As a medical trainee, I pretty much ignored my finances. Having been a disciplined saver of at least 10% of my earnings since I turned 18, it was depressing to watch my savings first disappear and then turn into a six-figure debt. So I didn't. I stopped looking at my bank account, I stopped filing my taxes*, and I essentially pretended that money didn't exist.
I existed in this world of willful ignorance for eight years, until a scare at work made me question whether I was going to get to be a doctor. Suddenly the debt that I had thought would be easy to repay grew monstrous, as I imagined paying it off without a physician's salary. So I started paying attention. And budgeting. And slowly I got myself to a point where my net worth went up a bit every month.
And then I got my adult job. And suddenly my net worth was going up a lot every month. Within 10 months of starting as an attending, I had saved enough money to repay my debt. It felt pretty awesome. But it also felt pretty obsessive. Every day when I came home from work, I would check my bank balance and my credit card balance and my payment owed balance to figure out how much I was worth.
Every single day.
It got to the point that I was attaching too much of my self worth and feelings of security/insecurity to a single number. On days when I'd have a good clinic (or, even better, have a good clinic and be on call), I'd feel happy, confident that I was moving towards a future of security and happiness. On days when I'd pay my rent or my car insurance, however, I'd be miserable. Any downward movement in my net worth felt like a failure.
So I stopped looking.
For all of October, I kept my net worth file closed and simply ignored it. I kept tracking my earnings and my spending, and I must admit that I tried to mentally estimate my net worth a few times, but I didn't check my net worth obsessively. And it felt so much better. I didn't get angry at patients who failed to show to clinic, viewing them as a lost revenue stream. I didn't get upset when I had to, or chose to, spend money. I knew that, regardless of what was happening day to day, overall my net worth was going in the right direction.
I was going to be fine.
Ironically, October had the second biggest net worth increase of any month since I started working. This was in no way related to my behaviour, and in every way related to the 15 days of call that I worked, but it was still really comforting to know that I could let go of my hypervigilance about money, and it would still be okay.
Now that October is over, and I can check my net worth as often as my heart desires, I'm trying hard to not fall back into my old patterns. I don't want my happiness to be tied to money. I don't want to be anxious on the days when my spending exceeds my earnings - which is every single weekend day. I don't want to be constantly comparing myself to all the personal finance bloggers and feeling inadequate. I want my money to be in the background, slowly growing, while my much more exciting and fulfilling life goes on in the foreground.
*This is a really, really dumb thing to do.
Wondering what my November goal is? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. I'm feeling burnt out at the moment, and all I can think about is spending four days this weekend at a cabin with my girlfriend. And books. And nachos!
Self improvement will have to wait for December.