“I used to be a shopaholic”, I tell people. My emphasis on the past tense is a way to reassure myself that my financial life is changing. That I am changing.
And in many ways, I am.
What has changed is the fact that I now use cash instead of credit when I buy anything. That’s because I no longer own a credit card. Or a store card. In fact, my car was paid off a year and a half before the full financial term (saving almost R15 000 in the process).
I also have a budget and track what I spend each month. I know, I sound like Smart Money Wonder Woman, don’t I? If only that were true.
In many ways, I haven’t changed at all.
I started out my working life from a deficit. A soul deficient. I felt like I needed to buy the right clothes so that I could fit in. That would make me happy. The right clothes were the only things standing between me and acceptance. Clothes were my drug of choice.
But no matter how many store cards I had and how many clothes I bought, pretty didn’t fit from the outside. I look at my photos of me in my 20s – and I wish I could tell that vivacious woman, who doesn’t see her beauty, that she is enough. She has always been enough. She will always be enough.
What I had was never enough until I began to believe that I am enough. That realization (coupled with the fact that I got married and my debt became my husband’s debt) helped me to stop digging my own financial grave.
What changes when you believe: “I’m enough”
When you grow up poor, you begin to believe that you’re stuck that way. Rich people were the lucky ones, I thought. Some are just born with it; others just have to learn to do without it.
Those lies that I unconsciously believed dictated my choices and ultimately created my financial picture. Remember that soul deficit I mentioned earlier? I tried to fix internal pain with external pleasures. I would get store cards and credit cards – all the while trying to ignore the uncomfortable feeling in my gut.
I would wander the malls on weekends, knowing that a better use of my time would be writing, but something in my soul was aching – and I tried to buy pretty shoes and tops and pants and accessories to mask the ugly inside.
And when it all got too much and I couldn’t ignore the bills anymore, I would go into a manic frenzy and dig a deeper hole, vowing that this would be my last loan to settle all the debt and never again would I get myself into this crazy mess. Except that it didn’t work. I kept going through the maddening cycles, feeling stuck and hating myself.
I didn’t know that I could choose a different landscape. I strengthened the invisible barrier between the ‘rich and lucky’ and the ‘poor and unlucky’. This mindset was deeply entrenched over 14 years and when I finally met the man I had to marry, I had no idea what a yukky place I was in.
My turning point came when we had to sign the premarital contract and I had to expose the black-and-white horror of the financial hole he had to jump in. The weird thing was, until I saw how my financial choices were affecting someone else, I wasn’t able to make the change.
It’s selfishness really. Like any addict. We want the things we want because it makes us feel good. “As long as it doesn’t hurt anybody,” we chant. Until it does. And we have to face the truth about how our selfish indulgences have been a form of unintended self-harm.
Creating a vision of your financial “promise land”
My husband is on the other side of the poverty mindset spectrum. Instead of trying to buy comfort and ignore the stark financial truths, he sees the reality all too clearly.
It’s been an interesting journey to not just find a middle ground but to start envisioning a positive financial future. We began to dream about what our lives might look like if we didn’t have debt anymore. Within the first year of our marriage, the most significant milestone was drawing up a joint budget.
He also took ownership of the mountain of debt. It was no longer ‘my’ Everest, but ‘our’ Everest. And the closer we get to the summit of living debt-free, the stronger other areas of our relationship has become.
Financial incompatibility is one of the factors of relational friction that people cite when getting a divorce. And yet a proverbial financial desert filled with tumbleweeds can be transformed into a rainforest of fertility and promise.