It’s kind of ironic that I used to worry about money a lot, especially since I spent fifteen years as a financial planner. My career required spending a lot of time figuring out how to advise people about what to do with their money – but that’s different. Thinking about money most of your waking hours is a good thing in the financial services world . Setting up contingency plans and keeping up with changes was a good use of my time. Applying what I knew to my own money, as well as to my clients, makes sense. That’s not ironic. The irony is that I spent time worrying if I would have enough money, how to earn more money, how long would it take to save for this or that. Worrying isn’t planning; it’s just wasting time.
In the life of a financial advisor, earnings are very variable. Great months are followed by a pathetic check nearly too embarrassing to deposit. (Luckily, with direct deposit, I never had to look at a teller when a teeny tiny check went into my account.) So, you might think I had cause to worry. I didn’t. You see, I had an emergency fund, low debt, and a modest home, so the tough months worked their way out. Sometimes it seemed like everything was going topsy-turvy, like when two pathetic checks came in a row, and my worry would increase. “What if the next one is terrible and now my emergency fund is about gone?” I would think. You can imagine some of the other thoughts I had as I worried and worried. When times were good and I put away extra money for those inevitable and too frequent downturns, I would feel relief for a moment, but then some long put off extra expenses would be paid and I would worry about having spent too much. You might know just what I am talking about.
One day, a couple decades into my adult life, I was talking with a friend about feeling money tight. I said, “It always works out though,” in reference to how I was going to pay for something I committed to do before saving the money. She said something like, “Well that must be nice, having it always work out,” and suddenly I realized the truth of what I had just said. Something always worked out. My thoughts stuck on the idea that if something always worked out, why was I worrying about it? Was worry the dues I paid for not being quite where I should be with my own money? Did worry somehow keep me focused on spending less, saving more, even earning more? How did worrying help me?
Worry wasn’t the reason I always worked it out. Worry isn’t a form of currency that can be exchanged for a better outcome. Worry didn’t help me reach my goals nearly as much as my habits. I had good habits, or at least good enough habits. My sense of responsibility, resourcefulness, and everyday habits had supported my lifestyle for decades. It wasn’t worry that balanced my checkbook and charge accounts every month. It was me. After that epiphany, I decided to try not worrying and seeing if the money worked out anyway. Guess what? It did, and has been for years.
Worry can be useful if it reminds you to do something or keeps you on track, but most of the time worry is worthless. It takes away confidence and replaces it with fear. Worry isn’t planning for the future at all. My money worry was like a chronic illness. It took away from enjoying life and gave nothing in return.
So how does this epiphany of mine help you? I think there are things you are worried about that are controlled by something other than your worry. I think you could drop the worry load and relax just a little bit, enjoy the moments of your day more, and find that the thing you worried about is going to play out the same way whether you worry or not. It’s going to play out because of your habits (good or bad), circumstances you can and cannot control, and maybe a little bit of luck (again: good or bad).
Sometimes I still worry, but it’s sporadic, not constant. The bills are paid, vacations taken, gifts bought. I’m still flush some months and scraping by other months, with my emergency fund dipping and building along with the variability of my income. One thing is very different though, and that is my life. My everyday life is lighter, freer and more enjoyable. I’m more relaxed and more confident. When I put money worries down, I can do so much more.
If worry is a tool that you are misusing, then put it down. Find out how much more you can do when you lighten your load. You won’t regret it.