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Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Breaking free from 'stuffocation'

I've written a fair bit on the blog about my mindless spending and dependency on credit cards, and I've detailed my mission to escape from these poisonous habits. 

But what I haven't talked too much about is why I became addicted to spending money I didn't have and exactly what motivated me to get, and stay, out of debt. What have I added to my life to replace the fun shaped hole left when I removed my nasty binge shopping problem?

You all know about the 'negative' motivators that have kept me going, such as not wanting to monumentally piss off my husband by remaining utterly useless with money. But what has positively inspired me to actually really want to change for good? Deep and lasting change doesn't come easy and most of us don't wake up one day, just click our fingers and manage to change a behaviour or bad habit we've had for years. To make meaningful change you need to truly commit and then remain focused on your end goal, even when distractions and obstacles pop up along the way. And, crucially, you have to really want to change! This is the essence of what my blog is all about.

To pay down my debt I've had to sacrifice a lot of the more indulgent, frivolous and fun things I used to rely on to make me happy and fill my time. Things like shopping sprees, facials, buying tons of magazines, regular blow drys, expensive gym membership I rarely used... For many years I had a wardrobe stuffed full of clothes I never wore, shelves heaving with books I didn't make time to read, and piles of cosmetics which would take years to actually use up. 

I once even blew thousands of pounds I didn't have on a brand new Vespa moped! Yep, that actually happened. I had wanted one ever since I was about 18 years old and whilst working at RBS I thought it was about time I got one. I learned a valuable lesson that it doesn't feel too good to splash out on big purchases you haven't saved for and can't afford. Alas, my much loved moped was one of the first things to be sold as part of my debt re-payment plan. Here's a picture of the beauty:

"Too many people spend money they haven't earned, 
to buy things they don't want, to impress people they don't like." 
Will Rodgers (comedian)

So WHY exactly did I spend so carelessly like this for so long? 

One major factor is my tendency to approach life with a 'more is more' attitude. I'm naturally hedonistic and generally love the finer things in life. I tend to have big expectations of birthdays and holidays and I love to make these occasions perfect for myself and others, often spending more than I can afford on hotels, presents and so on. It's pretty expensive trying to keep up with the perfectionist and hedonist sides of my personality - what a combo!!

Another thing my over-spending did was numb the lack of direction and boredom I felt in my previous career. There's nothing quite like treating yourself to a shiny red moped and taking your motorbike licence to distract from unhappiness. Similarly, shopping sprees in New York definitely were a fun way to cheer myself up after a dull few months at work. 

The only reason I eventually stopped binge spending was because my debts were getting out of hand and also because it was causing conflict within my relationship. 

Once I stopped wasting money on all of this fun but frivolous stuff it became crystal clear that I had been spending (and eating!) my way through my unhappiness in certain aspects of my life. My apathy and self-deception had to stop. I badly needed to find a more inspiring way to spend my time - I needed to find a new job, unearth my passions, re-discover the heart and soul of my life!

My first big step was to hand in my notice and walk away from a job I'd been in for only 6 months. This job wasn't challenging me, I didn't like or respect my manager, and working there was making me increasingly unhappy. So boldly I quit without a backwards glance, embracing the uncertainty that lay before me. I had rejected the money and apparent status of my old career and was left unemployed, without a clue what I was going to do next... it felt amazing!

That's when the magic really started to happen. I applied for a job at my hero company Escape the City and spent the summer working there on a very low salary doing work that was meaningful, inspirational and exciting. I really threw myself into my role and was far too busy working to feel bored or down-hearted. And because I felt happy and motivated at work there was no longer any need to self-medicate by buying endless treats. 

It really surprised me that for the 4 months I worked for Escape I was happy to work hard for such a tiny salary. The majority of my previous jobs were about money - I usually took the role that paid the most and ignored my lack of excitement about the actual job itself, then before long I'd find myself disappointed and miserable. Now I know that when key ingredients are missing in my work-life (passion, great people, a worthwhile mission etc) money won't make up for these missing things. Not for me anyway. 

So, what exactly have I added to my life to fill the hole left by all that binge spending?

Well... I've discovered the power of writing and have made time to create and develop this blog, something I've wanted to do for several years. I have more time for simple pleasures like reading novels and listening to music. I read lots of blogs and books about topics that interest me, such as minimalism, habits, health, psychology, careers... I enjoy kicking back with my husband getting stuck into House of Cards or Game of Thrones. Chris and I have spent weekends planning our future and thinking about where we want life to take us in 2015.

I've also spent lots of time planning my next steps after Escape the City and recently started an exciting new role as Programme Director for the New Entrepreneurs Foundation, a non-profit that supports talented young people to launch successful high growth start-ups. So that's keeping me very busy!

I have a new sense of peace that I didn't have before - I no longer dread the week before payday or panic as I look at my credit card statements. I know I'm being mature in my approach to my finances and I feel proud of myself. Now I have the freedom to take on work that pays less but gives me so much more. 

My mind feels clearer, my life is more positive and I'm getting stronger. You can't buy that with a credit card!

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