7 Ways My Relationship With Money Has Changed

It’s crazy to think about how much my life and my relationship with money has changed in just a short amount of time. I still remember, quite vividly, struggling with money and living paycheck to paycheck. I remember thinking about how $25 could completely break me, crying over dropping food because I was so stressed…

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Last Updated: April 3, 2018

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7 Ways My Relationship With Money Has ChangedIt’s crazy to think about how much my life and my relationship with money has changed in just a short amount of time.

I still remember, quite vividly, struggling with money and living paycheck to paycheck. I remember thinking about how $25 could completely break me, crying over dropping food because I was so stressed out and every dollar mattered, and more.

And, it wasn’t just that I didn’t properly manage my money, I also had an unhealthy relationship with money.

I still have a lot more room to grow, but I do think that my relationship with money has greatly improved over the years. And, it can only get better from here.

It’s not just because I’m earning more now than I used to. I’ve learned a lot about myself over the years, and I’ve also learned more about money, which has helped empower me.

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Here’s how my relationship with money has improved over the years:


1. I stopped caring about others’ opinions of me.

I spent a lot of money when I was younger because I cared about what others thought of me. I don’t even think I realized how much I let what other people might think of me control the way I spent money. It’s possibly what led me to spend so much money on clothes, on a new car, going to an expensive private university (when I should have just started with community college), and more.

Now, I don’t care what people think of me.

I don’t care if I have holes in my clothes, if I wear the same outfit over and over again, that 50% of the population thinks I’m crazy for living in an RV, and so on.

This has not only saved me money, but I’ve also saved a lot of time and energy.


2. I don’t go emotional shopping.

People take part in emotional spending for many different reasons. You may have had a bad day at work, a fight with your loved one, and so on. You might even be spending because you are so stressed out about the amount of credit card debt you have racked up. And while that’s an illogical reason to spend more money, a lot of us still do it.

While a certain level of emotional spending may be acceptable in some cases, it can quickly get out of hand and turn into a problem.

And, I know this, because I used to go emotional shopping all the time!

I would think that I deserved it for working hard, because I was having a bad day at work, because I thought I was doing “good”, and more. Seriously, there were so many reasons, and it didn’t matter if it was a good day or a bad day because I would use either as an excuse to shop.

It’s funny how I used to be with money because as you’ll see below in #3, I either spent waaaaaay too much, or I didn’t spend anything at all. I really had such a unhealthy relationship with money.


3. I don’t sweat the small stuff.

Knowing where your money is going is great, and more people should start doing this.

However, I used to take it to the extreme. I would think about every last dollar I would spend, and it was hard for me to enjoy spending any money, no matter how much money I made or if I had the money set aside for a specific purpose.

I believe this is due to the fact that I lived paycheck to paycheck and lived in fear of that happening again. Often, our past influences our current relationship with money. So, if you are finding yourself making financial missteps, it’s important to get to the root of the problem so you can change your relationship with money.

And, yes, money can make or break you, but it is also there to be enjoyed and to use to your advantage.

Once you are on a good financial path and have budgeted money for fun, you should be able to enjoy the money you are spending instead of feeling guilty or upset.


4. I won’t spend one year’s pay on a new car.

When I was 18, I bought a brand new car. It was over $20,000, and I thought I looked so cool. The reality is that I probably looked really dumb!

Really, really dumb.

My monthly car payment was around $400, and I was also spending a lot of money on car insurance, gas, tinting the windows (ugh!), and more.

And, I had a job that only paid a few dollars over minimum wage.

What was I thinking?!


5. I no longer think debt should be normal.

Many people compare their amount of debt to what others have so that they will feel their debt is “normal.”

I was guilty of this too. I thought that since almost everyone seemed to have student loans, that it would be fine if I did too.

So, I took out a lot in student loans instead of using the full-time job I had to help pay for tuition, which probably would have been a much better use than that car.

However, who cares how much debt another person has? How exactly does knowing what the average amount of debt a random person has affect you?

Is that person you?


So, why would another person’s amount of debt even matter to you? That makes no sense!

