No matter what your personal issues are, you can break the spell of overspending by looking inside.

Starting with the following mindfulness techniques, you too can change your beliefs about money and ultimately change your financial future.

Get Quiet

We usually try to solve our problems by analyzing them with our minds, turning them over and over, using the same logic we used to create the problem in the first place.

If you feel bad about your financial situation, that means when you think about it you generate negative energy which doesn’t allow you to seek solutions from an open-minded, open-hearted place. You can’t immediately stop that reflex, but you can quiet your mind and decrease the strength of those old, habitual thoughts.

My suggestion is to sit quietly in meditation for 15 minutes a day. If you have trouble silencing your thoughts completely, then practice quieting thoughts about your financial situation. When your mind wanders into worried places, gently redirect yourself back to peace and quiet.

Be Still

When you’re an overspender, your life is a series of fires that you’re constantly racing to put out. Give yourself permission to stop. Don’t take any drastic action to force a solution right this minute.

I started many of my fires when I was acting out of fear and desperation. I thought more money was the answer, so I kept hustling and borrowing, strategizing with an attitude of lack.

We often think the only way to be productive is to take action but when we take action with the wrong energy behind it, we only make the situation worse. Stop running and chasing for a while and focus on the inner work.

Shift slowly

The specifics of your financial situation may seem impossible to overcome and if you think about how you’re going to do it, resistance will rise up and you’ll close yourself off to inspired impulses and ideas. Instead, concentrate on changing your energy.

Affirmations are effective tools to reprogram yourself but the key is to make them personal and accessible. They must be aspirational as well, but not so over-the-top that you can’t connect.

You can shift your thoughts from negative to positive gradually as displayed in the examples below.

Negative thoughts:

I’m bad with money. I owe thousands of dollars that I can never pay back. I’ll forever be in debt. I am a burden to my family. It’s too late for me to change. I don’t have what it takes.

Better feeling thoughts:

My past mistakes do not make me a bad person or limit my future possibilities. I am open to new habits. I am capable of change. My financial status has nothing to do with my worth as a human being. Things are getting better. I am a work-in-progress.

Positive thoughts:

I am open to all sources of abundance. Money comes to me easily. I am worthy of financial freedom. Solutions reveal themselves to me when I am calm and optimistic. Things are always working out for me.

This process tunes your thoughts to a more positive frequency in an authentic way. With consistent practice, affirmations open you to higher and higher possibilities.

What does abundance feel like to you?

Even when I had thousands of dollars in the bank, money never made me feel truly abundant. When I think of abundance, I think of the love and friendship in my life. I think about my passion for reading and writing and art and how it’s always been a source of inspiration and endless curiosity. When I put on my sneakers and go for my morning walk, I am gratitude in motion, under the spell of nature and fresh air, the sky above and the earth below. Abundance is appreciating Life and knowing that Life appreciates me, just as I am.

Take whatever makes you feel abundant and focus on that sensation.

Can you imagine feeling that way about money?

Consider that money is simply a tool to exchange energy, not a measurement of worthiness.

My identity issues and perceptions of failure wreaked havoc on my self-worth and financial well-being for most of my adult life. I broke the spell of overspending and financial imposter syndrome by getting quiet, being still and gradually shifting my beliefs about money from negative to positive.

With my heart and mind in alignment, I learned how to expect the blessing of money without forcing it and respect the blessing of money without obsessing over it. I hope my story helps you do the same.

Originally published on Medium.