By: Ben Rose
“Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t need, to impress people that they don’t like.”
Money: Easy Come, Easy Go?
While in the throes of addiction, whether it’s alcohol, drugs, gambling, or anything else, people don’t consider saving money or delaying the gratification of what they want.
And the minute they get any money, the majority of that money goes into their addiction.
A gambler will place large bets in hopes of finally making the big win. If they win, they bet even more significant amounts to gain more money — until they lose everything.
A drug addict or alcoholic with money will play the big-shot in bars or buy a higher quality product to produce a better high until they are destitute or dead.
Money As A Camouflage for Low Self-Esteem
In my case, the lack of self-esteem increased as my addiction spiraled. Trying to bolster my image, I bought clothing and accessories far beyond my needs.
Where a basic dress shirt from Penny’s would have sufficed, I bought Armani and Versace. Where a nice off-the-rack sports jacket would do, I purchased it from Brioni. Thinking that if I dressed to fit a particular image, I would fit in never happened. I also believed that if I frequented high-end restaurants and clubs, I would be accepted and feel comfortable with the elite. That never happened, either.
Extravagant and Wasteful Spending in Recovery
Many people buy unnecessary things, or are wasteful in their spending. These behaviors, while not exclusive to addicts, is perhaps more common amongst them. Addicts are inherently childish in their demands for immediate gratification. We want to feel differently now and look for any way to stop the pain immediately. Rather than learn the process necessary to acquire long-term relief; we just want the damned relief.
In our quest for gratification, we rob ourselves of the chance to learn specific skills. Monetary savings and delayed purchases are two of those.
Take a hat as an example. The recovering addict sees a hat, and it is an attractive hat. The addict tries it on, and it looks great. The fit is just right. The price tag, however, is $150.00.
Most of us have not made significant changes in how we think and process experiences in early recovery. So instead of considering what bills are due, food for the family, or gas to get to work, the person buys the hat.
The hat then joins a closetful of other hats. When rent comes due, the electric bill, or paying back people who lent the addict money, excuses are made, and promises to pay ASAP are given.
I once owned fifty shirts, five suits, thirty pairs of pants, fifteen hats, and two watches, each worth more than my monthly rent. I never wore most of these, but the purchases made me feel important. They made me feel like somebody.
Learning New Skills
Several skills are necessary to learn in our example about the costly hat. The first is what I often call the $30.00 watch rule. A $30.00 watch tells time just as well as a $30,000.00 watch – in this modern age, it might even do so better. The internal craftsmanship of watches has reached a point where the Rolex, while extravagant and showy, isn’t actually going to last as long as a basic timepiece. The cost of repairs usually outweighs the initial investment.
I have a dress watch that gets many compliments from people. It cost me $0.75 plus $8.00 shipping and handling from Amazon. That’s correct—$ 8.75 for a watch that people notice and is quite functional. When I had to replace the battery, after 30 months, it only cost me $5.00.
If we take our hat example here instead of a watch, nice quality hats are available for a fraction of the $150.00 price tag. Here in Florida, I see people wearing attractive headgear sold at 7-eleven or Circle K, and one would never know that they hadn’t gone to a department store or proper haberdashery to make the purchase.
The next lesson is in paying bills. Most addicts don’t think about making a list of their expenses, but it is a good idea. Pay the rent immediately once the paycheck comes in, followed by the electric and cable/phone bills. This order for bill-paying is a great habit to start. Once you pay these necessities, focus on paying down or off the credit card bills. Now you think you have $150 left, but you still have to spend money on other necessities like food and gas or budget for public transportation for work.
Now comes the hard part. It turns out that there isn’t $150.00 left over. There might be $50.00.
Here comes lesson three. You can either find a lesser expensive hat or if you’ve got your heart set on that fedora, set aside $25 and save up for the unique hat. In six months, you’ve saved enough for that purchase.
By then, having put in the effort to save that money, the hat might start looking like it isn’t worth it after all. There might be other things you want instead.
Rewards Are Necessary
It is necessary to reward yourself for good effort in early recovery. Feel proud of your accomplishments. The reward doesn’t have to be extravagant, but it has to be something meaningful to you. I mention this because addicts tend to overdo everything. Once we start saving, becoming a miser is easy enough. Instead of reckless spending, we go to the other extreme and hoard the money.
There must be balance. Going out for ice cream or buying a new CD isn’t a crime. At first, you might do so every month or every couple of months. Celebrating a recovery anniversary may mean giving yourself a bigger reward, but it’s a significant achievement.
The goal is to find a balance between making sure we are honoring our obligations and making sure that we are enjoying the business of being in recovery.
For some, this will be easier than others. Some are financially blessed. They won’t have as difficult a time reaching these goals. Others find themselves working for minimum wage and struggling even in recovery. Either way, the principles I have suggested hold true.
There is one final point I wish to make. In Christian circles, there is a famous scripture in which Jesus stated that by feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, clothing the naked, etc., one is providing that service to The Lord. There is an equivalent in most theologies. This guideline is not without serious merit.
The 12-steps make a point in step 12 that we continue to carry the message to others. This step also says that we practice these principles in all our affairs. If we have paid all our bills and we have a surplus, many people and service organizations need help. While it may not always be safe to engage with a person standing by the side of a highway or sitting under a storefront, it is never a wrong idea to offer people a bottle of water or a gift card from a grocery store.
Most people either have been broke or may find themselves in that condition at some point. I live in a hurricane-prone region, and people can lose everything they own within a few hours. We would hope that people would be there for us in these times. But we must be there for people, too, and not just in times of catastrophes and disasters.
What if you don’t have any money to spare? That doesn’t matter. When you share your story, experience, or hope, you give back to others, just as you receive a gift when they share. It’s similar to the sacred acts of giving and receiving in many Native cultures.
Just Passing It On
I do not offer these suggestions because I am a self-help expert or a financial guru. I’m not. Far from it. I am an addict in recovery.
I am learning these skills at a much later age than some. However, making this method for paying bills, delaying gratification, and saving habits have helped me, and I want to pass this knowledge on to others.
If reading this helps you, please pay that forward. Would you please help others to learn new and more adult ways of living?
Bio: Ben Rose
Ben is an Oregon native who currently resides on The Florida Gulf. He has travelled extensively by bus, car, freight train, Amtrak, and foot in an effort to see America and find stories to write.
Born at the end of the turbulent sixties, his travels began in his formative years. Early in life he developed a love of cheap motels, greasy spoons, and great comedians.
He speaks fluent hipster as well as English and a smattering of French.
Ben is an ally to the LGBTQ+ Community, a supporter of human rights, and a believer in racial and gender equality.
As one with Aspergers, GAD, and PTSD, Ben has seen his share of hard traveling, abuse, and bullying which is reflected in his literary works.
He currently resides with his beautiful better half, and their emotional support cat.
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