Just because someone else has $10,000 worth of credit card debt from buying too many clothes does not mean that you should too. You never know, this amount may be breaking them on the inside even if they aren’t showing it.


6. I don’t let money control me.

I’m still not entirely perfect in this area, as I still save like crazy in fear of a rainy day.

However, I don’t let money control me as much as it used to.

Before, money controlled my life to the point that I would think about it before even thinking about my health.

If I would have just learned how to manage my money better, I wouldn’t have let money control my life as much as it did.

I would calculate our finances every day, stress out about little purchases, ignore learning about money, I would worry about keeping up with my income reports (they are super motivational, but I also felt like I had to “beat” them every month), I had a super large emergency fund (my money could have been better invested that whole time!), I would always worry about repairs to the house, car, or RV instead of just living a normal life, and more.

I would obsess about money to the point that I didn’t actually enjoy life. I kept thinking about what bad things could happen, comparing myself to others, and more, instead of just enjoying life.


7. I’ve learned that life is about much more than just money.

One thing that goes along with everything else above, is that I have learned that life isn’t all about money. When I was younger, I had dreams of making lots of money, living in a big house, and having nice cars.

Now, I really don’t care about any of that. As long as I am financially independent, I am happy, but there is more to life than just money.

For me, I am happy traveling to new places, being able to spend time with family and friends, personally growing, trying new things, and so on.

Now, I am much more interested in experiencing life.

This doesn’t mean you should throw everything I’ve taught you about money here on Making Sense of Cents out the door. It’s all about having a healthy balance.

And that’s what I’m always working towards.

How has your relationship with money changed over the years? Have you gotten better or worse with money?

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Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Author: Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Hey! I’m Michelle Schroeder-Gardner and I am the founder of Making Sense of Cents. I’m passionate about all things personal finance, side hustles, making extra money, and online businesses. I have been featured in major publications such as Forbes, CNBC, Time, and Business Insider. Learn more here.

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  1. The emotional shopping is a big one. I’ll shamefully admit I did this for a while. I bought tons of outdoor gear for a while after a breakup and didn’t even realize what I was doing until a few thousand dollars later. The good news is unlike others I actually use that gear since I’m very active in outdoor sports. But I didn’t really need all of it and some of the purchases were unwarranted. And I did sell some on Craiglist to get some money back ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Yes, emotional shopping can definitely get a person!

  2. Totally agree with you that life is about much more than money. However, sometimes money is the tool needed to be able to focus on that other stuff. When you don’t have the money to put food on the table, life is about eating and surviving until the next day. Once you are comfortable, life is about spending your time doing things that are meaningful and rewarding. The money will help you achieve that goal but it’s not important once you get there.

  3. The “Don’t sweat the small stuff” section is great – I did very much the same thing for years; counted every dime, tried the cash only budget, and delayed repairs on my car because I couldn’t part with the $20 extra for the part I needed. Don’t get tied up in “would’ve should’ve could’ve” land and bite the bullet, pay the $20 upcharge for the premium part, and get on with your life! My grandmother always said that she was too poor to be cheap.

    The only way I got out of that vicious and sadistic cycle was to work smarter and harder than before. If you are in a situation where everything you make – your income which is your most powerful wealth building tool – is going to pay OTHER PEOPLE whether it be to car loan company, mortgage, child care, fancy dancy restaurants, I guarantee that you will get no where fast.

  4. Number 5 is so good and true. When I took on student debt, I thought it was normal too! Now that I am debt-free, I think my relationship with money has totally changed. My husband and I now do a lot more financial planning. Like saving money to go buy a car rather than going to the car lot to pick one to finance. It takes a little more time, but we’ve been so much more mindful with our finances.

    1. Good job on being debt free!

  5. Bhavini @SmartMoneyManners

    Wow, I related to so many of these points! I’ve definitely stopped caring about what people think when it comes to what I wear, or that I don’t spend much money on going out. Though to be fair, it’s probably one of the reasons I was able reach financial freedom in the first place.

