I remember it clearly: the bills, months old, corners frayed, stacked in the corner of my desk. They laid unopened, and with each new visit from the mail carrier, the pile got taller and the pit in my stomach heavier. After years of misusing credit cards, overspending, and a general sense of, “I’ll worry about that tomorrow,” I was $30,000 in debt, and I was terrified.
That was years — and at least a few lifetimes — ago. Today, I am a successful entrepreneur who lives a debt-free life. My business is thriving, I have an automatic savings plan, I have money in an IRA, and I even have a financial advisor I adore.
The days of massive debt may be long gone, but my response to all things financial is Pavlovian: When I hear the mailman at my door, my hands get sweaty, my throat tightens, and my stomach lurches. Instantly, I’m brought back to the days of collection calls and scary notices in the mail.
Let’s face it: Money is a basic source of human security, and having very little of it wrecked my peace of mind. The stress of my debt stretched beyond avoiding financial tasks. There were embarrassing moments at dinner with friends when my credit card was declined; the mortifying conversation with my parents when I had to explain why I’d defaulted on the loan they’d co-signed. And of course, there was the relationship chaos: My debt sealed the fate of my already-doomed first marriage. But worst of all was my shredded self-confidence. That young woman, the one with the dollar-sign-shaped albatross around her neck, never would’ve had the courage to start her own business.
Years later, I still struggle with money anxiety — but I also know what I’ve done to successfully manage my money and the stress it causes. Here’s how I not only paid down a huge debt, but also created a profitable business.
I Faced the Numbers
One thing is clear: Fear causes avoidance and avoidance causes more fear. I used to put off financial tasks, like paying bills and checking my balances, because of my fiscal angst.
But I feel the most empowered when I know where I stand. The number is just a symbol on a page; it doesn’t have the power to kill me, send me to jail, or even tattle to my mom. It doesn’t define my value as a human being. And when I know what it is, I can start to solve the problem.
Now I check my bank balances almost every day, which empowers me to make any adjustments before they become an issue. This is an important skill both in life and business: If cash isn’t flowing, I adjust the marketing budget. If a balance is low, it might mean an invoice wasn’t paid on time, and I can take appropriate action. I can’t pivot in the right direction if I don’t know what I have to spend, so checking my numbers regularly lets me be proactive.
Checking balances isn’t just about looking out for potential problems: It also means I get to see the fruits of my labor as I watch my profit account grow. I confess I experience a certain glee when I pay my bills and there’s plenty of money left over. After all, businesses exist to make money, and mine is no exception. If I don’t know whether my business is making money, I have no place being a business owner.