A few days ago, my old bad money habits nearly ruined Christmas, and it surprised me.
My Old Relationship With Money
I was deep in debt, and I was so afraid. In fact, it was once so bad I gave myself insomnia when I thought about whether I’d ever be able to come back from it.
My lack of money made me really insecure.
Especially in romantic relationships. I remember once, telling my then-boyfriend that I wouldn’t be surprised or upset if he broke up with me after I lost my job.
I once dated a man who made a lot of money, and instead of that knowledge easing my insecurities, it only made them worse. In fact, one of the last fights of our relationship was about money: how he thought I was taking advantage of him, how I was somehow unappreciative of the money he’d spent on me, how I was probably a gold digger.
It devastated me on a deeper level than (I hope!) he ever understood. I couldn’t believe it. I mean, I was just me, except I was making less money. I contributed what I could, but it wasn’t enough. My efforts weren’t enough.
After that relationship crashed and burned (big surprise there, no?) I made a concerted effort to get out from under the debt pile. I knew it was time to take control over my money. I really didn’t like how dependent I’d become.
So, I started to take control. I built an emergency fund. I started paying down my debts. I was repairing my relationship with money.
Or so I thought.
Making a Big Deal Out of Christmas
This year, my family and I made a really big deal out of Christmas. We lost my mom this year, and we knew it would be harder without her, so we added sparkles and lights and hung garland and stockings everywhere. I wrapped presents, and found just the right thing for everyone, including my sister.
At one point, I realized I bought too much, and my boyfriend (who is a close friend of my sister’s) hadn’t gotten her a gift yet.
“How about you tell her these Hunter boots (I know, I am such a good sister!) are from you? You can pay me back,” I said.
“Sure! That sounds great!” he responded.
The Money Conversation
Two weeks later, he was showing me one of the new $100 bills that he’d gotten in the mail (side note: DO NOT send $100 bills in the mail!) and I said, “oh, I’ll just take this, and we’ll call it even for the boots.”
I didn’t really want the cash (I mean, I’m not a rapper, what on earth would I do with a bill that large?) but I did want to talk about getting the money back.
“Oh,” he said, “I thought we were going to call that even, since I bought the presents for my family.”
My heart sank.
“Well,” I replied, “I sent them my homemade presents. I thought that was my contribution.” I send homemade presents to absolutely everyone except my immediate family, and they’re always well received.
“Oh, you did?” he asked. “Okay, I’ll settle up with you about the boots.”
The Old Bad Money Habits
Tears welled up in my eyes. Does he think my homemade candies and tea towels and magnets are a sorry excuse for a Christmas gift? Does he think I’m taking advantage of him?
I couldn’t understand what just happened.
I looked at him across the room, and he was completely calm. He knows me. He knows that we’re partners in this game called life, and he isn’t keeping score.
Later that night, I told him how upset I’d been when he said he wasn’t going to pay me back.
“I was right back to my old money ways, and I was really wounded,” I told him. “But then I remembered how you’re not the same person who made me feel so bad several years ago.”
It took conscious retraining not to burst into tears.
But I didn’t let my emotions get out of control, and therefore I didn’t ruin Christmas.
I found it so interesting, though, to regress immediately. There are real triggers that can bubble up even when we improve our financial standing.
Watch out for them, so you don’t end up ruining Christmas too!