27 September 2023

Always on my mind: How to get over a financial obsession

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Tara Cater* explains what to do when a newfound personal finance obsession takes over your life.

Last summer, I spent an entire month in a personal finance deep-dive.

While I already knew and followed the basic rules of personal finance, like paying off debt and buying only what you could afford, I wanted to expand my knowledge, get better at money, and see what was working for other people.

But I soon got lost in the rabbit hole of personal finance.

I started with You Need a Budget (YNAB).

After watching hours of YouTube videos, I set up my budget using their system.

YNAB is a budgeting app and philosophy that preaches giving every dollar a job and budgeting with the money you have currently in your account so you can track every cent.

While reading the YNAB blog, I came across the “Financial Independence, Retire Early” (FIRE) movement, a trend that involves becoming financially independent so you have the option to not work.

I became obsessed.

I read the top-recommended FIRE books, which led me down a rabbit hole, which eventually led me to start learning about investing.

While I do save a little for retirement, I knew nothing about investing.

The problem was, all of this information started to take over my brain.

The world of personal finance is vast, and frankly, a mystery to most young adults.

There’s just so much to learn, and all of it feels so urgent.

Every day, I was reading a new blog dedicated to personal finance advice.

I was hanging on every word until I realised I could barely go one day without bringing up money in conversation or Googling a new concept.

I quickly realised that I was becoming stressed out and also stressing out my friends and my partner with all of my money talk.

Instead of empowering, personal finance became exhausting.

To avoid being consumed with stress, I had to find a balance in learning about money without letting it completely take over my life.

Here are some tips that helped me deal with my personal finance obsession.

Get out of the rabbit hole and take a break

After my month-long deep dive, I needed to give my brain a break from looking at numbers.

I went to the library and ran to the fiction section, where I rediscovered my love for novels.

I also started doing puzzles with my husband instead of making him read over the budget I recreated for the tenth time.

I also stopped looking at my budget obsessively every single day.

After giving my brain a break, I found myself feeling lighter and more present.

I unfollowed any financial social media account that made me feel I needed to be doing more with my money.

Schedule time for learning

While taking a break is nice, I could not completely stop my brain from thinking about all the ways I could be travel hacking, investing more for retirement, or saving on make-up.

Anytime I would come across a new money idea, I would instantly start researching it.

I started to get caught in the same patterns and realised I needed to schedule time for mulling over how to improve my finances or hack my spending.

That way, I could still learn how to improve my financial situation without it taking over my life.

I keep a note on my phone titled “Future $ Thinking” where I jot down ideas I come across for budgeting or saving money, then I close the note.

When I have some downtime, I research and geek out for an hour.

Practice gratitude for where you’re at

In a culture that tells us to hustle, push ourselves to the limit, and monetise everything, it can be challenging to stay present and be grateful for what you already have.

I’m constantly having to remind myself that anything we’re working toward in life is a journey, not a sprint.

Sometimes it feels like I need to be making progress toward my goals every minute of every single day.

While that feeling might be motivating for some, it kept me from enjoying the progress I’ve made that got me where I am now.

To centre myself, I made a list of the top 10 things that made me happy.

This list was a way to see what I want to fill my life with and a reminder that most often, what I am actually striving for are simple joys that I already have.

My money-crazed deep-dive taught me a lot, and not just about how to best manage my personal finance.

While I did emerge from the rabbit hole with a new budget and more confidence in my knowledge of investing, the best thing I learned is something I already knew: I don’t need to accomplish everything at once.

Taking a break from money was, ironically, the most beneficial thing I could do for my financial health because it allowed me to remember the things in life that matter most — all the reasons I care about getting my finances together in the first place.

* Tara Cater writes for The Financial Diet.

This article first appeared at thefinancialdiet.com.

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