Personal Finance and Self-Worth

Kelly wrote in with a very interesting story. Even though she gave me permission to publish the full thing, I edited it quite a bit for some privacy reasons that will be obvious when you read the story.

While I was married, I was really depressed. I had more money, but I spent most of the time hating myself. I thought that I was worthless because [my husband] told me I was all the time. I wasn’t “allowed” to have friends.

The only things I had that would make me feel better for a little bit were expensive things like going to the spa. [My husband] made plenty of money and never really complained about the bills.

[After a long series of rather scary events], [m]y sisters had an intervention. They bought me a plane ticket and flew me to Tampa to live with them for a while.

I’ve rebuilt my life here. I spend time with my sisters who are just wonderful and really supportive. I started working at [one of her sisters]’ office as an administrative assistant. I’m doing what I want, when I want.

I don’t feel worthless anymore. I don’t feel like I need to spend money to be happy any more.

It was that last paragraph that really hooked me.

I don’t feel worthless anymore. I don’t feel like I need to spend money to be happy any more.

I know exactly what she means.

The worst overspending period in my life occurred in the year between my wife discovering she was pregnant with our first child and our financial bottom.

In a lot of ways, that was a very happy time. On the other hand, I spent pretty much every day of that period realizing how I was failing at becoming the father I wanted to be.

I had always promised myself that I would be a father that would always be around for every important moment for my children. Yet I found myself in a job that involved travel several times a year, causing me to miss big moments with my children, and it also essentially required me to work on weekends (as an emergency fixer), which also caused me to miss a lot of moments. I was failing.

I had always promised myself that I would raise my children in a nice home where they’d have plenty of space to play and engage in their projects. Yet we lived in a tiny apartment and had no real prospects of leaving that situation in the near future.

I had always promised myself that I would turn my writing into something successful. Yet I had only had the faintest bites on anything I had ever written and was finding myself with less and less time to write.

I had a wonderful wife and a beautiful child, but I still viewed myself as being worthless. I was failing in the areas I promised myself I would never fail in.

So I spent money, often with reckless abandon. I didn’t like who I was or where my life was at that time, so I bought stuff. Lots of stuff. Mountains of video games, DVDs, CDs, and countless other items. I ate at expensive restaurants, even for breakfasts and lunches by myself.

When I finally hit my financial bottom, I made several financial decisions out of sheer panic in order to get some grip on my financial situation. Once I was through the initial crisis and I really realized that I had succeeded and how much impact my own choices had on my finances, I felt good. I felt proud that I was able to take control of this part of my life.

From there, spending less became something of a self-fulfilling loop. The less I spent, the more confident I felt in my own self and my ability to turn things around. As my self-worth grew, it became easier to spend less because I didn’t need to purchase things to feel good about my situation any more.

Your stuff doesn’t define you. It won’t fill the holes you feel in your life. It won’t solve the problems you face. It just makes you feel good for a little while, but then you’re back to where you started (and often in a slightly worse spot).

Instead, your actions define you. If you choose to stand up for yourself and for your dreams, you become the type of person that defines their own future. It’s up to you to make that choice. No one else reaps the rewards from making that choice, and there’s no one else to blame when you don’t.

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