Painful Thoughts Around Spending Money

Close up on a tipped over jar, spilling out coins.
I've gotten back from my vacation, and it's got me thinking about my relationship with money.

I’m back from vacation/holiday

I recently got back from the first real vacation/holiday I’ve had in almost a decade, and thought I’d share something deeply personal and vulnerable around going on that trip.

First of all, I’m narrowly defining “vacation/holiday” here as a trip, or time away from the normal routine (or location), that is not a family obligation, work related, or has any motive other than enjoyment.

In some non-obvious ways, it was a huge personal growth experience. While in all the normal ways, it was a non-life changing but restorative and lovely trip that I very much enjoyed.

Part of me wishes I were still on the Dingle Peninsula, watching the waves crash against the grand cliffs of Ireland, and part of me is really glad that I’m back home.

I thought I’d share some of my personal growth journey around the area of allowing myself to spend money, in case you’re interested.

Before my trip, I barely mentioned it, and only to very few people, because I was embarrassed by/shy about/afraid of what judgments people would make about me for taking a major international trip. I still have a lot of deeply rooted money insecurities from the years in which I was living well below the poverty line. They’ve been loosening up over the last couple of years, but they’re still very much there. 

What I eventually figured out is that it really comes down to a part of me that still equates making any money with ripping people off, and that part of me did not want to be seen as being one of “those people” who, let’s just put it right out there, fleeces their clients for their personal luxury.

Spending money

Because here’s the thing, our society both idolizes the rich and condemns them. When I was struggling for basic survival necessities on $300 a month, I was judging people left and right in my head who were spending $10 in a grocery store on something that wasn’t strictly necessary, or buying some frivolous $15 item for their kid just because the kid asked, and hating everyone who had washed clothes and easy access to a shower for not recognizing that I didn’t, and stepping up to help.

And there’s a part of me that made a badge of honor out of how little I had, even while I hated it to my core.

While there are endless things wrong with capitalism and our society’s relationship with money, and while there are plenty of people and businesses who do steal from the poor to give to the rich, there’s also a danger of going to the other extreme. Of keeping oneself in poverty (financially or in one’s head) in order to avoid being “like them.”

And there’s a part of me that made a badge of honor out of how little I had, even while I hated it to my core.

And that part of me was afraid that if I spent money on anything that was for pure enjoyment, rather than using it for practical needs, or giving back, or doing more to help the real needs of real people in this world, that I would be a hypocritical bastard.

Avoiding that has cost me a lot over the years.

It was a huge step to first recognize that’s what was going on; yet it’s been a lot harder to find the truth in those painful thoughts, which I’m still working on. 

I’ve gotten a lot of coaching, and done many rounds of Byron Katie’s Work, around being able to charge as much as I do now, on being able to spend money, and on not working long hours.

Because here’s the deal: all three of those are necessary so that I can keep doing this thing I love that is helping real people. Not for a year or two and then burnout, I mean long term. Sustainably.

It’s to have enough to solve the problems that not having money creates.

And no, I’m not fleecing anyone. I’m not twisting anyone’s arm to get money out of them or tricking anyone into working with me. I couldn’t do that. It’s not me. 

And yes, I offer sliding scales, and trades, and put out a lot of materials for free and will keep doing so for those who are now where I was just a few years ago. 

And yes, some people can afford my full rates, and that helps me to keep going without overextending. So that I can keep going.

Because my goal is neither to become a martyr to poverty, nor to horde more and more money. It’s to have enough to solve the problems that not having money creates.

Resting

Rest is one of those problems. (Not having enough money is surprisingly a lot of work.)

I haven’t had a really good, enjoyable rest in a very, very long time, despite not working for three years before starting this business.

And on this trip, being far from home without the resources and time that I usually have to find cheaper versions of things, or cheaper ways to do things, I spent a lot (by my standards) of money on straight up making things easier, and enjoyment, and “because I wanted to.” I was one of “those people” who plunked down a few euros for a raspberry Bakewell tart (so yummy) or a gift shop goodie.

In those moments I reminded myself that a couple of postcards doesn’t turn me into an environment gouging monster or a selfish spendthrift. I was not extravagant, and still made good decisions, including to allow myself to spend a little bit of money to take home a few things that will remind me of this wonderful trip, including the products of several local artists.

It feels very strange, in some ways, not to condemn myself for buying a vacation (or a locally made scarf) instead of using that for needed house repairs, etc.

(Okay, full disclosure: I still do in moments, but I don’t stay in that headspace.)

I keep reminding myself that it’s OK to have fun. It’s OK to buy things that aren’t practical survival needs. And that rest and enjoyment are also very real practical needs. They didn’t have to come in the form of a trip to Ireland, but that is the form that I chose, and that’s OK too.

So where does this leave me now?

I keep reminding myself that it’s OK to have fun. It’s OK to buy things that aren’t practical survival needs.

Well, taking this trip is not a sign that I’m rich (far from it). Though compared to most of my adult life, it feels like that. Money is still tight, but I’m more financially secure than I have been in a decade and a half.

I got to experience what it feels like to buy something without fretting. And to know that I can pay for it. And those are both an immense relief.

Just the aspect of a vacation in which I didn’t stress (much) about money, or keep a running tally in my head of how much we were spending (shocking!) to know exactly how much I needed to emotionally flagellate myself. That my business, energy, and motivation are all stable enough that I can keep working, so that if/when we went over budget (we didn’t) I could make up the difference…those were humongous areas a personal growth for me.

In addition to: the restful hours watching waves crash against the cliffs of the Atlantic coast, and seeing the largest stalactite in Europe in the Doolan Caves, and visiting Avoca, a weaving manufacturer that has been operating continuously for 300 years, first as a co-op and from the late 1800s owned by three sisters who revitalized it’s reputation throughout Europe.

I’ve gathered new ideas and thoughts to mull over, and am excited again to work on the courses and workshops I’ll be putting out over the next few months!

Well, this was a lot longer and more in depth than I expected, but if you’ve made it this far, I hope it’s because something in this resonates and might even give you food for thought, rather than a painful need to finish everything you started. 😉 (Been there.)

Okay, that’s enough.

I’m glad I’m back.

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Heather Cook

Heather Cook

Hi, I’m Heather. I’m an Autistic writer, advocate, and life coach, and I'm building a life I love. I help other Autistics to build their own autism-positive life. I love reading, jigsaw puzzles, just about every -ology, and Star Trek!

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