The goal, Clayman says, is to get to a place where anxiety isn’t the force that drives our financial awareness. In other words, we don’t want anxiety to be the reason we do or don’t check our bank accounts. Of course, that’s easier said than done, but luckily Clayman and McLay have some tips for getting there.
Observe your spending habits without pressuring yourself to change them.
Every time I’m feeling insecure about money—and consequently avoid my bank account—I overcompensate by making a bunch of lofty financial goals. I think, “Yikes, I’ve been really shitty with money lately. I’m going to make a budget and be so good with money that I’ll get back on track and never feel anxious about my account balance again.” On top of obviously setting myself up to fail, this is also the exact wrong place to start addressing my avoidance problem.
Clayman suggests taking at least a month (but ideally two or three if you can) to observe your typical finances. “Tell yourself, ‘I’m just going to become aware of how I spend money and how I bring in money,’” she says.
Before we go any further, let’s talk about the elephant in the room: It doesn’t feel very helpful to say, “If you’re anxious about checking your bank account, just check your bank account!” But while it may be uncomfortable—and yes, anxiety-inducing—it might help to think of it as exposure therapy. Not only are you breaking the habit of only checking your balance when your anxiety pushes you over the edge, but you’re also getting a lot of practice approaching your bank account without judgment or pressure to fix things. It’s the first step in breaking the cycle and it will get easier with time, says Clayman.
Plus, you’re equipping yourself with a lot of useful information if you decide you want to make some adjustments down the line. “The reason that we do this is because we want to measure what’s happening in our financial life when we’re not actively managing it,” says Clayman. “If we’re on autopilot, what does that translate to in terms of money?”
The first time you do a deep-dive into your accounts might be nerve-wracking and no fun—it’s essentially a financial audit of yourself—but it’s an important first step. “Get a glass of wine and a box of tissues, and rip the Bandaid off,” says McLay.
Try different ways of tracking your finances.
Okay, so what does keeping up on your financial awareness look like? First of all, it doesn’t have to be fancy; it can literally just be popping into your banking app regularly and checking out what’s been going on. That said, everyone is different and it’s very important to experiment. “We run to the methods that work best for other people and hope that will work for us, too, and when it doesn’t, we feel like we have failed,” says Clayman. So play around.
Here are a few tips and methods that you might want to try out:
Start small. If you’re especially avoidant (same!), you shouldn’t put a bunch of pressure on yourself to become a finance-tracking master. Clayman suggests committing to a short but regular date with your bank account, like once a week for 20 minutes to check in on what came in and went out. If you can only handle this monthly at first, so be it. “Make it as small as you can commit to,” says Clayman.
Put your check-in on the calendar. Making a vague goal to check your account regularly may work for some, but a lot of us really benefit from scheduling a firm, non-negotiable date. “Don’t wait for this magical confluence of time and motivation to look at it,” says Clayman.