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Money and Mental Health: Budgeting as Self-Care

Let’s face it, money and emotions are closely linked. Whether it’s the nagging guilt of occasional overspending, anxiety around debt, or the frustration of overdrawn accounts (yet again), our relationship with money is often tied to our mental health. 

It’s a two-way street—our mental health impacts the way we manage money, and the way we handle money affects our mental health. Finance and feelings seem like two very different worlds, but they overlap more than we might realize.

So how can we bolster our mental health in a tangible way? Have a budget. Use a budget. Yep, we went there. Because it’s true. It might not be as much fun as a spa day but budgeting is self-care. And what’s more, budgeting can make that spa day or weekend away actually happen—in a way that doesn’t leave you feeling guilty over the cost.

Creating and sticking to a budget can do more than simply boost your bank account—a budget puts you in control of your money. And when you feel like you’ve got a handle on your finances, you’re more focused, less stressed, and feel less guilt and shame around all your financial decisions. This empowers you to live the kind of peaceful and prosperous life that you seek—the kind of life that includes an occasional guilt-free day of pampering. 

Let’s take a look at how to simplify some of life’s complicated emotions with some basic budgeting. 

The Relationship Between Money and Mental Health

Okay, it’s time for some couples’ counseling. Imagine you and your money sitting in front of some thoughtful and inquisitive therapist. Lie down on a nice comfy couch if you’re so inclined (or reclined) and let’s do some money meditation:

What brought you guys here? 

It’s tempting to say that your problem with money is not having enough of it, and that’s very possibly true, but are you managing money in a way that you feel good about? 

There’s always some superhero/villain origin story when it comes to our complicated behavior or feelings regarding finances. Sometimes it involves unintentionally recreating—or reacting to—how money was handled in our childhood family homes. Maybe it’s due to a fear of, or experience with, not having quite enough. Perhaps it’s a symptom of some other issue—a desire to feel like you belong, or a brief (and sometimes expensive) escape from a reality you don’t want to acknowledge. Perhaps you’re chronically disorganized or overly controlling. Maybe you just really like buying stuff and get yourself into sticky financial situations as a result. 

Do some serious thinking about what problems you’re having with money and why those issues may have started, and then...wait for it, this is the good part...forgive yourself. Acknowledge the reason, take accountability for your part in it, let it go and skip right to taking baby steps to fix it—which is making a budget and creating a day to day routine around keeping that budget. 

Consider your personal weaknesses with budgeting upfront and seek out ways to thwart the part of you that’s going to be tempted to fall back into old habits. An accountability buddy? Reconciling your budget at the end of every day? Not making a certain kind of purchase for a set amount of time? Building in a weekly or monthly reward? This is about progress, not punishment. 

I mean it when I say to let the past go, it’s only helpful as a point of reference as you move forward.

Find yourself wondering "Where did my money go?" all too often? Check out our comprehensive guide on this common problem.

The Mental Health Benefits of Budgeting 

This sounds boring, you might be thinking. I don’t have time to do one more thing, you might protest. Well, the reality is that you probably wouldn’t have read this far down if this topic didn’t resonate with you at least a little. What do you have to lose? Let’s check. 

Shame: Do you find yourself hiding packages from a loved one? Fudging the numbers just a little when you talk about how much you spent? Feeling too embarrassed to turn down social invites even if you can’t afford to go? 

Helplessness: Does life feel impossible or out of control? Like you are just failing adulthood altogether (every adult has felt that way at some point, by the way, we’re all faking it to some extent)? Do money worries have you feeling like you may never escape the feeling of barely treading water?

Overwhelmed: Do you feel weighed down by mental or physical clutter? Do you refuse to part with items in case you’ll need them in the future and won’t be able to replace them? Is denial your preferred method of money management? 

Anxiety: Does the thought of checking your account balances fill you with dread no matter how much money you might have? Do you have a pile of unopened mail that you can’t deal with because it feels stressful? Does your stomach hurt a little every time you have to swipe your credit card? 

Guilt: Does the high of a new purchase quickly get over shadowed by a hangover of regret? Do you frequently indulge in small items “as a treat” to make up for the big stuff you know you can’t afford—and then feel bad about those too? 

Whether your feelings are a consequence of spending or your spending is a byproduct of your feelings, a budget is a big first step to finding some peace. Will it make you independently wealthy overnight? Probably not. But it’s an actionable, tangible step that will bring you more focus and clarity, give you some control over your spending, and will encourage you to be more realistic about your money and your lifestyle. 

Also, a budget helps you feel good when you do treat yourself—when you’ve set aside money for a purchase, you earned that treat. There’s no guilt or shame or anxiety about whether you can afford it; you know you can because you know what the rest of your money is doing. You can stop the meaningless little impulse buys up near the checkout counter and get something good...without having to hide the receipt later.  

The Big Picture 

Of course, budgeting is just one part of a complicated equation when it comes to mental health issues. Getting organized, creating a system of accountability, visualizing your progress, and being realistic about your money has a wide-reaching ripple effect on other areas of life and is an easy first step to take with the help of an established system. 

Self-improvement is a journey, and you may need additional help along the way as you encounter other obstacles. 

But you have to start somewhere—and we have clear steps for you to take, a readily available support team to answer your questions, and an eagerness to see you succeed, financially and otherwise. Let’s go.  

Ready to work towards improving your relationship with money? Try YNAB for 34 days free!

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Money and Mental Health: Budgeting as Self-Care