Sobriety isn’t just about staying away from our addiction of choice. It involves a complete shift in the way we think and live. Many people overlook the importance of ‘outside factors’ that contribute to growth and maturity in early recovery. One of the most important—and often ignored—components that affects everyone’s life is money.

Most of the people I know have never developed any money management skills. If (like me) they had them at one time, any practical skills they gained over the years were erased by the addiction.

Often when somebody has just come ‘off a run’ they are faced with feelings of guilt, shame, and inadequacy. We are extremely uncomfortable within ourselves. In my experience, I turned to impulsive and compulsive spending. Providing myself with tangible goods and services was an attempt to make me feel more comfortable and in control.

Many people in recovery have identified impulsive and compulsive spending to be a primary indicator of relapse behavior. Like the highs I got in my addiction, the allure of those comforts would quickly fade and I would have to go out and spend more money. I may not have been using, but I was essentially living the same way I was in the heat of my addiction.

This is why learning financial responsibility is so helpful. It forces us to address and change behaviors and habits associated with our addictions. In learning responsible financial practices, we both grow our personal ‘living skills’ and our ability to be a productive member of society.

Here are some important basics of money management and financial responsibility:

  1. Determine Needs vs. Wants and Create A Budget: As somebody who struggled with addiction I developed a mentality of “I want what I want when I want it.” This is a very distorted way of thinking. It is critical to sit down and think about what we need and not what we want. (Here’s an example: We need food, but we also want to eat out because it is easier… going grocery shopping and making food at home is cheaper.) Once we figure out what we need, we can make it into a list: Create a weekly or monthly budget for each category (i.g. gas, toiletries, food.) Planning ahead helps us meet our goals.
  2. Set A Schedule: Early recovery is all about creating schedules and structure. It is important to pick a day of the week to go grocery shopping and stick to it. Many regular expenses, like paying bills, can be planned ahead. In my experience, when I didn’t have a date and time planned for shopping I often found good reasons to not go because something else came up. That made impulsive, ‘last minute’ spending easier.
  3. Try Bulk Purchasing: When I was in active addiction I lived from dollar to dollar. I didn’t care about saving money for the future. One of the toughest psychological hurdles I had to overcome was making bulk purchases. It was scary to spend a large sum of money at once. However, once I realized how much money I was saving by doing so it was easier to overcome. Individual purchases at premium prices costs a significant amount of money every day, week, and month—money that could be put towards doing something else we like to do. (And we’re less likely to run out of toilet paper!)
  4. Develop A Reward System for Yourself: As a person with an addictive personality, it’s sometimes hard for me to see the benefits of what I am doing now for the future. That’s why I think it is important to create a small reward system for myself. If I stick to my budget, I am saving money. A small reward could be taking a percentage of the money I saved that month and using it towards a meal I enjoy at a restaurant. A little healthy self-indulgence is important, and it’s a good reminder that great things will come if I continue to live responsibly. Without having goals, a person has nothing to strive for.

I want to finish this by expressing my concern for having ‘cash-in-hand’ early in recovery. As I stated earlier, recovery is about eliminating maladaptive habits from my addiction. Having cash provided me the ability to easily get whatever I wanted and satisfy the obsession instantly.

I don’t make the point-blank declaration that cash is a trigger for everyone, but by eliminating cash you delay the instant gratification, allowing more time to think about the consequence and deter acting on the immediate desire. That’s what led me to develop a pre-paid credit card strategy to help manage money in early recovery. It’s not the only strategy, but it’s worked for many.

About the Author:

Eric Dresdale is a 29 year old recovering addict, and co-founder of the Next Step/True Link Prepaid MasterCard program. You can follow him on Twitter at @nextstepcard.

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