The ‘M’ word

By Justine Lister

There are many things that I have conquered or overcome in my life. I have given up smoking, studied for a degree, trained to become a teacher, recovered from a breakdown, been a single parent, and escaped an abusive relationship.

However, until recently, there have been two things that have frustratingly escaped my grasp of control.

I know that I am not alone or special in either my achievements or my failures, but I remain perplexed at the lack of success that I have had regarding the management of my weight and the management of my money. This article will focus on the latter, although there are surprising parallels between my two evil nemeses.

As a person I have shown that I have determination, tenacity, willpower, patience and courage – so why are these traits not enough? How have I been able to achieve so much yet not be able to master the simplest of things – living within my means?

Money for me has always had that ‘ick’ factor and still has. Until recently, I would rather have had conversations about sex, politics, and religion with my nearest and dearest over money any day of the week. When the subject comes up, the hot prickles of fear and anxiety start spiking through my body alongside other negative emotions: guilt, shame, jealousy, confusion, and greed. We all know how destructive and toxic unresolved issues have on our psyches and so it was more than time for me to investigate and unpick my relationship with money.

I would say that for the last 10 years I have been in the privileged position of working hard and earning good money. There is absolutely no reason on earth why I should have accumulated debt. I have had to maintain my car, my daughter, the dogs, and my social life – which should have been more than doable.

My longstanding and overworked therapist has helped me understand a little more about the hold that money has over so many people. She explains it as a powerful entity that can trigger a plethora of overwhelming feelings and emotions. In her own words: ‘People’s reactions to money can evoke all manner of thoughts and feelings. This is because when you combine money with relationships you are also dealing with power, control, status and identity.’ This resonated with me and when I started thinking about money, in terms of what it can stand for and symbolise to me as an individual, it all started to make a little more sense.

FOMO (fear of missing out) is not just a phenomenon felt by the teenagers that we know. I get FOMO all the time.

A girls’ weekend away…

A spa day…

Theatre trip…

Lunch/Dinner/Breakfast/Brunch/Tea and cake out…

Cocktails/Wine tasting…

Day at the races…

These are examples of some of the amazing things that I am asked to partake in frequently, over the course of a year. They are things that I enjoy doing with people that I love spending time with. I get a zing of joy through my body when my company is requested, and I feel loved and needed. When I say yes to these invitations, I become the ‘fun’ Justine, the spontaneous, go with the flow, embrace life, carpe diem, devil may care woman living life without a care in the world. That is who I want the world to see.  

But when I look at the list of wonderfulness and think about the monetary cost of each experience (and sometimes these combine too – you cannot have a day at the races without bubbles, or see a show without the pre-show dinner, cocktails and shopping) the ‘fun’ Justine is actually nowhere to be seen, in reality. ‘Fun’ Justine has been replaced with her fretful twin who is wondering how on earth she can afford two or three of these a month. More so, how could she ever say ‘No.’ Oh the nausea, the waves of actual sickness that floods my veins at the thought of not going, or even worse saying to anyone that I cannot afford to go (imagine several scream and crying face emojiis right now!)

For goodness sake, Justine – get a flippin’ grip, how spoilt do you sound?!

I can afford to do nice things. I can afford to and I am allowed to, but, I am not a millionaire housewife of Beverly Hills, Cheshire or Saffron Walden. I earn good money, but I do not have a bottomless fun fund that will allow me to do what I want, when I want, without saving or pre-planning.

Lesson No.1 – I can be the fun Justine without causing myself unnecessary stress and worry. With some forward thinking and saving, a good life can be lived and enjoyed.

FOMO – okay, it’s a real thing but what would I rather, the fear of missing out on the odd thing, or the anxiety caused by over committing to things?

A self-fulfilling prophecy is defined as ‘the process by which a person’s expectations about someone can lead to that someone behaving in ways which confirm the expectations,’ If someone is labelled as clumsy, stupid, a good eater, naturally skinny, sensitive or caring, enough times, then it is my belief that they will naturally begin to self-fulfil that role and not challenge it – especially if that role has been bestowed upon them by someone of importance.

