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[Personal] How it feels like to constantly obsess over money

obsess over money

To say that I think about money a lot is an understatement.

I write about money – it’s my income. I work in the finance sector – it’s my career.

I log, track, and record all my expenses – all of it – and present it every month to you guys in my monthly spending updates. I get anxious when I can’t log all my receipts or update my business bookkeeping. I check into each of my online banking accounts at least a few times a week, making sure I have enough, making sure I carry no outstanding balance on my credit card.

I think about how to decrease my expenses, how to save more money, how to generate more income, how to be wealthy and strategies and pros and cons… daily. I try to remember everything I learn about money, consciously or unconsciously. Anything I can find that relates to money, I put them in a drawer in my brain. I can only imagine how the pile looks like now.

I’m exhausted.

No wonder I’m drawn to this book, called ‘Emotional Currency: A Woman’s Guide to Building Healthy Relationship with Money‘ by Kate Levinson, PhD. I’m reading this now, and some points hit hard. Way hard. Why do I obsess over money, constantly? What’s the underlying reason for this? The book helps me to unpackage this question, bit by bit. I want to share a bit of what I learned.

It’s partly a control issue

We hear about women and men with eating problems. Some of them say, “This, I can control. The rest, I can’t.” We only control what we think we can control.

Is my obsession over my personal finance is at least, partly, a control issue?

Perhaps. This is still something I’m trying to find out. I thought I’m in control of my life. The only thing I can think of right now is my ongoing struggle with weight (which is a lot under control now, so that doesn’t make sense).

I don’t know how much is ‘enough’

I don’t have a number that I want to reach. I just know I want ‘more’ in my bank account.

There are just so many uncertainties in life. As of now, I’m worrying about the care of my ageing parents. I want to give them the best of everything during their old age – anything below that, I will perceive it as a personal failure. I want to sponsor their hajj. I want to take them travelling. I want enough money to donate to charities of their choice.

How much is enough for myself? I have no freaking clue. My plans are flexible.

So my feelings of ‘not having enough’ is less about me and more about my parents, for now. I know I should find out and calculate and estimate the cost of their retirement and old-age care, but it’s a depressing subject that I’m pushing back. I’m in denial of their mortality.

I feel guilty about treating myself

This is something I already know. I was brought up in an environment where guilt was emphasised. Muslims will know what I mean. ‘You should feel guilty if you are not thankful to Allah’. ‘You should feel ashamed to want more than you need.’ You should be embarrassed that you have received this much in life but don’t contribute back in return.’

It took me a long time (and moving away from my family house, if I’m honest) to recognise this. It’s not a bad thing to want more for yourself, to want to achieve bigger things in life. But I still compensate by denying myself things I want.

This extends to a few things that logically, don’t make sense. Weirdly, I see bags, clothes and furniture as ‘non-essential’ so I rarely buy them unless they were thrifted. Most of my bags now are gifts and hand-me-downs. My sisters sometimes gift me clothes because they feel sorry for me (and they can’t take the lack of fashion sense, I guess). I ‘make do’ with furniture a lot – I can still sit on the floor, so why not? It’s ridiculous.

(Don’t worry, I do have basic furniture and don’t actually eat on the floor. Knowing this I always rent places that are already fully-furnished).

I can count the times I bought something for myself ‘for fun’. I can only justify practical purchases, not ‘unnecessary’ ones.

Money decides the quality of my experiences

When I eat out, and scan the menu, I always look at the price first then look at the food item.

When I go shopping for clothes (when I need to), I tell myself not to look at the full-priced items in case I’ll fall in love with it and get it.

Even when I buy groceries, I have the tendency to pick cheap items hoping that I’ll like them. I’m not as bad with this now – I get better quality stuff now that I’m on keto and eliminated carb stuff – but I used to buy like, a pack of 10 supermarket doughnuts just because the cost of each doughnut was cheap. The same money could have bought me a smaller amount of higher-quality dessert with much less calorie count.

Isn’t this… stupid? I try to be mindful of this, but it’s a process.

Money affects my social interactions

This makes me sad the most. I’d bail out on social activities simply because I was unwilling to spend the money to meet my friends. In my head, not going out = save money.

