It’s ironic how a topic as cut-and-dry as money can be such an emotional, subjective touch point for us. It easily dictates many of our decisions—the career we choose, where we live, what we buy, how it can affect our personal relationships, to our daily mental dialogue and consequently, our well-being. In short, we give it a lot of power.
I was not in a relationship with money: I was in a bad affair with it. You know the kind I’m talking about: unhealthy and toxic.
Many of us have no problem spending money. We find something pretty and shiny and our hypnotized eyes grab said object or service and we pay for it. We walk out of the store, or get that e-mail confirming our online order and we’re stoked and excited! It’s the quintessential consumer experience that has made the 2% rich. And with Amazon’s rising dominance of offering pretty much any product on the planet with fast shipping and low costs, we buy the pony, ride it and sail into the sunset with our credit card bill waiting at our destination.
I fall into the buying habit too, especially around the holidays. But I always think about the guilt I feel afterwards. Coz that shit stays with me for days of mental punishment. Enter the blocked creative mindset.
When I made the decision to quit my job, travel and take time off to figure out what I wanted to do, I freaked out about money. I read a bazillion blogs about how you can save to travel (think penny-pinching), mapped out hundreds of scenarios on how I can stretch my dollas, and aggressively collected air miles to redeem free-ish flights so I can survive without having to go back to work for as long as I needed.
But here’s the thing. We all have what is called a money blueprint. T. Harv Ecker, author of Secrets of the Millionaire Mind: Mastering the Game of Wealth, explains that our money blueprint is ingrained in us in emotional, non-monetary ways. There’s a crap load of theories on the interweb about how we deal with money. Google-spree that shit, coz they explain it better than I do.
For the sake of this article, an example I can give is that if you grew up poor, you can adopt a mindset of scarcity because you were hungry as a kid, or couldn’t get cool sneaks like the people in your class did. And when you grow up, even as an adult who has enough to live a comfortable life, you still feel that way. Many a time I have talked to rich people who grew up poor and have more money than I would ever know what to do with—but in their own minds, it was never enough. Sometimes it could create an opposite effect, where you spend lavishly and excessively to make up for what you didn’t have. Either way, it’s an (emotional) result based on how money played a role in your life at an early age. My father grew up poor and my mother had her own fears about money due to her family upbringing: and that fuelled my creative block.
By the time I quit, I had enough to probably last me about 6-8 months if I spent comfortably—10 months if I really watched my money, which is a part-time mental job: keeping track of every dollar you spend is a lot of work—it can get stressful yet tedious at the same time.
And here’s the thing: logically, I knew I had enough. I wasn’t going to be out on the streets in New Orleans or needing to hustle to make a quick buck in Hawaii. But I felt I needed to. Every dollar that left my hand felt difficult, because I kept thinking that I was a spender and that I wasn’t wise with my money. So what happened? I felt that I didn’t deserve that money, so I let it go. And letting it go made it feel scarcer, even though I knew I still had enough. It was a wrenching vicious cycle.
I felt too old to be hostelling with young backpackers for the whole time I was travelling so I budgeted for a somewhat-comfortable travel style. Think, 2 weeks in a hostel and then splurging on a luxury hotel for one night. And it suited me, but I’ll tell ya, booking that hotel and spending $150 dollars for one night felt like a huge splurge. It took me a good 10 minutes to click on “Book Now”. A shoutout to the NOPSI hotel in New Orleans who provided a wonderful escape of R&R after an insane few weeks bouncing around hostels before and after Mardi Gras.
I refrained from eating out alot in one of the most amazing, culinary cities in New Orleans and after a few weeks, because I felt so deprived from exercising the immense willpower of not spending, when the time came, I binged and went to a super expensive restaurant and dropped 200 bucks. And, boy, it was an amazing meal and definitely worth it. But what I didn’t like, was that I still felt so guilty spending the money when I should have been enjoying it. Looking back, I should have simply enjoyed my hard-earned money…easier said than done when you’re blocked. When you’re blocked, you’re in your own, trapped vortex. When you’re blocked, you don’t give yourself permission to indulge in what your heart desires.
Food wasn’t the only thing I skimped on. I wanted to buy and read awesome books, wanted to buy gorgeous metallic acrylic paints, and I still think about a gorgeous painting that I admired on Royal street in the French Quarter—walking away from it was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do because I couldn’t let myself buy and enjoy a painting. It’s wasteful my Inner Goblin would say. Not worth your money. You still need to pay for your accommodation. Any excuse to deny my creative, fun-loving soul. Not cool Yazz. Not cool.
Sounds hella dramatic, coz it was. Instead of buying the painting, I would push down the feeling of deprivation and go to the liquor store to buy a 1.5 L of gin. That’ll last me a couple of weeks, I would tell myself. Instead of indulging in the gorgeous emerald eyeshadow that would cheer me up so I could experiment with the fine art of makeup, I went to McDonald’s to eat my feelings. At least I bought something practical to feed me, little Ms. Practical Inner Dialogue would quip, instead of spending on something silly like makeup, which is one of my all-time loves. It was a nightmare. My waistline didn’t help either.