As a mum and a teacher, I am a great believer in the effect of personality projections of others onto youngsters and try my very hardest not to negatively label the young people that I may influence. I am not saying that I am perfect and that I have never labelled someone else unintentionally. Nor am I blaming anyone who ever made an observation about my character or personality for my inability to balance my bank account. What I am saying is, that I believe that our traits and abilities can be influenced and moulded by how others see us, and that how others see us can play a part in how we see and identify with ourselves. Herein lies another nature-nurture debate for another time.

So, let us just say that I was not the most frugal child, or young adult growing up. Pocket money did indeed burn a hole in my pocket and if I was given £2 from my grandma then I wanted that Rippa Skippa for £2.99. She loved telling the story that my older brother was the only child to go into a shop and come out with more than he went in with, as of course she had to give him the extra pound that she also gave me for the skipping rope.

To add to the ‘I never have enough,’ and ‘spend, spend, spend,’ mentality that was readily in place from young was my single parent on benefits chapter that lasted for most of my twenties.

I will forever be grateful for the financial assistance that allowed me and my daughter to have a home together, but contrary to popular media, you are not left with enough for branded clothes, the newest mobile phones, and nights out. When I say that I had to juggle the bills, I mean I just that. I had to cancel direct debits to do the food shopping and then reinstate them when I had money in the bank. Looking back now though, back then it was easier, the less money you had the easier it was to manage. You could not overspend when you didn’t have enough to start with.

When I started my first full-time teaching position and my first pay came in, that was it, I had made it. Never again was I going to worry about or juggle money. Yes, that’s what I thought, I literally stuck to that mentality going forward.

Lesson No.2 – Behaviours, including spending behaviours can be challenged and changed at any time. Just because I have always been a spender does not mean that I always have to be. Just because I have never saved a penny in my life does not mean that I never can.

I alluded before to the similarities that I find between eating and spending, in that I tend to do both mindlessly, with little thought, and as an adverse reaction to stress and anxiety. A bad day and feeling exhausted equals a packet of biscuits or half a loaf of toast. Can’t sleep at night for worrying then Amazon, Next and eBay are the best therapy. Both experiences give me the same release. Both fill an emotional void quickly and self gratifyingly, without the need for thought or addressing the real issue. I hate to think about the amount of money that I have mindlessly spent on things that I have ‘needed’ from the mundane and harmless inexpensive lip balms, to the extravagant weekends away and hundreds of pounds spent on clothes pre holidays.

Also, under the umbrella of emotional spending, comes the Justine that loves to look after people and give nice things. I have been truly loved and looked after my whole life. Friends and family have gone above and beyond in giving to me and my daughter. We have never gone without, if anything we have had more than our fair share of generosity. I am forever indebted to my friends and family for all that they have done, and I feel like I could never pay them back. And so, I think I have tried to pay people back by buying things as proof of my love and gratitude, and also by not ever saying no to doing things with these amazing people – regardless of whether I have the money to, or not.

Lesson No.3: Breathe. Stop the cycle. Why am I trying to fill a void with the spending? Tell the truth. My friends and family would understand 100% if I shared my truth and told them that I needed time to pay for something, or if I have to say no. I can tell my loved ones how much I love and appreciate them without spending. I can just tell them.

Overdrafts, credit cards and credit accounts. Up and up and up and never cleared like I had promised myself I would. Spend, feel bad and ashamed, spend more – the self-destructive cycle spirals on and on until it just cannot anymore.

That’s it. That’s the story of how my money bubble went pop. The bubble got too big and made a big mess of my head and my bank account.

Luckily, my other half is an accountant. I think that’s why it took me so long to tell him and ask for help – how could I be so rubbish with money, living with someone who literally accounts for every single penny day in day out. He was lovely and kind and sensible and did what he does best – he created me a spreadsheet. Two months in and I have stayed in the black, have stopped all of my credit, set up repayment plans and…..drumroll…..I currently have £240 in savings. Me! I have savings!

I cannot tell how free I finally feel having tackled the money issue head on. It still feels icky and scary but not like it did before. Control and power are coming back into my hands and I am ready for a manageable, solvent, and secure financial future, finally at the age of 43.

Forgotten or don’t know what a rippa skippa was? https://www.doyouremember.co.uk/memory/rippa-skippa

Find out more about a self-fulfilling prophecy: https://www.simplypsychology.org/self-fulfilling-prophecy.html

Impartial Debt Advice: https://www.stepchange.org/

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