I have much less social invitations than before. Much less involved in major events of my friends’ lives. Less deep connections with people I care about. I have more ‘situational friends’ (from work, for example) than relationships cultivated on purpose.

A part of me selfishly credits this ‘self-sacrifice’ as one of the reasons why I’m doing financially well now. But at what cost, if I’m lonely half the time?

I feel sorry for men

Most men grow up with the expectation to carry their family’s financial burden. They’re supposed to provide, to be the one who takes care of finances, to be self-sufficient.

That must be a lot of pressure.

When I was in my teens, I met a Finnish girl who mentioned she wanted a househusband. I remember laughing because I thought it was ridiculous – of course the man has to work, that’s his job! It’s not as funny now.

If say right now, I have a partner who doesn’t work. I provide and pay for every expense, every bill. I’d feel… angry. Bitter. Annoyed. Taken advantage of.

(I’m taking unpaid labour like housework, childcare and elderly care out of the picture here, and assume both parties contribute equally. Although statistically women still do a larger chunk of the share.)

So yeah. Sorry you had to grow up with that pressure, men.

I’m proud of women

I’m proud that women’s economic independence from men is a norm in this country. Women earn their own keep. Divorce rates are rising, which signals women’s readiness to leave abusive partners (note: I am not pro-divorce, I am anti-abuse).

On the other hand, I have to admit that I’m frustrated by the role of religion when it comes to women’s economic empowerment. It’s like its there to keep us controlled. I’ve been told (mostly by women):

  • I have to get permission from my husband to work
  • I am to be given away in marriage by my father, brother or male relatives. Like a goat.
  • This whole romanticism of Arab culture in general, which includes romanticising male guardianship and ‘love after marriage’
  • Serving my husband takes priority over everything else.
  • ‘Let him lead you’. That makes me feel weak and useless, because of my gender. Even if I was the most accomplished woman in the world.

Money is freedom to me, and these traditional beliefs seem to chip away that freedom. What if I fall in love and lose that freedom? It’s a big sacrifice I don’t know I want to take. I told this to a female relative, and she said:

“Islam says wives should obey the husbands. Who are we to question that. There’s a silver lining only Allah knows. The Prophet encourages us to marry. If you are against marriage you are against the Prophet. People against the Prophet will go straight to Hell.”

????!!!!

That went from 0-100 really quick, didn’t it? Islam is truly binary sometimes. She made it sound like I’m an infidel for just asking.

I want my money to be used for good

Of course, who doesn’t.

And I resent that I have to pay zakat, because I don’t agree with everything they do.

Is there a way to pay zakat and still get tax benefits and not have it go to JAIS or JAKIM?

EDIT: Yes, you can. See: 33 Thoughts on Paying Zakat in Malaysia

Money is my security blanket, my last layer of defence

If I’m ever rejected by a partner, or my family, I know I’ll be destroyed emotionally, but I’ll still be able to find my own shelter and food.

If I’m ever chased by the authorities for something stupid, or can’t live in this country anymore, that’s how I’ll run away. Migrate.

If I ever get too overwhelmed and just need to disappear, that’s how I will just ‘take off’ and just start over somewhere new.

Having in-case money for each of these scenarios are very important for me. It’s the fear of being trapped or caught without Plan B. Money is my Plan B. I feel safe with a Plan B.

Conclusion

How we interact with money is driven by our emotions. To not think of how we feel when it comes to our finances is counter-productive.

In the book, the author wrote this:

“The rational approach to money certainly has its place, but if dealing with money was simply a rational act and if a dollar was just a dollar, we wouldn’t worry so much about it, and we certainly wouldn’t spend more money than we have. Obviously, it’s more complicated than that, and the rational approach is insufficient for truly understanding our relationship to money.”

My relationship with money is complicated, sad, exciting, safe, liberating. There’s nothing wrong with the negatives, I just have to acknowledge it and progress towards making it less negative.

How’s your relationship with money? What does it mean to you? Is it as complicated as mine, and in what way? What can you relate to, and what emotions do you additionally attach to money?

