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Spend It: My Struggle with Finance Anxiety

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Dalhousie chapter.

My personal budget spreadsheet is the prettiest document on my computer. My income versus spendings graph is coloured with my favourite shades of pink, the headings are a peaceful pasture-green, and everything else is a comforting lavender. The soothing colours are no mistake: they help me deal with the anxious thudding of my heart in my throat every time I open the file.

I hate spending money and restrict myself harshly to my set monthly budget. My personal budget meticulously records every cent I spend and what I spent it on. If I go over-budget, I react by lowering my budget for the next month. My friends are often impressed by my frugal methods. For college students, the ability to save money can be a point of pride. Plus, in most cases, saving money is good! Having savings for your future or for emergency funds is a blessing. But what happens when money takes over your life? When the fear of spending it stops you from living a healthy, social lifestyle?

These were questions I had to ask myself after too many nights of being cloistered in my bedroom, adjusting my budget to the smallest margins possible. Money had started to entirely consume my thoughts. I realized that I don’t buy enough vegetables because they are too expensive, and I almost never buy fruit – even though my mood drops when I stop eating it. I skimp on basic necessities like a new highlighter, or shampoo. My faith and my relationships are also suffering; I used to buy wine and challah for Shabbat rituals, but I stopped buying them when I saw the dent they made in my monthly budget. When my partner and I plan to make a nice meal together, I can never admit to him that shopping for the ingredients will throw me into an anxiety attack.

The most confusing part is that I have money to spend. Through a combination of summer jobs, savings, and scholarships, I have stable enough assets to be completely financially independent from my parents. I have a certain amount of my own money set aside for emergencies, and I am blessed with two parents that would provide emergency funding in a pinch. I know I am so lucky to have never been in a position where I genuinely did not have the money I needed – and yet I live like it. It feels like spending no money is still too much.

The true wakeup call was when my roommate, unprompted, bought a doughnut for me. I had been complaining all week about an intense craving for doughnuts and so, she went out and bought one for me. It was an act of love – just four dollars – and it made me smile for the next week. But it also made me realize that I needed to get a handle on my finance anxiety. I want to be able to buy her little gifts, or surprise my boyfriend with his favourite foods, and provide for others because I love them and I want them to be happy.

I haven’t figured out exactly how to unravel my anxiety. I have started by forcing myself to be more spontaneous with my spending. When my friend said he really wanted pizza, we immediately went out and got some – even though it wasn’t in my budget. I don’t mark down little gifts I’ve bought for others into my spreadsheet, so that I feel freer to buy them things. I’ve also added fresh fruit and vegetable requirements to my grocery list, so that I can’t get away with skipping them. Above all, I remind myself that money is meant to be spent. The reason we all want it, save it, and stress about it, is so that we can use it to help us lead a happy and healthy lifestyle.

Finance anxiety can be difficult to tackle because it is rooted in a very legitimate worry. As they say, money makes the world go round, and it’s right to think about what you’re spending. But when the anxiety becomes bigger than the problem, it’s time to take a good look at what your brain is doing, and how you can detach stressing from spending.

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Dalhousie '25