4 Helpful Tips for Managing Finances in Recovery

By Beth Leipholtz 11/29/18

When it came to deal with my finances in recovery, I knew I needed to stop living the way I was living, knew I needed to regain control, but I battled my pride when it came to asking for help.

Woman advising other woman on managing her finances in recovery.
Like in recovery, you may have to overcome feelings of shame and guilt in order to ask for help, but when you do, it pays off, literally and figuratively.

About three years ago, I was drowning in student loan and credit card debt, making nearly minimum wage — yet I found that I kept spending money. I often felt like I had no control over the financial aspect of my life, like I was just along for the ride and couldn’t make any positive changes.

In retrospect, the way I was feeling was similar to the way I felt at the end of my drinking: I knew I needed to stop living the way I was living, knew I needed to regain control, but I battled my pride when it came to asking for help. With drinking, I had to hit my rock bottom before I could even think about climbing out. But having learned that the hard way, I knew I didn’t want to reach bottom in my financial situation. So eventually I stopped making excuses, scheduled a meeting with a financial advisor, and made a plan.

And today, I’m so glad I did. While my finances aren’t perfect by any means, they’re much better than they were a few years ago. And many of the tools I used to get to this point are similar to ones I've used to sustain my recovery. 

Hints for Handling Your Finances in Recovery

  1. Meet with someone who can hold you accountable. Just like in recovery, it’s important to have people in your life who are aware of what is going on and who can help you figure out a plan to get a handle on it. For me, this meant putting my pride aside, walking into the bank, and meeting with a financial advisor. I was completely honest with her in every aspect of my financial situation, leaving out no detail. I thought revealing so much would be scary and intimidating and upsetting, but instead I felt something else entirely: relief. I no longer felt as if this was a battle I was fighting on my own. I had someone in my corner working with me to come up with a plan. She was invested in my success and wanted the best for me. We met monthly for nearly a year. Each month I reported the progress I’d made with my debt and it felt so rewarding to see those numbers slowly decrease. I honestly think this was the most helpful step I took in getting a handle on my finances. No matter how nervous you may be to fully confront all of your debt and financial wreckage, just do it. There is a huge sense of relief when you put everything on the table and come up with a plan of attack.

  1. Really, really consider why you are spending money. After getting sober, I missed the thrill and adrenaline rush of drinking. I missed being impulsive and adventurous. So in a way, I replaced that feeling by spending money. My purchases were never outright crazy, but I definitely bought things I didn’t need and spent money I didn’t have in order to get a rush of sorts. It made me happy and excited to know I had purchases coming in the mail, or to know I could walk in a store, grab a pile of clothes, and pay for it with a piece of plastic. What I didn’t plan for, however, was the guilt that followed such purchases. Just like when I was drinking, I knew I was making bad decisions but I made them anyway. Today, I’m more aware of my emotions when spending money. In no way does that mean I always make the smartest financial decisions, because I don’t. But like anything else, it’s a process. Where I am today is worlds better than where I was a few short years ago, and it’s because of taking the time to become aware of my spending.

  1. Write it all down. In certain recovery programs, you’re encouraged to journal about your emotions and progress. This is because putting things to paper has a way of making them feel more manageable. The same goes for finances. No matter how much you may dread going through all your credit card and loan statements, just suck it up and do it. Make a spreadsheet of what you owe and when, then track your payments as you make them. As you watch the numbers decrease each month, there will be a sense of accomplishment that you just don’t get when the numbers aren’t right in front of you. Putting it all on paper also provides a sense of control, as you know you are doing what you can to improve your habits and ultimately, your life.

  1. Take on the manageable parts first. I’m the type of person who gets frustrated if I don’t see progress quickly when trying something new. That’s why the beginning of sobriety was so hard -- I was doing the work, but I still felt like the process was so slow and that I wasn’t moving forward. I wanted tangible changes. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works with recovery. But when it comes to finances, you’re in luck. When you write down all your debts, pay attention to the small ones. Make a goal to pay those off first. While the overall amount to pay off may not be as significant as your other debts, you’ll be able to check it off the list and feel as if you are making progress after you’ve laid out a plan. It provides a little thrill to be able to make the final payment on something and see the number turn to zero. It restores a sense of control and responsibility, which raises your self-esteem.

When it comes to finances in recovery, the most important aspect is the willingness to be honest and open with both yourself and others who are in a position to help you. Like in recovery, you may have to overcome feelings of shame and guilt in order to ask for help, but when you do, it pays off, literally and figuratively.

Do you have a great money tip to add to this list? Please share in the comments.

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at www.lifetobecontinued.com, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.