Feeling the Healthy Pinch

Standing in line at one of the Big 4 banks (let’s call it Tells Largo) I saw a large poster of an extremely happy Dad twirling his Son around in delighted circles. “Getting your financial life handled feels good” the poster told us.

Well. Actually. Umm…how to say this? NO IT DOESN’T. Eating chocolate cream pie feels good. Getting a massage feels good. For years, getting my financial life handled has NOT felt good, in many ways. It doesn’t mean it’s not the wisest thing for me to do, but I take issue with this idea that the work of it feels good.

Am I grateful for having gotten my financial life in order? Yes. Do I prefer it over the alternative of vagueness and/or unmanageability? Absolutely yes. Does it “feel good”. NO. I think this is important for people to know. You’re not doing it wrong, or missing out on something important, if getting your financial life in order feels bad and hard to do.

How it actually has felt for me to take ownership of my finances: scary, overwhelming, insurmountable, tiresome, torturous, confusing, saddening, frustrating, and peppered with shame. I am so lucky that a mentor found me back when I was trying to just not need any money. (The theory was there would be nothing about which to have upset feelings. That failed as an overall financial strategy.) I cried with him so much as we looked at finances and talked about budgeting, investing, etc.

I see many people who get waylaid by the discomfort of moving ahead on this stuff. I feel frustrated when more disconnected financial “experts” make it sound so easy, as if it’s just a matter of crossing things off a to-do list. I hope that’s true for some people, that it’s simple and straightforward once they get the information. It just has never been true for me as I work on my finances. Getting my financial life in order continues to be challenging, squirrelly, and scary much of the time. I wish there was more income. I wish there was more in savings. I feel guilty that I’m not 100% invested in zero carbon footprint kinds of things. It hurts my heart that there are children out there starving, and I throw away vegetables that I bought in a fit of cooking willingness and then ignored for days. But I’m glad I’m working on this stuff. I’m taking my best educated guesses, I track the in’s and out’s, and stay connected with my personal team about net worth goals and major spending decisions.

I do often recommend that people find an accountability partner. It can be downright treacherous to go for growth and increased clarity without a solid friend to check in with at the sketchy times. (i.e. Woo hoo, I got a bonus check! I know I probably should pay off the credit card balance, but don’t you think a trip to a tropical island would be so much better for me instead? It’s practically a mental health investment.) I’ve learned over the years, though, that many folks literally do not know a person with whom they feel comfortable talking about personal finance, who also is taking good care of their own finances. That’s okay…just getting started is key, whatever it takes.

Some folks will pick up a basic finance book, power through it, and incorporate that system. Others will pick and choose aspects from different systems, to customize their best fits. Some have the frugality fetish and enjoy spending as little as possible. Others want to make sure they are maximizing lifestyle options now, while being aware that there may be lifestyle brakes to put on in the future. There’s no “perfection” we are shooting for here…ultimately none of us knows how long we have to fund this life on earth. We’re really just shooting for our best. The important part, in my experience, is knowing what MY best is. And you knowing what YOUR best is. That can help a lot when the ride gets bumpy and uncomfortable along the way.