Should I Just Give Up on Saving Money?’

Should I Just Give Up on Saving Money?’

By Charlotte Cowles

I know that I could and should be saving money and planning for my future, but I’m just not. I’m 26, make about $55K per year, and live in New York. I am lucky enough to not have student loans, so I have no excuse for not putting anything away. But I just seem to be incapable of it. It’s like I have financial impostor syndrome — I’m pretty sure that if I did save money, I’d mess it up somehow.

So I spend it all on lunches and rent and clothes and stupid stuff instead. Whenever someone tries to explain savings or investing to me, I just feel so dumb, so I avoid it. I’m not like this in other areas of my life — it’s like a chip is missing from my brain. What is wrong with me?

Your letter basically describes my 20s. In my early adult life, thinking about money felt like pouring molasses into my skull — words would slide into trombone whomps and simple math suddenly looked like parallax formulas. I knew that ignoring the problem would compound it, but I still couldn’t break my mental block.

I wish I could say that my financial hang-ups ended with a dramatic epiphany. But even though I dabbled in credit-card debt and missed a few tax deadlines (I know!), my denial held strong.

The only thing that finally changed was that I got tired of feeling so stupid. I remember a distinct shift one day at work, when I was writing emails and attending meetings and appearing capable (I hope), even though I was secretly stressing out about my overdrawn checking account.

 I didn’t want to live like that anymore. So I began asking other people — mostly friends and family members — how they managed their own money, in the hope that I could feed off their skills and willpower (or maybe just feel better about myself, by comparison). It sounds like you’re on the cusp of a similar phase, only several years ahead of me, so — congratulations!

I understand why you’ve identified with imposterism — you don’t quite feel secure in the life you’ve made for yourself, despite external evidence that you’re doing just fine. There’s a disconnect between how you see yourself (irresponsible, ineffectual) and your reality (you’ve got a decent job and a place to live). You can’t plan for your future without taking stock of where you are, so let’s start there.

To find out what you’re missing, I called Dr. Pauline Rose Clance, the psychologist who coined the term “imposter phenomenon” back in the ’70s. “What you’re describing happens to a lot of people who are bright and competent but hold onto beliefs that they have certain inadequacies,” she says.

“If you were my patient, I’d ask you to think about the origin of that belief — who gave you the message that you’d be bad with money in the first place?”

Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you have an inner money genius lurking in your subconscious. Clance also points out that many of her patients do have an actual knowledge gap (albeit one they’ve usually blown out of proportion), and it’ll take some time and patience to close it.

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