I never learned about money until I sobered up. I was 29 and didn't know the first thing about managing money, much less earning it. For years, I had borrowed cash from my parents and never paid it back. I waited until the bank called me before depositing money to cover my checks.
My first brave act toward financial independence was to have a kindly bank teller show me how to balance my checkbook. It was scary to admit I didn't know how use a check register or read a bank statement. I left feeling very grown up. For the first time I could say where I spent my money: coffee, candy and cigarettes (the first three steps!).
My sponsor insisted I include a financial inventory on my fourth step. I put on paper all my awful money secrets. She said that a 12-step group was "an expensive club to join," and my mistakes with money were the dues I paid to hit bottom and sober up. With my fifth step came the first hint of relief from shame about money.
I spent years improving my understanding and handling of money. I watched Wall Street Week in Review and learned about stocks and bonds though I had nothing to invest. I subscribed to the Tightwad Gazette, washed my baggies and reused tinfoil. I earned money by training horses but was still dependent on my mother. My new sponsor, Lois, insisted that I get a job. She told me I would never feel truly adult unless I was able to support myself. She was right.
Since then my own relationship with money improved immensely. My business has grown nicely. I support myself in a lifestyle I enjoy. Moreover, I've become very excited about exploring money and consciousness. I've developed techniques to help people heal and shift their relationship with money. Coaching clients about money issues is now one of my specialty areas. I've helped many folks increase their income and have sane and empowered financial lives. So how could someone this together have a financial slip?
Mine was the direct result of moving too quickly. I was sprinting toward my goal of being debt-free. I didn't follow my own rules ("Take my advice, I'm not using it!"), and I forgot to keep ample cash in reserve. When the unexpected happened, I was not prepared. A dead computer and dental work called for money I didn't have because I had paid it all out to credit card companies. So what did I do? I pulled out my plastic and doubled my debt.
Yikes! The moral of the story: if you want to get out of debt, pay yourself first and have ample cash on hand for emergencies and the unexpected. In addition, one more thing: Stop creating debt.
I've made the decision not to debt one day at a time. Sound familiar? Folks in recovery often get themselves in serious financial trouble while stone cold sober. My best intentions to get out of debt were not enough. I have to change my actions. I have to put away my credit card.
I no longer spend more than I earn. I have decided that if I can't pay cash for it, I don't need it. I've put the universe on notice that my needs must be met within the bounds of my income. Not using credit cards requires faith and discipline. I have to trust that I’ll be okay. As a man at a meeting once said, "If your outgo exceeds your income, your upkeep and your ego will be your downfall." In my case, fear would be my downfall. I have to keep the faith as I take action to remain solvent.
How would you describe your relationship with money? Do you have good money habits? Do you pay yourself first? Yes, even if you are self-employed. Even if you have a pile of bills. Pay yourself first. Do you save for unseen events or emergencies? Do you make decisions about money based on your values and goals?
A fun and useful book about money is How to Get What You Want in Life with the Money You Already Have by Carol Keeffe.
This blog post is an excerpt from Alida’s e-book: The Corner Where Addiction and Recovery Meet: Essays about money, sex, relationships and getting past “one day at a time” thinking in early recovery.