I highly suggest this book if you want to explore more about your money behaviour. You’d benefit from it, like I did. We’re really not as rational as we thought. Our subconscious drives our conscious state all the time.

If you can’t find the book, or not in the position to buy it, you can check out this emotions page and see if you can relate to any of them.

courseL mandyoneill.net
source: mandyoneill.net

It could be emotions towards yourself, towards friends, families, even to things. You don’t have to collect all emotions, just the major ones. Then you can also think of the smaller emotions. For example, for me, I also feel pride in my money accomplishments, as well as shame and envy that I’m not doing better as compared to other people. It can be contradicting; humans are complicated.

Hope you enjoyed this highly personal post. I feel stripped. Bye for now, I need to recover.

Author

11 comments

  1. I really appreciate the honesty of this post. I can relate to you at many levels. I guess it’s just building this security net with the hopes that we won’t freefall if anything goes terribly wrong in life.

  2. I can relate, because I think / worry quite a bit about money too. I use YNAB to track my expenses, but the past 2 months I had decided to just screw it because I have grown very weary thinking about money too, so I can only imagine how exhausted and overwhelmed you must feel.

    You do sound like you are overthinking it a bit, and perhaps you will feel better if you have some goals that you can aim for instead of constantly looking for ‘more’. Identify the goal, set some milestones along the way and keep chipping away at them. Keep your chin up!

  3. Same here..!

    I think of it as optimisation. I try to be as efficient as I can with my resources. We work hard for it, so don’t give them away so easily.. haha..

  4. I agree with a lot of what you said. I too worry about money, although not as obsessive as you do 🙂 I don’t resent paying zakat though, because I truly do believe a part of my income is reserved to help those much less fortunate than I am. But I DO resent paying it to these so-called religious authorities because the way they handle zakat money is very doubtful. I would much rather give it straight to those in need. Great post, by the way!

    1. You worded it much better than me 🙂 Yes, exactly. I’m looking for ways to get both tax benefit (from zakat) and channeling it to other agencies that are not religious authorities. If you or anyone reading this have suggestions, I’m all ears.

  5. Suraya, I think you’re writing about me too!

    I was obsessed at one point that my monthly achievement was to see how many % of salary can I save.
    Highest record was about 70%. Me too, a Mr Money Mustache follower.
    I went extremely frugal on myself with the budget that I have set. I still money left from my RM200 makan budget inclusive of once or twice eating out with friends.
    I thought I had a perfect balance, both socially and financially. But sooner or later, I realized that I was limiting myself in a lot of ways. One of the perfect examples was switching from Unifi to Streamyx when Unifi raised their price, figuring I might saved about 1k in a year. The next few months was hell. I could not stream my favourite dramas (free entertainment), I cannot learn from youtube tutorials and most of all, I cannot submit my photos online (I’m a freelance photographer). Switching back to Unifi was the best decision I have ever made. Yes I pay more, but at the same time I can do more and feel happy not restricting myself.

    1. I think we sama kepala then! How nice to know more people who take personal finance seriously 😀 70% is a very good number, good job!

      That Unifi example is a great example of making do when we shouldn’t. I still struggle with this. Keep telling myself to buy quality but sometimes, the cheaper alternatives are too hard to resist..

  6. Hi Suraya, I’m a new reader and instantly fell in love with your blog.

    I think it’s healthy to write about your thoughts like this, you can really analyze what made you think in certain way.

    I can relate with what you write here, especially on the caring for ageing parents and also how burdening it is for men to be expected of the one with the (better) income.

    Myself I always conflict myself; sometimes I will really be careless about spending my money, then the next I will be very frugal. But in the end I think most of us who pays close attention to personal finance are just trying to get that sense of security in hope that we will not suffer due to lack of money. Of course, unpredictable things can happen in life, but managing your own finance is one of the thing you can control.

    Cheers,
    Arvilla

    1. Hey Arvilla,
      Glad you liked what you read 🙂 Welcome to RoR!
      I do think it’s a control issue too, or at least trying not to let (lack of) money control what you can or cannot do in life. It’s a process we all have to go through.
      All the best with your budgeting 🙂

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