Last summer, I had a month-long break from graduate school. I spent that entire month in a personal finance deep-dive. While I already knew and followed the basic rules of personal finance, like paying off debt and buying only what you could afford, I wanted to expand my knowledge, get better at money, and see what was working for other people. But I soon got lost in the rabbit hole of personal finance.
I started with You Need a Budget (YNAB). After watching hours of YouTube videos while at work, I set up my budget using their system. You Need a Budget is a budgeting app and philosophy that preaches giving every dollar a job and budgeting with the money you have currently in your account so you can track every penny coming in or out. While reading the YNAB blog, I came across the FIRE movement, a rapidly spreading trend that involves becoming financially independent so you have the option to not work. I became obsessed. I read the top-recommended FIRE books, like Path to FIRE, Meet the Frugalwoods, and, my favorite, Financial Freedom. All of this led me down a rabbit hole, which eventually led me to start learning about investing. While I do save a little for retirement, I knew nothing about investing. The books Financial Freedom and The Simple Path to Wealth give exact steps for getting started in an easy-to-comprehend guide, so I picked those up as well.
The problem was, all of this information started to take over my brain. The world of personal finance is vast, and frankly, a mystery to most young adults I know. There’s just so much to learn, and all of it feels so urgent. Every day, I was reading a new blog or browsing a new Instagram account dedicated to personal finance advice. I was hanging on every word until I realized I could barely go one day without bringing up money in conversation or Googling a new concept.
Learning about money is so important that I would even call it a form of self-care. However, I quickly realized that I was becoming stressed out and also stressing out my friends and my partner with all of my money talk. Instead of empowering, personal finance became exhausting, like I was in a race and had to sprint to the finish line instead of traveling at a sustainable pace. In order to avoid becoming consumed with stress, I had to find a balance in learning about money without letting it completely take over my life. If you’re in the same boat, here are some tips that helped me deal with my personal finance obsession.
Get out of the rabbit hole and take a break.
After my month-long deep dive, which really lasted all summer and is still kind of going, I needed to give my brain a break from looking at numbers. I went to the library and ran to the fiction section, where I rediscovered my love for young adult novels. I also started doing puzzles with my husband instead of making him read over the budget I recreated for the tenth time. I also stopped looking at my budget obsessively every single day.
After giving my brain a break, I found myself feeling lighter and more present. I unfollowed any financial Instagram account that I did not absolutely love or that made me feel like I needed to be doing more with my money. While many accounts put out insightful and helpful content, I needed to protect my mind and only follow those that truly encouraged me where I was at.
Schedule time for learning.
While taking a break is nice, I still could not completely stop my brain from thinking about all the ways I could be travel hacking, investing more for retirement, or saving on make-up. Anytime I would come across a new money idea, I would instantly start researching it and blabbing on about it to my coworker, who became annoyed.
I started to get caught in the same patterns and realized I needed to schedule time for mulling over how to improve my finances or hack my spending. That way, I could still learn how to improve my financial situation without it taking over my life. I keep a note on my phone titled “Future $ Thinking” where I jot down ideas I come across for budgeting or saving money, then I close the note. When I have some downtime, I research and geek out for an hour. I got my free time back, and I’m working on listening to my friends without offering unsolicited advice. Plus, the time I do spend geeking out is more focused and therefore, truly productive.
Practice gratitude for where you’re at.
In a culture that tells us to hustle, push ourselves to the limit, and monetize everything, it can be challenging to stay present and be grateful for what you already have.
I’m constantly having to remind myself that anything we’re working toward in life is a journey, not a sprint. My mindset is often “you can do better” (Enneagram 1 here!), so learning how to be present and accept exactly where I’m at is a struggle. But the little progress I have made has given me more gratitude and contentment. Sometimes it feels like I need to be making progress toward my goals every minute of every single day. While that feeling might be motivating for some, it kept me from enjoying the progress I’ve made that got me where I am now.
To center myself, I made a list of the top ten things that made me happy. There were simple things on my list, like being with my partner and family, baking bread, reading fiction, and hiking. This list was a way to see what I want to fill my life with and a reminder that most often, what I am actually striving for are simple joys that I already have.
My money-crazed deep-dive taught me a lot, and not just about how to best manage my personal finance. While I did emerge from the rabbit hole with a new budget (that I am low-key in love with) and more confidence in my knowledge of investing, the best thing I learned is something I already knew: I don’t need to accomplish everything at once. Taking a break from money was, ironically, the most beneficial thing I could do for my financial health because it allowed me to remember the things in life that matter most — all the reasons I care about getting my finances together in the first place.
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