Sunday, September 13, 2015

Money Stress

I spend far too much time thinking about money.

At work, I keep track of every one of my patient encounters, ostensibly to ensure that I'm correctly billing for my work, but in reality as a way of monitoring exactly how much I'm earning.  When spending money, I record every transaction in my iPhone budget and then check to see how much money is left.  At home, I check my bank account, my monthly budget, and my net worth statement over and over and over again.

It's becoming unhealthy.

On the surface, it seems like the motivation behind this is good - I want to live below my means so that I can be back to a positive net worth by the end of 2016.  Looking deeper, however, it's clear that there are other, less positive, driving forces.  The main one is fear.  I'm afraid that something will happen to me before I'm able to repay my debt and I won't be able to support myself.  I'm afraid that I won't have enough money for retirement.  I'm afraid that I'll always have to watch my spending and will never be able to stop thinking about my budget.

There's also shame.  From the time I was a child, I was a person who saved money.  I saved for my first camera; I saved for university; I saved for my first car.  Prior to starting medical school, my only debt ever had been a small line of credit from my undergraduate degree, which was paid off within a few months of starting graduate school and getting a regular paycheque.  The monstrosity that is my medical school debt (over $210,000 at its worst) looms over me like a reminder of my past sins.  I hate that it's there, and I hate that I'm responsible for how out of control it got by the end.

So.  How do I stop obsessing about money?  The first step is clearly to acknowledge that I am okay.  I'm employed.  I'm earning a good income.  I'm taking steps to save for retirement and repay my debt.  As long as I earn the amount that has been very conservatively estimated for my income*, which I have been from the very beginning, then I can keep my current budget and be out of the red by the end of next year.  I also have a girlfriend with a stable job who would do everything possible to make sure I was okay (we were okay) if something happened.  I am okay.

The second step is to stop thinking about it so bloody much.  While I need to have some awareness of my finances, I don't need to know the precise details on a minute by minute basis.  To this end, I'm restricting how much I can look at my financial information.  Once a day, I can access my spreadsheet of income to enter my billings for the day.  I can look at my iPhone budget only when I'm entering a purchase.  And I can only look at my monthly budget and net worth statement once per week on Sunday mornings when I'm doing paperwork.  No more checking my net worth every few hours to make sure it's still okay.

I'm hoping that stepping back from my finances will make me happier.  My goal, ultimately, is to put my finances on autopilot so that I can focus on the much more interesting business of living this wonderful life that I am blessed to have.

*I'm working fee-for-service, so my income is entirely determined by how much I work.  Which doesn't help with my anxiety.


  1. Ugh, I feel this entry so deeply. For me, it's not finances. It's calories. I had to stop tracking at all to feel any freedom, and now I just check in once in a while. It means that I'm heavier than I would be otherwise, but it's freed up a lot of healthy brain space for other, more productive pursuits. It sounds like you're on the right path, but it's a hard one at best.

  2. I'm right at the start of the debt roller coaster that is med school and I find myself obsessing about it quite a great deal. I'm projecting that I'll finish residency with around $250k-$260k total debt between my student loans and LOC. I likely won't have a positive net worth until my oldest is just a couple years from university himself. It's rather nerve-wracking, and I revisit my spreadsheets daily as well. This is a helpful reminder to step back and take a deep breath, though, because I'm probably working myself up. I can't obsess about it too much, I just have to be reasonably cautious about my finances.

  3. For me, I only stopped obsessing about money when I had money. After things were not just on track but I felt a bit ahead of the game, monetarily, the money anxiety lessened and went away. That took time and discipline beyond what a lot of people consider to be normal.

    What % interest rate are your school loans at? If they're reasonably low, then I would think you could rationalize your sensible payoff strategy. I never felt particularly anxious about our housing debt, even though it was close to 250K, even during the housing crash, I think because we were able to refinance to a relatively low interest rate. But DH's undergrad loans were at a much higher interest rate and I was willing to cut our spending to the bone to get rid of them.

    I also don't think that having debt (which is a sunk cost-- you can't change the past) has to be a source of guilt. There can be something powerful and empowering about paying down debt, even if it takes temporary sacrifices to do it. Instead of focusing on the negative, can you focus on the positive, watching your balances go down? Can you set yourself smaller goals and celebrate meeting them?

    That said-- checking less often sounds healthy! Though I definitely look at my financial numbers whenever I'm anxious, so I get that.

  4. When we bought our first house, we were followonf our finances like you describe... Then, it doesn't change much from day to day, so we didn't look at it as much... And then, you stop working to go back to (med) school, loose a full salary, and you don't want to look at it anymore because it is depressing... It might be a recipe for disaster though! I am confident you'll find your balance, but it might take a few months... And it is interesting to see the progress you make at the very beginning!

  5. I feel very similar. I recently decided to cut back on work... and I am constantly worried that I won't make enough to cover my expenses and put money away to save. Despite crunching the numbers over and over again. I think you're right that it' a good idea to check less often!