Wednesday, January 9, 2008

It's time to quit panicking.

I'm a college senior with a positive net worth and good job prospects. I could live for at least several months on my savings. Somehow, that isn't enough to assuage my worries. I feel guilty about having spent $10 on a new shirt, and I wonder whether I would be able to pay for long term care insurance for my parents on a grad student stipend. I've started running the numbers on my budget and savings a wee bit too obsessively.

It's entirely possible to devote this much time and effort to money and be psychologically fine, a little quirky by the standards of modern America, but fine. If you're trying to get out of debt, buy a house, save for retirement, or pay cash for a stereo system that could wake the dead, focusing time and effort on finances makes perfect sense. If, however, you are motivated instead by free floating anxiety, then something may be wrong.

I've seen myself fall into this pattern before. In junior high, I was slender but counted calories compulsively. I carefully measured my cereal each morning, and I knew exactly how many calories I was getting from the tablespoon of peanut butter on raisin bread and an apple I allowed myself for lunch. I had very irregular periods, and I regarded menstruation as I sign I had let myself get too fat. My self worth was linked to the number I saw on the scale each morning.

When life gets scary and overwhelming, I tend to focus on one area of concern. Things seem much more manageable if I pick one thing, preferably something that can be quantified, and work as hard as I can on that. I know that it makes no logical sense, but I convince myself that if I can just lose two more pounds or save two hundred more dollars this semester, then I'll be able to cope with everything else. It doesn't work that way, and ever-shifting but pointless goals only add to my anxiety.

I'm aware it is a problem, but I don't know how to fix this.


Jim ~ said...

Last time I had positive net worth I was a junior in college. Thought I had all my ducks in order and things were going good for me. Took on some student loans to help cover some living costs (apartment) since my scholarships covered tuition. Got out of college and my debt was half my starting salary.

Since I got out of school and was finally making money, I think that's where I lost my ability to carefully manage money. Looking back, I should have paid off my credit cards and eliminated my student loans quickly. It would have been much easier to buy a house with no debt, but even with it and not much down payment I still got it done. My wife could not even be considered for a mortgage when we looked at houses because she had no income and too much debt. It was very stressful for everything to be riding on me and I had a lot of anxiety.

Now debt is like this lingering pain that I would like to get rid of, but am losing energy to even fight. I'm worried about taking on more debt than I am comfortable with, if it's possible to be comfortable with debt in the first place. Selling the house is an option but the market isn't good for that. Until I figure out what to do the only lingering effects I deal with is insomnia.

Mrs. Micah said...

You'll be fine.

Sometimes I panic too. But I think we'll both be fine. *breathe*

Anonymous said...

There's an excellent book you should read: How to get out of debt, stay out of debt and live prosperously by Jerrold Mundis.
He talks about those kind of money anxieties and how to cope with them. It's not just about having money, it's about enjoying your life.
I highly recommend it if you're feeling anxious, it has helped me alot!