People in recovery from addiction tend to have money problems. Not just gamblers but ordinary folks in recovery from alcohol, pot, cocaine, oxycontin, etcetera. Codependents too.
We struggle with money. We create chaos in recovery with money.
It’s not surprising really. Some of us never learned good money habits, or if we did we forgot them while we were high. Many of us were pretty awful with money when we were in the active phase of our addiction. But you’d think all the money problems would stop when we come into recovery.
We’re a lot saner. We aren’t acting out. We’re honest now.
For some recovery means the end of money problems, but for many money problems get worse in recovery. Debting is often worse in recovery. So is underearning.
We have new opportunities to debt in recovery. We straighten up enough to qualify for credit we weren’t offered before. Another reason debting can get worse is because we aren’t using substances to make us feel better. So our addictive personalities crave pleasurable experiences (dinners, massages, concerts) or things and stuff (TVs, furniture, fancy phones, nice clothes) to make us feel better.
And what we can’t pay for with cash goes on a credit card. By using a credit card we can feel good now and defer pain to later.
When we pay with cash the pain of having less money and the pleasure of buying something occur at the same time. Before making a purchase we weigh our how much of our cash we are willing to give up (pain) for the experience or item we are getting (pleasure). When pain and pleasure occur at the same time people are more thoughtful about what they willing to buy.
But not when they use a credit card. It turns out that most will pay more for something when they use a credit (nearly 50% more). When using a credit card, the pain of paying is deferred until some unknown time in the future. The anticipation of future pain doesn’t moderate spending for most people—and future pain doesn’t scare addicts much at all.
That may be why persons in recovery are among the worst abusers of credit cards. We fill up one credit card and start another. We play shell games with debt moving the balance from one card to another. Some rack up debt until they can’t make the minimum payments anymore. When they are late or miss a payment then interest rates skyrocket. The amount of debt grows until it may exceed their annual income yet they continue to use credit cards.
Money worries mount. They stop sleeping well. They try to hide their debt from those close to them. Sound familiar?
Some folks in recovery do stop before it becomes the nightmare of dunning letters, harassment from creditors, cancellations, confiscated property, garnisheed wages, and bankruptcy court. Some only stop when no credit is available. For some financial stress gets so great they commit suicide or go back to drinking and drugging.
For many people in recovery debting is much less dramatic but nonetheless produces painful results. These folks acquire debt slowly. They don’t make impulsive purchases but do use credit to fill in the gap at the end of the month until the next paycheck. They buy gas, food, and other things they need. They use credit cards to handle emergencies such as repairing the car, replacing the refrigerator, or taking the kid to the doctor.
They pay off as much as they can each month (hint: this contributes to the short fall and the need to use credit again). They live frugally. But somehow though they never get ahead of the debt and it slowly builds to painful and embarrassing amounts. Monthly payments cut into what they keep, leaving less and less to live on each month. There is less and less discretionary spending and the pleasures of life are parsed away to keep up with monthly payments.
Debting is not the only money problem in recovery. Underearning is an overlooked contributor to financial problems. Underearning is a pattern of not consistently earning as much as you want or need. An underearner doesn’t earn as much as would be expected given their education or training or past experience. Some underearners are debtors while others are not.
Why would underearning be money problem related to recovery? One reason is that many people don’t feel particularly confident in recovery. Alcoholics, for instance, are noted for having painfully low self-esteem. Asking for a raise for a raise is harder if you think you don’t deserve much. When our esteem is low seems easier to settle for less than to request that we be paid enough for our work.
Some folks never learned good work habits may or got sloppy when actively using. They don’t have a good work history and need to start over in recovery. There are also those whose addictions kept them out of the work force while using. Neither those starting over nor those starting out are likely to land high-paying jobs as their first jobs in recovery. Low wages contribute to underearning.
Then there are the people who were high earners while using whose incomes drop when they stop using cocaine or alcohol. Good schmoozers when high find that they are surprisingly shy when sober. Many of us find that we are quite different in recovery and this can impact our income or choice of jobs. High earners can become underearners.
Other people in recovery equate spirituality with poverty. They feel virtuous about living with less. They volunteer a lot. They give lots of energy to others but don’t take good care of themselves. It is easy to do in recovery because we are encouraged give back and help others.
There are a lot of reasons for money problems in recovery. Our spending habits, our self-esteem, and our work histories can contribute to financial chaos even while we are sober. We must learn to take excellent care of ourselves around money because financial problems can make life in recovery miserable causing worry, loss of sleep and even relapse.
How can people in recovery learn financial recovery? How can you stop debting? How can you start bringing in enough? How can you enjoy money and have a good life in recovery?
I will write about the steps to financial here over the next few weeks so stay tuned. I’ll also be starting a phone-based Financial Recovery support group in early December (limited to eight). If you’d live more information about the group or would like to receive a complementary coaching consultation, pleaser email me at email@example.com.