    One thing I’m still struggling with is spending on certain quality things that are meant to last, whether it’s a coat or a laptop. But I always stop and think – let’s see how I feel next week – and then it’s a month later and I realize I didn’t really need it and what I have works just fine (except for rare times like now when my laptop is legit struggling and I wish I’d just given in!). One of these days, I’ll find a good balance ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. This was a great post. First of all, I appreciated you mentioning the time you struggled and that $25 could break you. You’ve probably written about it before in the past, but this was the first time that I’ve ever really read about you truly struggling with money. While I know you had student loan debt, it never sounded like you were down in the trenches before; especially as a financial analyst. You definitely earned all your success, but I used to assume that it came a tad easier to you because you were never truly struggling with money. It was a bit of that “Well it’s easier to make money when you already have money mentality.” However, after reading that $25 could once break you and knowing where you are now definitely makes me a bit more hopeful. Thanks for sharing that side.

    Lastly, echoing your post I’ve definitely learned that reaching financial freedom means going against society. Society wants us to have student loan debt, be emotional spenders and keep up with trends. But sometimes we have to to ignore all of that to reach the financial success we desire.

    1. I definitely struggled with money. I’ve been on my own since I was a teenager.

  7. Tom

    Yes, you are correct that life is so much more than money or fame. Money is a tool that we all need to be able to enjoy some of the benefits in life but we should make it our total focus. Many people do live from paycheck to paycheck and just make enough to feed their family. Family and friends and doing things together as a family is what life should be about.

  8. BitG

    I think the first point is probably the most common that most of us experience. When we’re younger, it’s easy to want to spend money even if it’s just for the sake of spending; to give off the image that we want to give off. Eventually as we grow older and mature, I feel as if we slowly lose that desire and just spend when we need to or want to, instead of doing it for appearances.

    And it just saves a lot of mental energy.

  9. The Curious Frugal

    So interesting to hear how your relationship with money has changed over time. Especially since many readers probably just know you as a highly successful blogger and don’t know the back story. For me, it was as recent as 2009 when I bought a new car. I was so excited at the time to have a new car but I would never buy a new vehicle now – I don’t see the point. Luckily I am still driving that same car so it wasn’t a total financial sinkhole.

  10. I’m totally agree, when I started to have a budget because I need to repay a little debt I understood the importanc eof budget, difference between wants and needs, do grocery shopping only with a full stomach have a list and stick it, have financial goals to achieve some on short other on mid and long term and the best thing is been and still is prove to my friend tha tis possible have a good social life also when you have a tiny budget….and I am happy to say that since September 2015 I’m still Debt free !!!

  11. Codrut Turcanu

    dear Michelle, I use an Excel files with different sheets, there I write what I earn vs. what I spend. for personal use vs. business expenses, this helps me a lot — and it is something which I’ve not done in the past

    So learning from one’s experience is good advice when it comes to money-relationship talk.

    Keep up the great work1

  12. I like the one about not caring what people think – that is so true and it made me laugh when you said “wear the same outfit every day.” I’ve gotten to the point where I will wear the same shirt for a few days in a row because its easier than digging around in my trunk for a new one, lol! I’m happy to see your perspective on money has changed so much for the better…thanks for sharing your struggles. I think sometimes I struggle with being OVERLY frugal, but I guess that’s not awful.

    1. I’m almost always wearing the same 3 or 4 outfits haha

  13. Oh Michelle, I wish I could put a big heart on this. I feel the same way. I don’t care what people think about me. I drive a beater, we are saving for a modest home, and I have holes in my clothes too! But I have money in savings, I’m happy with my family, and I get to do what I love every single day. I call that a win in my book. Thank you for sharing, this is amazing to see others feel the same way in a world filled with consumerism and keeping up with the Joneses

  14. Dave Shepherd

    Awesome post! I’ve also realized how much my money relationship affects my life and it’s really been an “ah ha” moment for me.

    I live by set of money mindset rules I created:

    I know that money is not evil, greed is evil.
    I know that my self worth is not defined by how much money I make or how many materialistic items I own.
    I know that money is just a means to an end. A tool to help me reach my life goals.
    I make as much money as I can because I use that money for positive things.
    I’m aware of my money. I know everything I can about my money.
    I enjoy my money, because life is short. Too short to hoard all of it away without enjoying it.

