Budgeting & Anxiety


#1

I talked about this on my journal yesterday, but I’m in a weird place with regards to budgeting and my mental health: tracking leads to obsessive thinking, but not tracking leads me to have an unclear picture of my finances.

For 3 or 4 years I tracked every penny I made and every penny I spent, and only recently (6 or so months ago) stopped cold turkey. Tracking was incredibly eye opening and I would recommend it without hesitation to everyone and anyone who hasn’t done it for a few months. That said… it was no longer providing any useful data for me… and it was part of a series of behaviors that wasn’t good for my brain.
It was uncomfortable to stop, but was overall a good decision for my headspace. It gave me breathing room and forced me to trust myself and the habits I’d already built up.

That said, I do want to be able to check the temperature of my finances, so to speak, without going whole-hog back into what was (for me) obsessive behavior.

I think I’ve come to a solution that will work (tracking net worth monthly, as well as my checking account balance monthly to make sure things look ‘good’ on a very big picture level).

But I thought this might be a good place for other people to talk about their own struggles/what’s worked for them. :smiley:

Do you have to balance your mental health with your financial health? How do you do it?


#2

Hi Oro! This really resonates with me…if I’m checking YNAB obsessively it’s a pretty good indication that I need to work on my anxiety in general. What’s worked for me is similar to what you’ve described: monthly check-ins to look at the big picture without tracking daily.

We still have the old version of YNAB and spouse or I will reconcile it once a month or so then review it together. This is also when we move any excess into savings (above our automatically diverted retirement savings)

We’ve been budgeting so long that there aren’t a lot of surprises when we review the budget but there are a few things that make a big difference on my mental health:

  1. Our monthly categories are based on [average monthly spending] + [3-5% extra] so I’m much more likely to be under budget in a category than over
  2. I don’t hesitate to move some categories around if we’ve gone over and I don’t beat myself up about it

I would guess that the newer YNAB, Mint, or Personal Capital could also be a good tool for schedule these kind of check-ins.


#3

:slight_smile: I’ve never used YNAB or Mint-- I have a spreadsheet of my own. But I recently created a copy of it and deleted out a bunch of categories. It’s currently just “Incoming Money” and “Outgoing Money” (the latter of which is just credit card bills since I pay with cash so rarely) on one tab, and then net worth tracking in another tab.
Net worth I’ll only have to do once/month, same with Incoming/Outgoing based purely on transactions in my accounts, not details of my credit card statement.

I’m going to give this a go for a month or two and see if it works. :smiley:
I’m glad you found a system that works for you guys!


#4

I also used to track pretty obsessively – including tracking daily networth totals from September 2008 to mid 2015. I started the latter because I wanted to prove to myself that buy and hold works (it does). I’m glad I have that data to refer to, but it did suck up a lot of time/life energy.

I stopped tracking so closely in 2015-16 for a number of reasons-- stopped working, online site I had been using for years (yodlee moneycenter) became annoying, and was in a bit of a turmoil financially waiting for our Beijing condo to sell. Once we had a signed contract I knew we had pretty much reached fat FIRE, so my Inner Bag Lady calmed way down. I eventually signed up with Mint and use that to loosely monitor spending, more out of curiosity than anything else, and went back to recording monthly net worth totals. That seems to provide a good balance for me/the IBL – we are keeping an eye on things, but not obsessing about it.


#5

:smiley: Glad you found such a happy place, lhamo!!


#6

I think your credit card, or bank starement(s), or Mint or Personal Capital would work well for you to have the big picture. If you have transactions using several sources (credit card, auto pay/deposit, checks, etc.), the Mint or PC should be easier since they both aggregate data from all linked accounts (PC includes your investments accounts, not sure about Mint).

I currently have a credit card where the balance has a bit of a lag time that is irritating me. I need to turn off an alerting fuction I set up, as that is where the lag shows up.


#7

I also struggle with this, and I haven’t found a good solution. On the one hand, playing with my budget makes me calmer, but I also have such a strong Inner Bag Lady (to use a @lhamo term) that my obsessive tracking convinces me that everything is going to crap and I will die penniless and alone because I overspent by $4 on groceries and had to move money out of my sinking funds, or whatever. But I love data so I’m going to keep tracking.

I’m always eager to see what people say has worked for them. I work with a lot of people with anxiety who also are just starting to get their expenses under control (they have less buffer than @lhamo and @oro). For them, one method I recommend is a “multiple automatic accounts” method - which means putting essential/fixed expenses on autopay in one account, discretionary expenses in another account that they keep an eye on and spend out of, and savings in another account they don’t touch or look at. Then split their paycheck in three parts. That way they only have to keep an eye on the discretionary account balance, and if it dips low, they know the essentials are covered and the savings is safe. That can help.


#8

This is a good point. I had the luxury of being able to step back because my financial house was in pretty good order. I had a sizeable emergency fund and had been at the frugality game long enough to have good habits in place.
:smiley:


#9

My best anxiety reduction strategy is a fortnightly check of the credit card & savings/cash account, to make sure they’re not overdrawn or close to it, and splitting my money either mentally or physically into the groups @anomalily described: essential&fixed expenses, discretionary and savings. It keeps me from obsessing, though I find it takes a couple of weeks or a month of using this before my brain relaxes enough to only check the discretionary and to leave the others alone between my monthly check-in.


#10

It’s taken me several years to realize that what works for me is fluid.

