Updated: Mar 2, 2021
I have a secret to reveal, and it's not easy to share: Only a few years ago, I had a fear of opening my mail. Sometimes, I would put it aside and later find unopened mail at the bottom of a neat pile on my desk, "organized chaos" as I used to think of it. Or, it would be opened but still put aside for later.
"Mail?" you might be thinking. "What's so scary about that?"
For me, I just felt overwhelmed. See, for years my mom managed my money. She received my bills and paid them from my checking account. Apart from writing checks and using my debit and credit cards, I was blissfully unaware of my account balance and activity. For years, I'd go out and spend money, all the while completely unaware of how much I could even spend, unless mom gave me a heads up. Overdrafts, maxed-out credit cards, and late payments became my norm. The whole concept of managing my money was overwhelming to me, and I was faced with so much fear--fear of being aware and of managing it--and so I chose to avoid it.
Everyone would tell me how easy it was to pay bills online or at least manage my bills through online banking. I thought I'd do it eventually, but for whatever reason, I wasn't ready to take that leap and so I came up with every excuse I could find, such as this: "Oh, I tried online banking, but my password wouldn't work, and I haven't bothered with it since."
By the time I moved in with my then-boyfriend-turned-husband in 2016, I knew it was time to start taking matters into my own hands, though I took it slowly, as I do with everything. Once we became engaged in October 2017, I took small steps to getting financially organized. Once we were married in August 2018, I knew it was time to fully get my act together. I was now a married woman.
I began with firing my mom as my accountant or "personal assistant" as we liked to call her. I love my mom, but we both admit that she's not the best at managing money. And more than that, it was my money, and so I needed to take control. When you're growing up, you always think your parents know everything and that they must have your best interests at heart. I've learned that even if they do have the best intentions, they are only human and do not know everything--and it's likely that you may do certain things much more effectively!
I mean, I received my master's degree at 24. I could seriously get a PhD easier than figuring out certain everyday tasks we like to refer to these days as "adulting." I taught Business Communications at a prestigious business school yet I was so embarrassed that my own personal business was such a mess. My students had a business proposal project, where they present a proposal for a business or program. A common one was establishing personal finance classes in high school and college. I'd take notes and listen, secretly thinking to myself how much I could personally have benefitted from a course like that! Because I certainly could handle it if I put my mind to it. I realize now that I just didn't give myself enough credit. All I needed to do was take action. Being the baby of my family, born ten years after my brother and being a total surprise to my parents, my family always treated me like a baby, a princess. And, I have to admit, as I got older, I had a difficult time leaving this mentality behind.
I started by transferring everything to our address. Jared and I went through my expenses together, and he helped me organize it all in a spreadsheet. Knowing what I know now, I'm sure I could've put it together on my own, but the overwhelm was so strong I felt needed the help. I enrolled in online banking, and if I had a password issue, I called customer service, spoke to a rep, and figured it out. I began taking care of all my personal business, like making my own phone calls, like when it came to those dreaded student loans. I downloaded Credit Karma and began checking it regularly. I began paying all of my own bills and becoming familiar with the deadlines. By the start of 2020, I had established a regular routine of keeping an expenses spreadsheet and tracking what bills were paid and how much.
I especially knew I was ready to put on my big girl pants after having planned a wedding mostly on my own, without knowing what to do. I've always been skilled at diving into unknown territories and learning, when I put any fear aside. I took the reins, thinking of it as a project I was heading. Within 10 months, I had planned a beautiful, small destination wedding. If I could do this--not to mention everything else I had accomplished in my life--then surely I could manage my own money.
These days, I'm actually excited to open my mail and tackle whatever it may be (and it feels great to throw away the bills once they've been paid!). I enjoy checking each item off my to-do list and feeling productive, rather than overwhelmed.
So, this past year when freelancing became the majority of my income, I knew it was time to start keeping track. The girl who was overwhelmed by bills, who had no idea how to manage her money, and who was afraid to open her mail because it felt overwhelming, was now creating a spreadsheet to track her income and business expenses. Recently, I also began toying with the idea of accounting software, and so I set up an account with Wave, an accounting software program and app.
I can't even begin to describe how taking control and getting organized has benefited me. I feel so much more relaxed and in control. And I know what I'm capable of--much more than I often give myself credit for. It wasn't that I couldn't do it; I was overwhelmed and afraid. I'm still nowhere near where I want to be when it comes to finances, but I'm proud of the steps I have taken. It all starts with awareness followed by action and commitment.
I'm 38 now, and it's crazy to think how I didn't get my act together until my thirties. We all have our own timelines, and it's never too late to start something. I've learned so much and so I can't wait to share this wisdom with my own children, whenever that might be. It's ironic to realize that when we're older we're often much more mentally and emotionally ready for a family, yet it biologically becomes more difficult to do so. Until then, I'll keep learning and growing until it happens. In time.