Monday, November 7, 2016

Ignoring Money

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. 

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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.

6 comments:

  1. I think sometimes it takes a couple years to get into a nice financial groove. Before the student loan days, before I was married or even lived with my husband, back when I was solvent I also obsessively checked my bank accounts and felt horrible guilt whenever they'd go down a bit. It took me a few years to get over it - now I text my bank once a day for my balance (I'm always worried about stolen info since I see it with my clients) and check the loans two or three times a week, but otherwise I've gotten out of the habit because frankly it gets old fast. Solvency is fun and exciting and new for you so well done trying to keep the obsessive tendencies to a minimum!

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  2. Once we got everything on track and a nice buffer, I stopped paying attention to our finances. Now I only look when we need to (if there's a big change coming up) or once a year when we do taxes. We have things pretty much on auto-pilot, so we're still increasing in net worth, but I don't generally know how much.

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  3. Can you work w/ a professional financial planner? You seem so afraid! If you're putting away & out of debt you need to live your life! You can't take it with you! That's not to say be reckless, just be sure to live w/out fear or angst!

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  4. As with nearly everything in life, finding an appropriate balance is the best approach. [Pun not initially intended, but then I recognized it and decided to leave it, so... pun intended]

    Ignoring finances completely is a plan to fail. Obsessing over them will not improve the situation, and can make matters worse if you start to micromanage and make changes based on small movements in the markets.

    Updating your financial status once a month should be sufficient. I hope you enjoyed the cabin, company, books, and nachos!

    -PoF

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  5. Congratulations on your continued progress. I too hope you enjoyed you weekend away.

    It's difficult and important to remember that this is a marathon, not a sprint. If you burn out now and only work for a year or two, your finances will suffer much, much more than if you take your foot off the gas a bit. 15 days of call in one month doesn't seem sustainable.

    If you aren't well, you won't be able to heal others either. We've all been there and are rooting for you too.

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  6. My post coming up next Tuesday is similar to this. My wife asked me to stop going over our monthly expenses because it was stressing her out. She figured we had already started spending (and saving) appropriately; therefore, evaluating the budget with a microscope each month did not add much to our life.

    Keep on keeping on. It is a slow, steady climb to financial independence.

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