Sometimes I’m in a phase where I need to track detailed categories and check my numbers weekly to not go over budget. Other times I consolidate entire categories so I’m not obsessing about the numbers.

I’ve just this year gotten to a place where I am confident I can play within my budget lines without constantly checking what I have allocated (mostly due to autopaying everything possible and having more consistent food spending) so I condensed all my recurring expenses into one big category. My long term goal is to just have “Outgoing” as the only category I need to pay attention to but I’m not there yet :smiley:

I think this works really well for me, to keep me feeling like I’m successful without getting too obsessive, but it is terrible for long term trend reports :slight_smile:


#11

:)) Thank you guys for sharing your thoughts. It’s nice to read about what works for other people and that this issue-- maintaining focus and control without going overboard-- isn’t uncommon.

<3


#12

Budget and anxiety question that might be off topic. I fully can’t afford to see a social worker or psychologist. Last night I ended up on Mark Manson’s website where for $48/year you have access to his antianxiety course. Does it seem crazy to do it? Even if it’s in American dollars, it’s still under a 100… and real mental health help here is 150-200/hour. I think that this is more on the level and price of a workbook (which I’ve also considered before and should act on).

Does anyone have good ideas?


#13

Cheap ways I’ve seen therapists in the past: university centers. My bigger school even allowed Alumni and community members to use their center, just at a higher rate (but still like $30 a session). Community clinics here offer ‘pay what you’re able’ rates. A lot of the ‘expensive’ offices offer lower rates by need, and standing lower rates if you work with their students who are getting their qualifying clinical hours.

All worth looking into =) Rapport and personal connection is a HUGEHUGE part of therapy, so I just really don’t see getting the same benefits from a workbook/course.


#14

I would also say for him specifically, his book I found really off-putting and seemingly unaware of his privilege. I would get his book for free from the library before I’d invest in any course.

I’m bummed I don’t know more about mental health in Canada, but going through the university clinics has helped a LOT for me; or the community clinics but sometimes you have to search. I found this place in Ontario that does feminist free-of-charge counseling.. Even community clinics are helpful because you can get some of the talk therapy but they will often give you particular resources (like books, packets, exercises) that might help what you’re dealing with in particular.


#15

Thanks BJ and anomalily… I agree that in person services are amazing and way better than anything online. And for reminding everyone that there are affordable options for many people. Suckily, my free/low cost options have a multi-year waitlist, but I may check if there is a student clinic at a college in another direction from my house.

And agreed that Mark Manson can be pretty blind to his privilege (but I also want to peek at his business model behind the scenes. His pricing is less predatory than many) it would be cool if someone had a similar set up from another perspective.

@Oro…have you factored any extra health costs I to your budget? How did you make it work?


#16

Tracking is tricky. I find I can get obsessive about it and suck the joy out of my life. Making myself miserable to save a few cents is dumb, especially since I’m financially secure. On the other hand, I love having long term data. So I keep tracking, while reminding myself over and over to be cool about it.
Sometimes the reminders work.


#17

For me, I’ve found a mix of multiple accounts and personal capital to be useful. Multiple accounts because that is how we save for specific things (all in capital one so they’re easy to manage). It’s kind of a digital envelope method. Then personal capital to keep an eye on the big picture. The thing I like about the multiple accounts is that it helps my anxiety to know that if I absolutely needed to (hello medical shitshow of late 2017 through 2018) I can raid some of the savings accounts in addition to my EF if absolutely necessary. Plus I get a really obscene amount of joy from seeing balances accrue in the accounts for things I’m saving for.


#18

Well I have discovered that my method during times of emotional distress is to ignore the crap out of everything except checking YNAB buckets every few weeks.

Not recommended for long term goal achievement, but is recommended to remind oneself that HELL YEAH I am no longer an out of control emotional spender (out of control = history of frozen corn dog impulse buys for daaaaaays and box hair dye and maybe a thrifted sweater) and that my current emotional spending (wine all the wine) is still well within my overall spending parameters.


#19

I’m usually not too anxious about tracking in general - we have a system that is fairly high level that works for us. Everything’s in Mint, which lets me check on trends and yearly spending easily, as well as a helpful fraud monitoring tool. Then additionally we have a monthly date to tally up our assets and see how our overall saving/investment trends look - this was huge for my husband, because when we first started really investing a few years ago he was pretty obsessively tracking the markets and our accounts. Setting a date meant it was a lot easier for him to leave it alone on a day-to-day basis.

I did have some anxiety about buying our new car - we financed it (0% financing FTW) over 5 years, and I didn’t want to have to consider the car payment as part of my monthly budget because it’s not a permanent cost, but I was struggling to come up with a good way to conceptualize it as sufficiently separate. What we ended up doing is a 5 year CD ladder, which may not actually be the financially optimal thing to do vs market returns, but I now know that every year for the next 4 years a CD will mature and kick out my car payments for the year. And thus, all my car payment anxiety went away. (I realize this is from the ridiculously privileged point we find ourselves in where we actually have the money available to set up the CD ladder, thank you house sale)


#20

This is a good question. And the answer is that I haven’t. I budget for my premiums, and a bit for prescriptions and over the counter medicines, and I have a mental allotment for dental costs per year. But for human body costs? I have no idea how to handle. Every year is so different. Last year I paid a fair bit for PT for back stuff, but I don’t anticipate that going forward (fingers crossed).
I’ve basically just sort of come to terms with it being an unknown. Like pet costs, really, haahah. They hit you and you pay them, and can… anticipate that the bad years will come, but not when.