I’ve developed a crazy habit with money. No day passes by without me checking my bank account. My brain needs to know that my money is still there, even though it has never disappeared. Most days the balance remains the same, but when it does change I religiously update my excel spreadsheet with the expense amount and where it has gone. I have come to learn that what my mindset is experiencing its scarcity. This is the first time I have phrased this, and I am still pending a long discussion about this with my dad, but something tells me that what I am going through now, my parents suffered it a long time before me.
The story of my life
My parents were middle-class but started from nothing. My dad was an uneducated worker at a General Motors factory in his early 20s and my mum was a full time house-wife. My dad pulled an insane amount of hours working in a very dangerous environment. He was handling very heavy machinery and sometimes he would clock in on Friday and clock out on Sunday. He did what he had to do to pay his mortgage and support his family of 4 on his only income. At some point I guess he had this voice on his head telling him that he couldn’t be doing that forever and he started going to law school, full-time, in the evenings. To this day, I can proudly say that he must be a superhero to pull something like that.
On the other hand, my mum was in charge of the household. Bringing my sister and myself up must have not been easy. I might not have the best relationship with my mother now but I deeply respect all the life sacrifices that she had to make to ensure that my sister and I were provided for, specially when that meant giving up on her dreams and not being able to be who she wanted to be in the first place.
All I learned about finances when I was growing up I owe to my mum. My dad became an obsessive buyer. He worked really hard and he probably wanted to treat himself with all the money he was working really hard for (something I recently experienced myself). My mum, however, was the voice of reason when it came to money, preventing him to spend money in mindless whims. She engraved the concept of savings in our brain. To this day I keep my very first piggy bank with pesetas on it (Spanish former currency pre-euro). My dad graduated and got promoted many times, and he started earning a really good salary. When I was in my teens, we were living a more comfortable life: my mum would always buy supermarket basics, and my dad would fill his tank on the cheapest petrol station. Even when they were able to afford a better lifestyle and enjoy all the little perks that come with it, my parents scarcity mindset and all those little saving tricks helped them provide for us. I would never lack food, clothes, or the traditional Christmas trip. Their final effort was putting my older sister through university. I was sent after her.
Their relationship got eroded over time. Sometimes I think that we were a worse financial burden to our parents than their mortgage and that if they hadn’t had us, maybe they would have had the means and the time to save their marriage. We will never know.
Hell broke loose when I was studying in university. They had a horrible divorce and they couldn’t afford to keep me in university. I had to stretch all my Erasmus money and work a part-time job to afford for 3rd and 4th year. I met my partner in 4th year and moved to the UK with her shortly after graduating. I came here with less than £100 in my pocket and I couldn’t find a graduate job with an undervalued degree so I started working in a pub for minimum wage. A summary of the rest of story you can find here.
Financial stability, or lack thereof, has made me miserable.
I feel that I inherited my parents money mindset and that it’s been triggered by my minimum wage employment, with zero hour contracts and zero stability. I changed jobs about 6 months ago. It is still minimum wage but it has way better tips. Enough to be able to afford tuition fees for a masters next academic year. However, I still feel anxious about every penny that leaves my bank account. I keep trying to fund my emergency savings, I started financing my retirement (I’m 23) and I am even going to study a masters to get a decent paying job that I enjoy. Why do I still feel this anxious?
I came to the conclusion that I am not happy about the impact money is having in my relationship. I feel that this mindset is affecting my relationship in the way it affected my parents’. I feel frustrated, depressed, anxious and afraid. And what’s worse, I can’t help but feel that this is all my fault. Probably because it is.
I feel frustrated because I feel like I haven’t had enough opportunities in life. I am ashamed to admit this, especially because I know that there is people that are struggling to carry on with their lives with a fraction of the opportunities that I’ve had. That isn’t fair either.
My parents paid my sister two undergraduate degrees and she could have studied a masters right after the second undergraduate if she had decided to. My girlfriend’s parents paid for her masters, although she was contributing to reducing their expense working part-time. I don’t mean this in a bad way. We were all brought up under different circumstances and I am proud that they grasped their opportunities as I would have if I had had them as well. I just feel a bit frustrated and jealous about it all. After all, what parents don’t want to make sure their kids have every resource they need to face adult life? I’m sure that my parents would have given me the same opportunities they gave my sister if their financial situation was better.
That frustration leads to depression. I lacked the opportunities everyone around me all had. All I could only land is a precarious job that makes me work insane hours and where money and paying bills is a real concern. I’ve lived with my partner for almost two years now; she’s been going to university in the mornings and I work evenings. I work 10-12 hour shifts all the time and when I’m not working I am too tired to enjoy time with my partner. My depression makes her feel helpless and the fact that she’s helpless makes me even more depressed. The worst feeling of them all is that the only reason things are not working the way they should is purely my fault.
That depression leads me to anxiety. The anxiety of seeing that the endgame is too far away. The feeling that the wait might be too long for her makes it even worse. I will be stuck in this job at least for another full year until I have a real shot at a 9-5 graduate job, where I can enjoy all my evenings with my partner, cook, have Saturday strolls at the park and all the stuff normal couples with a decent schedule can do. What is the point of working this hard to get there if I lose her in the meantime?
And that anxiety leads me to fear. The fear of failure. I won’t succeed. I will lose it all. I lost my mental health over the past 3 years for nothing. I’ll end up getting the job that allows me a comfortable life with plenty of time but and no one to enjoy it with. She will get fed up and my relationship will end up like my parents’. The worst effect of this depression is that it’s made me become a horribly pessimistic soul.
All this has messed up with my mental health. I am not who I used to be. I used to be fun, sociable, and happy. Now I feel like a grumpy old man, socially isolated and weak. My sleeping and eating patterns have completely shifted. The smallest and most unimportant thing makes me really upset; I often overreact and argue a lot with my partner over things that I later realise are not worth it at all.
But there is hope
Deep down I know it will work out, it’s just a matter of time and even though our goals don’t seem within our reach, we will get there. I don’t give my partner enough credit for fighting for us, even when I sometimes feel like I should quit. I feel extremely lucky to have someone loving me the way she does. This two years haven’t been easy for either of us, but reason while she’s fighting hard is because she loves me and she believes in us. That love gives me hope: hope in myself, hope in her, and hope in us.
Has money affected your relationship? Please share your story with me!