Recovery Skills: Learning Money Management
Overspending and poor money management can lead to stress, and stress can lead to addiction relapse. Learn to manage your money wisely for a better chance at long-term recovery.
Addiction affects all aspects of life. Once you get sober and enter recovery, a lot of time is spent repairing the damage addiction has caused and learning how to live without drugs or alcohol, often for the first time.
In recovery you learn how to change your thinking, improve your mood, engage in healthy habits, form healthy relationships, and take control of your life. Amidst all of this self-improvement it can be easy to overlook the importance of regaining practical life skills that contribute to a more balanced life — such as learning how to control your finances.
Addiction and Money
Drug addicts, alcoholics, compulsive gamblers, and those who suffer from any other addiction are notoriously bad with money. The addicted brain’s motto is “I want what I want, and I want it now.” Often, addicts end up spending any cash that comes their way on feeding their addiction — sometimes to the point of serious financial distress, debt, and homelessness.
There is no reason to believe that once in recovery you will magically have money management skills that were seriously lacking at the peak of your drug addiction. No matter how good or bad you were at managing money before entering recovery, getting sober will change your financial situation – and you will need to change how you handle it.
Anyone recovering from addiction can benefit from learning about financial management, as well as the often-overlooked fact that money can be a relapse trigger.
Money as a Relapse Trigger
One reason financial management skills are so important for recovering addicts is that money is one of the most common, but least talked about relapse triggers.
When you manage money poorly it causes debt and stress – stress that can lead to relapse. Even if you are no longer spending money on your addiction, without proper skills to manage money, addicts often continue spending money recklessly.
Having more money as a result of becoming sober can also be a trigger for relapse in itself. Having money can instill a false sense of security, create the urge to celebrate, and trigger thoughts of being able to afford your drug of choice.
For those in recovery, learning about financial management is just as much about relapse prevention as it is about reaping the benefits of being able to pay off debts, stress less, and save money.
How to Manage Money in Recovery
Taking responsibility for your financial situation is overwhelming. Shame and guilt about past irresponsibility can leave you feeling helpless as to where to start. First, you should have a plan for how you will deal with any emotions that come up as you start to look realistically at your finances. Ask someone you trust to help you as you begin to make a plan for managing money. Then, continue with the following:
- Start a budget and track your spending. Learning the basics of budgeting, tracking, and saving is a good place to start – especially if managing money is something you have always struggled with. A budget is simply a record of the money you have coming in vs. your expenses. There are many online budgeting tools and resources available to help you get started.Keeping a spending diary is a great way to see where your money goes and areas you can improve your spending habits. Write down every purchase and expense for at least a month. You may be surprised at how much money you actually spend on non-necessities such as coffee, gum or any impulse buys.
- Separate needs and wants. The addicted brain is accustomed to instant gratification. Even when you stop spending money on your addiction, it will take more work for you to change your spending habits that are influenced by a desire for instant gratification.In order to manage money well, you have to separate your wants from your needs. For example, you need to eat and you need the companionship of friends. You may want to go with a friend to a nice restaurant – but save some money and cook together at home instead.
- Make a savings goal.Whether or not you lost a lot of money during the peak of your addiction, the fact is that addiction is expensive and now you will be able to save more. Paying off past debts and managing money so you live within your means is important, as is learning how to save.Make a specific savings goal. If you know what you are saving for you will be less likely to spend extra money recklessly. Maybe you want to take a weekend vacation or make a larger purchase without going into debt. Write these goals down and remind yourself every day why you are trying to save money.
- Avoid having and using an ATM or credit card.Even though debit and credit cards are common forms of payment, they are not for everyone! Especially in early recovery or if money is a strong trigger for you, it may be wise to limit your access to money.Having to physically withdraw money from the bank can be enough to make you think twice about it. You may even talk with your banker about setting up restrictions on your accounts, or consider storing money with a trusted parent or spouse.
- Use available resources.There a many resources available to you to help with budgeting, banking, and saving. Just like anything in recovery, you do not have to manage your finances alone. Ask for support from people in your family, community, and support groups — you are not the only one who has struggled with or wanted to improve financial management skills.There are even recovery specific resources such as the Next Step Prepaid MasterCard designed by recovering addicts for recovering addicts, that do not allow cash withdrawals or spending at certain establishments.
Reap the Benefits of Good Financial Management
- Always be aware of signs of relapse. Lingering shame and guilt, feeling overwhelmed, and spending money compulsively on shopping or gambling are all warning signs that you might be headed for relapse and should seek extra support.