Facing Financial Fears

Facing Financial Fears

I’ve talked about my career change and the positive aspects of working with preschoolers, but I have yet to dive into the most challenging part of making the shift away from a steady 9-5 job: the financial side. Though I’ve covered plenty of personal topics on this blog, something about money feels even more personal. It seems as though money is quite a taboo topic, something we don’t often chat about with friends. We’ll talk about relationships without hesitation, but somehow bringing up money seems too difficult. There’s an element of embarrassment or fear of failure that goes along with finances that is similar, but still distinctly unique, from our feelings about dating or other common topics. I feel scared writing this blog post, but I know it’s a topic I need to talk about more. So here I go!

When I made the leap from working at a large, corporate company, to working at a small, fairly new preschool, I knew the risk I was taking financially. But I don’t think I understood, or wanted to understand, the full extent of what my choice meant. It’s no secret teachers don’t earn as much money as other fields, and I soon learned “childcare workers”, as I’m defined in the preschool world, earn even less than “school-age” educators (kindergarten through high school teachers). To put it candidly — and this makes me so scared to write for some reason, I think I’m afraid of looking weak but I’m saying it anyway— it’s nearly impossible to make a living as a preschool teacher. All of the teachers I work with have multiple side-jobs.

All that is to say, I took a huge financial risk to become a preschool teacher. For the past few months as I adjusted to my new job, I adapted an attitude of avoidance, thinking “it will all work out” in regard to my finances, without developing any sort of plan. My monthly income was cut drastically, and I was scared to confront that reality. I felt intense anxiety whenever I thought about my finances, and my coping mechanism was to just ignore, ignore, ignore. Like a monster under the bed, I was afraid of what I’d find hidden in the dark if I took the time to really examine my newfound financial situation. I knew deep down I’d need to put in a lot of work to figure out how to earn more money and put together a budget, and it made me feel exhausted thinking about it. So I chose a route of avoidance.

With the exception of a few small changes, I continued spending in the same manner I had when I was at my previous job. I saw the number in my checking account decreasing steadily, but I didn’t want to deal with what that meant. I was stubbornly hoping I could continue living the same way I had before, that nothing needed to change, and magically things would all work out. Ignore, ignore, ignore.

Finally, slowly, I came to terms with the fact that I needed to stop this denial and start being real with myself. I needed to find alternative forms of income, and I needed to cut back on my expenses each month. Nothing was going to magically work out if I didn’t put in the work myself. I knew I needed a wake-up call, so I made a to-do list and started crossing things off:

  • I found a freelance job writing resumes and cover letters for clients.
  • I started putting feelers out and working more irregular gigs like babysitting, petsitting, and social media management.
  • I took a look at exactly how much I’m earning versus how much I’m spending each month, identifying how much extra money I need per month and areas I can cut back on spending.
  • I started opening up to friends and family about this topic.

The funny thing about avoidance is we know deep down it’s not going to help. Ignoring my finances didn’t magically give me more money, or assuage my anxieties. I still had a nagging voice in my head saying “You need to confront this. You can’t keep this up forever, Shelly!” My savings were still depleting. Those months I spent not paying attention to my spending, blindly hoping I was making enough money to support for my spending habits, I was just prolonging the inevitable. I eventually had to come back to reality and put in the work to get on the right track.

I was right that the work I needed to put in would be tiring. I don’t have everything figured out yet. I still have more work to do to feel confident in my financial situation. I still have the same anxiety about money, and the same embarrassment around talking about it. I don’t know if any of that will ever change, but I know one thing has changed: I’m facing my fears rather than avoiding. I’m taking action rather than remaining passive. I’m talking about this topic rather than bottling it all up. Leaving the world of avoidance and entering the world of action may still bring its fair share of exhaustion and anxiety, but it has also made me feel empowered and given me hope. It may take a while, but I know everything will work out, because I’m finally doing the work.

Do you have fears around money? Do you feel embarrassed or scared or anxious to talk about it? Have you ever made a career change and had to reevaluate your income? Let’s talk about it! I’d love to hear from you in the comments!