I spent the majority of my life wrestling with alcohol and drug addiction. It took a long time for me to realize I even had a problem. Rehab, support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings showed me ways to deal with spiritual, emotional and even physical aspects of recovery. Yet, what I wasn’t prepared for was the financial side of things.
During the peak of my addiction, money was nothing but a means to an end, the end being bigger and better highs. When I got into recovery the first time, money was a pretty big instrument to my relapse. I had a new job, suddenly had more money in my possession than I ever had before and the stresses of my “9 to 5” coupled with my well-satisfied wallet sent me straight down the dark path once more.
This time, I focused more on how to avoid relapse and manage triggers of all kinds, including financial ones. I learned about why relapse happens, and I learned that money as a trigger for relapse is actually much more common than I thought. No matter how well, or not so well, you managed money during your addiction, recovery will bring on all kinds of added difficulty to the situation. Not having enough money can cause you all kinds of stress and anxiety, while having too much poses an all too welcomed temptation.
In my last near decade of recovery, I have gathered the top tips to managing money as a person recovering from addiction and wanted to share them with all of you:
1. Learn to budget.
To be painfully honest with you, I had never organized money in any way while struggling with addiction. Bills came in and piled up, and I didn’t bat an eye. I didn’t really have a steady job. So my income varied greatly from week to week. I paid what I could, when I could, borrowed a lot and spent the majority of what I had to fuel my addiction. After my relapse, I knew things had to be done differently so that I could stay on the right path. I had a family member teach me how to organize myself financially.
When you’re in recovery, most programs require you to find a job of some sort. When I was in the process of finding one, I made sure to map out a monthly budget according to:
- How much money I had — the amount of money that was already in my bank or in my possession.
- How much money I would make — the amount coming in via my paychecks.
- How much money I owe — any debts that needed settling.
- How much money I would need to spend — hydro, electric, internet, phone or any other kind of bills, along with money for groceries and other basic necessities.
Believe it or not, having a sense of control over my finances helped me feel accomplished and like I was on the right path. I planned my expenses in a way that I never had too much month at the end of the money.
2. Differentiate between “optional” and “mandatory.”
One thing I struggled with in recovery was differentiating what I absolutely needed from what I craved to help substitute my drug and alcohol dependence. Before my relapse, I spent loads of money on unnecessary things. When I sat down to create my monthly budget, a good friend of mine had me apply Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to ensure I didn’t give myself too much financial wiggle room.
At first, I stuck with factoring in only my basic needs:
- Physiological needs — costs related to food, drink, shelter, sleep and warmth
- Safety needs — costs related to security and safety (such as insurance)
When I began to feel more confident and in control of myself in recovery, which took me nearly two years, I allowed a strict amount for psychological needs:
- Belonging and love — costs related to relationships, intimacy, receiving and giving affection, and so on (this would include gifts, dates, lunches and dinners with friends)
- Esteem — costs related to mastery of a subject, art or sport, as well as achievement in those areas. (I started taking computer and internet related classes at a local college and got a gym membership.)
This next section, self-actualization, is a more long-term thing. It’s about seeking personal fulfillment and peak experiences. This came five years into recovery. I felt stable, and I could comfortably manage the temptation of being around alcohol or any other substance. I planned a trip with two close friends to Italy and traveled the countryside. It was one of the experiences of my life, and I’m glad I waited to get as far as I did into recovery because I was able to enjoy the trip that much more.
3. Set goals.
When in recovery and you have extra money that is not going toward your necessities, it is difficult to deny the temptation to go out and spend to your heart’s content.
The key is to set short-term and long-term saving goals. Whether the savings go toward paying off debts or buying something important to you, the important thing is to set goals. Write them down, visualize them and always remember them. This will help on those days that you feel as if temptation may just get the best of you.
4. Do not carry credit or debit cards.
This one is key, especially when you are first starting out. Carrying credit or debit cards on you is simply too much temptation. You should only carry as much money as your budget entails and leave the rest out of sight, out of mind. If you carry a card that can easily give you access to more money, then things can too easily get out of hand.
It might be best to keep the cards with someone you trust or just cancel them. Having to go to a bank teller to withdraw money is just an extra step that serves as protection against random impulses. When you feel confident that you no longer feel the itch to buy unnecessary things or use money unnecessarily, experiment by carrying a debit card for a day. The second you feel the itch, get rid of the card.
5. Find financial resources and people to help.
When in doubt, there are tons of resources available to help with budgeting, banking, saving and general money management. Luckily, I have people in my life who have always been responsible with their money and who were able to show me the ropes. If you can find someone close to help you with it, then great. If not, then there are great apps, tools and websites that can also help.
Money management may be mentioned much less than various other tools on the road to recovery, but the feeling of financial freedom was a definite weight off my shoulders. Money is one of the things you can learn to control rather than have it control you. Knowing that you have power over your financial situation will give your recovery the boost that you’re looking for.
If you or a loved one is affected by addiction and need help, you can call SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.
Image via Thinkstock.