How to Rise Above the Money Life Drain

Are you a beach lover? I love going for the sun, sand, and the waves. And if you’ve been to the beach in summer, you’ve likely seen signs posted to warn swimmers of a strong undertow or rough waves.

Though the ocean is always enticing to swim in, its forces can be powerful and dangerous.

So too, a problematic relationship with money can be a dangerous, powerful force in ones life.

My clients have said that in order to stay afloat, they feel enormous pressure to make more money or to spend less. It’s like a downward spiral.

I’ve got a name for this spiral; the Money/Life Drain.

Sometimes we’re pulled downward because of circumstances beyond our control, such as a loss of income or a downturn in the economy. Other times, we create the force by our habits of spending or “debting.”

However it starts, the force of the Money/Life Drain can be powerful, and we can feel defenseless against it.

The Money/Life Drain can affect us all, no matter where you lie on the economic spectrum. The numbers may be higher for the rich, but the emotional toll is the same for everybody. The purchases may be grander, but the drive to spend beyond our means is the same.

All of this leads to an unsupported—and unsupportable—financial structure born of unhealthy money behaviors and circumstances. Think of an upside down pyramid to image how this works.

The force of the Money/Life Drain, with increasing pressure and narrowing options, draws us down to its bottom level. At this bottom, we feel trapped, caught in a repeated pattern of money behaviors and consequences that come with them.

Here are the 5 stages of the Money/Life Drain.

Level 1: Financial Burdens, Debt, Out-of-Control Expenses:
We start our descent into the Money/Life Drain with feelings of being burdened.

  • We have trouble keeping up with our expenses, using credit cards or family loans to stay afloat.
  • Bills continue to mount and creditors expect to be paid.

Level 2: Inability to Save, Pressure to Work And/Or Earn More:
The pressure increases and the options narrow. It’s hard to keep up with, much less get ahead of, our financial difficulties.

  • Obtaining money by borrowing against the equity on our homes, or by tapping retirement accounts, once unthinkable, now seems necessary.
  • We work more hours or get a second job, which also means more child-care costs, commute costs, and other expenses.
  • We’re exhausted, but still the problems continue to grow.

Level 3: Stressed Relationships:

  • We argue more—and more heatedly—with our loved ones.
  • We may keep our finances a secret, and end up living in fear of being discovered.

Level 4: Compromised Health and Well-Being:
Worry about money is now starting to affect our sleep and our mood.

  • Insomnia and anxiety add to our exhaustion.
  • We suffer headaches or digestive troubles, elevated blood pressure—even panic attacks.

We might turn to alcohol, drugs, or other distractions to escape the feelings of dread that seem nearly constant. Level 5: Financial, Emotional, and Spiritual Depletion:
Finally, we are overwhelmed on every level.

  • We experience down-to-the-bone exhaustion.
  • We feel depleted financially, emotionally, and spiritually.
  • We may have compromised social, moral, or spiritual values in order to deal with our financial circumstances.

As a financial recovery counselor I’ve seen people pull themselves out of the depths of the Money/Life Drain. Initially, they don’t feel strong enough. They also feel ashamed and foolish for letting things go so far, and this just adds to the strength of the drain’s pull.

Consider this…

If our attitudes and behaviors are high on the list of contributing factors to the problem, then our attitudes and behaviors are a powerful place to start.

You get to design your financial life and you can always reverse course, though you might need help.

Do you find yourself in any of these stages?

Do you see any troubling, recurring patterns and experiences in your financial life? If so, don’t wait until you slip too far down the drain to ask.


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