As I am writing this, I know that I have enough to go to Atlanta to be with my boyfriend, but I’m choosing to stay and work for a few more months because I’m a fucking freakoid about money; the idea of shelling out $300 in one go for a winter coat—even if it’s a damn good bargain– is catastrophic for me. In another instance, I mulled at the mall for about an hour and a half going over every single pro and con on splurging on a Deva curl dryer and a GHD hair straightener—not only were both items on a massive sale, but the state of Oregon—where I was shopping– doesn’t charge sales tax so it was a total steal. Ask the security guard at said mall just outside Portland. The pacing made him stare. Not my best goddess moment.
My wardrobe was also a huge symptom of my relationship with money. Add the fixed, limited mindset of pretty much nothing fitting me because of my large breasts, and I could go YEARS without buying anything—and then spend $300 on a 50s style dress which I’d wear maybe 4 times a year. Sigh…
I would like to add that for women (even men now with the shit that is our world economy), especially single women who are unmarried, who chose not to have children, heck, who cannot have children, or are simply alone (ladies, you’re not alone) have what is called bag lady syndrome—the fear that they’ll end up old, alone on the street with no home, no money, perhaps ill, with society forgetting about them. And yes, there are women out there are who are bag ladies and I get very sad and afraid when I think that it could be me one day.
Bag lady syndrome can live in the mindset of any woman. She can be an executive for a multi-national corporation making a seven-figure salary that clawed her way out of poverty. She can be a famous singer whose parents were hoarders and penny-pinchers. She can be a teacher with a safe secure job whose father was an alcoholic that spent all his earnings on booze leaving the family with nothing to eat. If you have bag lady syndrome and are also a blocked creative, letting go of your money feels impossible. And yes, I’ve read the literature showing that bag lady syndrome exists in women nearing retirement, but I think people of all ages experience it–especially children of poverty and millennials, who struggle to gain stable employment.
When I made the decision to fix my relationship with money, I decided adopt a baby-step strategy: I started with the small stuff. I set aside some dough ($30) every month to splurge on something I would never consider in a million years because it was deemed a ‘waste of money’. And I told myself that no matter what, I would NOT feel guilty about it.
When I put this experiment to work, I decided I was going to buy the Stila Vivid Jade liquid eye shadow – NO arguments from my Inner Goblin (let’s call him IG).
When I did get to the drug store, IG whispered, are you really going to wear that? You don’t wear make up often enough. It’s $31! For ONE liquid eyeshadow?! It’s a total rip off. Do you really need that? You could buy 10 Lindt bars with that’. Enough, I told IG. I grabbed the product and walked straight to the cash register to pay for it. That was the hardest (first) purchase I made after consciously deciding to make friends with my relationship with money. But it felt good to tell my inner critic to fuck off.
The positive outcome in my experiment– whether what I bought to nourish my creative soul is a success or a bust—was that I took the step. That’s a heck of a lot better than staying stuck, stagnant and blocked. As Theodore Roosevelt famously said: “In a moment of indecision, the best thing you can do is the right thing. The second best is the wrong thing. And the worst thing you can do is nothing”. In other words, buy the damn eye shadow, put it on and practice your blending skills. If you’re curious, the eye shadow turned out to be one of my favourite in my makeup collection. I be rockin’ shimmering gold and emerald green looks bitches.
I bet this article sounds nuts to a person who has a healthy relationship with money, but it was a really difficult thing to do for me: to let myself enjoy anything other than food or alcohol.
Do I still have a toxic affair with money? Not as much. It’s not an easy relationship that one can fix overnight. However, it is slowly turning into experiences of trial and error with neither guilt nor punishment for mistakes I can practice in a safe, mental space. Months down the road, I finally bought some gorgeous, high quality French bras that are sturdy, a great fit for me that cost…well, way more than $30.
I would like to emphasize that in no way do I encourage mindless consumerism: that’s unhealthy and part of a deep problem of wanting to fill a void. But I do encourage spending with discernment.
An old mentor was always going on about delayed gratification, an approach to spending which I totally subscribe to when it comes to buying stuff. Sure, there are times when you have a few minutes to decide to buy something, like if you’re in a market staring at a gorgeous scarf in Bali and it’s the last day of your vacation. If that’s the case, do a quick mental scan of your budget and indulge if the banker allows it. Before I bought the green eyeshadow, I was admiring it for at least a couple of trips to the drugstore. I would approach the Stila section and admire how the metallic green sheen glistened in the display, and how the glitter sparkled in the light. I know I want something if I can’t stop thinking about it after I see it. And I didn’t care whether it was practical or not because I simply wanted it. If I forgot about it after I left the store, I didn’t want it to begin with. And I can confidently say that I forget about 98% of the stuff I see. And if you do end up buying something and regret it–that’s what the return option is for.
If you’re a blocked creative and have trouble letting go of your money to nourish your creativity, the first seemingly frivolous purchase is going to be the hardest. The key is to train your mindset without judgment, and let it be. For some, giving themselves the permission is easy. For others, well, it could take 1 or 5 or 20 trips to the drugstore before you do it.
How about you? Do you struggle with letting go of your money? Do you binge-spend? What other solutions have you come up with to deal? Let me know in the comments below!