  15. Campbell Evans

    Loved this one Michelle. Hate to say it but you were talking to me, LOL. Some things to change in my life and I thank you for telling your story. It helps to know that not everyone has it all together.
    Campbell Evans

  16. Joua Yang

    My relationship with money has gotten better quite frankly since I’ve found your blog and kept up with your newsletter. I’ve been encouraged to frugal more and while learning to pick up part-time hustle that is in the development plan. I used to think that “having a lot of money” was a bad sign growing up and hard work. But your blog proves that it’s okay to have financial freedom and it’s okay to work hard for ward you want just don’t let it control you too much.

  17. I recently used all the extra money I have and said yes to travel. I booked tickets to two local destinations and one international, South Korea.

    The Izza before would probably tremble at the thought of losing money. But this 2018 I felt like I need a break. I have enough investment and savings, there’s no harm in achieving my travel goals too.

    Time well spent with yourself and with the people you love the most has more value than money.

    You can always earn more money but nobody can make more time.

    Thank you Michelle for your nuggets of wisdom in this post!

    Kudos from Philippines.

    1. Thank you! Have fun on your trip!

  18. That’s an absolutely wonderful post. I was caught up on your first point, how you stopped caring what other people think of you!

  19. It’s an under the table saying that the best of the best been through the worst of the worst. A majority of today’s elite entrepreneurs been through the most humiliating situations ranging from wrongful termination and humiliation by a narcissist employer in front of customers and other employees, to being denied a pay raise then only given a 0.25c pay raise after earning a company over $100k in sales, having your at the time companion sleep with your so-called friend behind your back, or getting dumped in a restaurant by your companion after they slept with your ex and then has the nerve to pay for your food before and after dumping you. So yes, every successful person has to hit rock bottom in life in order to get back up before achieving abnormal success.

  20. Laci

    I can relate to the third point- I totally sweat the small stuff! I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been shopping and saw the perfect item I’d been looking for, only to realize it’s counterpart in an off color was on sale and the one I wanted was not. Inevitably I would buy the discounted one that I didn’t like as much, and wouldn’t use as much, instead of the one I wanted in the first place. So I saved a few dollars up front and wasted much more in the long run.

    Your point about debt makes sense, but what about mortgages? I’ve read a lot of viewpoints on mortgages and the two main themes are: pay off your mortgage up front to get out of debt, or keep your mortgage if you have a low interest rate and invest any extra money in the stock market because it’s earning at a higher rate. I’m a new reader to your blog and I apologize if you’ve written about this in the past.

  21. Kris

    I could really relate to #3. When I first got out of debt and started to build my wealth, I was really stressing on everything we spend even a $5 dollar sandwich from Subway. I was like you with it was tough for me to enjoy spending my money. But once I kept on building my wealth and accomplished some financial goals, I stopped stressing about every small transaction that I spend on and just enjoy my sandwich or the occasional frappuccino

  22. I thoroughly agree that debt should not be normal! I too finished paying off my debts not that long ago and it felt SO good to do so. Now, my focus has totally shifted to how I am building for the future and what I am going to put my money to use. So much better than being a debt slave!

  23. Kate

    Great post! I recently discovered your site after hearing you on ChooseFI, and I’m loving it. I think it was Mr.Money Mustache that talked about taking money out of the equation in your decisions – easier to do when you’re FI, of course! But – he talks about “would you do it if you weren’t getting paid”? and if the answer is no… then it’s not worth doing for money, either (again, of course, after you’re FI). But it really aligns with not letting money control you, and recognizing how much more to life there is than *just* money!

  24. The struggle with money for many is very real. Some of the time the foundation of this struggle is anxiety and is full of ‘what ifs’.

    Michelle’s struggle at one stage to pay $25 and the fact that it could’ve broken her is a very familiar story for many of us. Thanks for sharing your honesty Michelle!

  25. I would always worry about wearing an outfit twice which sound so stupid to me now but I must have had tons of clothes that I had only worn once. Definitely stopped doing that now though! Great content