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The Five Stages of (Budget) Grief

Okay YNAB friends. Christy here, and I’m about to get deep. Are you ready for this? Turn on your favorite slow jam and pour yourself something dangerous. (Dr.Pepper on the rocks? Oh no you didn’t.)

My recent journey with YNAB has led me down a path of self-reflection. I’ve had to own up to some hard truths about the way I’d been abusing money. This process has forced me to grieve my detached, over-extended spending habits of the past. As I look back on the events that brought me here, I was shocked at how closely they resembled the stages of grief. Like clockwork, I hit every step—and it wasn’t always pretty!


We all have that “fight or flight” instinct that sends an urgent message to our brains in times of trouble, letting us know we need to react—and fast. Right then we choose our response and either we are putting up our dukes and karate chopping our way out of a difficult situation, or we’re hiding behind the couch cushions in the fetal position with our fingers in our ears. When it came to finances, I made myself a very comfortable cushion fort of denial.

When my better half would try to engage me in conversations about our budgetary goals, I would smile and nod and give him my best, “Team Hiniker! Yes! We’ve got this!” but I never fully engaged because I never connected to the situation. My head remained firmly planted in the sand while I left my husband to deal with the reality.


When it became clear that I could no longer hide from the stack of bills brought on by the previous year’s events, my bitter side got the best of me. We had been through one of the most trying times of our lives and I was downright mad that “Life” slapped us with a hefty price tag to match.

It became hard to watch the success of others and not feel the sting of jealousy. I envied those who seemed to “have it easy” and found myself trapped in the hamster wheel of comparison. The anger and resentment I felt for our situation stole my joy and overshadowed the countless blessings we were fortunate enough to receive daily.


This little fella has been my companion for years. As a girl with very few vices (“Don’t drink, don’t smoke—what do you do?”) I found comfort in “treating myself” when the emotions of what I was going through were too hard to face. It was a habit that developed during our 10 year infertility battle. (“If I can’t have a baby, then I should get this sweater.”) Needless to say, the more loss we experienced, the more I shopped away my sadness.

This unhealthy bartering system seeped into other aspects of my life and gave me permission to purchase a false sense of entitlement. When walls were crumbling down around us (literally and figuratively) I deserved some compensation. That was the deal I had made with Life.


Eventually the magnitude of the situation caught up with me. I rode the Ferris wheel of grief and was dropped off on a big black cloud of gloom. I went from blaming the government (Obamacare! State adoption laws!) to landing squarely on….me.

I threw myself a pretty lavish pity party complete with isolation, crying jags, an entire lemon meringue pie and binge watching 90210 reruns. (Another vice, I know. Don’t judge.)  The “sads” lasted longer than I’d like to admit, but looking back it was a necessary step. The cloud always comes before the silver lining…


What is it they say in the Serenity Prayer?

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

There were many things we couldn’t change about our current situation and I had spent far too many precious moments dwelling on them. My husband and I sat at the kitchen table early one morning having a hushed conversation about our finances. It wasn’t unlike the dozens we’d had before except for one thing: I listened, I processed and I made the choice to change.

Enter YNAB. I knew I couldn’t do it alone. Just like most addictions require a regimented program to keep them on track and accountable, I needed the structure of a system that would be forgiving of my past failures and mentor me as I created healthy new habits. I quickly learned that nothing would heal our monetary grief faster than actively streamlining and sticking to a budget. Actions speak louder than worries. YNAB taught me that.

Have you or a loved one experienced one or more stages of budget grief?  How did YNAB help you overcome your emotional and financial woes? Are you still trapped in the grief cycle? (Don’t worry; I’ve got a pie and a DVR full of 90’s reruns with your name on it.)

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The Five Stages of (Budget) Grief