Domestic abuse comes in many forms. One of the least well-known and hardest to detect is financial abuse. It often starts subtly – a small loan or some cash going missing. For me, it started with a few car journeys – out to a local beauty spot he knew of, or a lift to work in the morning if I’d stayed the night before – and could we just stop to pick up his mate, too? It’s not really out of our way.
Before I knew it six months had passed and I was pregnant, we’d moved in together and he’d stopped working. The subject of money was not open for discussion – he insisted we were doing fine financially. This was strange given I was the one paying the mortgage and handling all the bills – really there was no way of him knowing if we were managing.
I was left with growing worries as the months passed and I tried to work out how we were going to survive on my maternity pay alone.
By the time the relationship ended, my anxiety about money was overwhelming. I would go to a supermarket and become so anxious about spending any money at all, even on essentials like food, that I would have a panic attack in the car.
As with many survivors of domestic abuse, I needed time to heal. I blamed myself for getting involved with him in the first place and my self-belief was at an all-time low – how could I ever trust my own judgement again?
Taking control of my finances was my first step on the road to learning how to trust myself. I began to realise that if I could make the right choices for my money, then I could make the right choices in other areas of my life.
For the first 12-15 months after the separation, I concentrated on surviving – financially and emotionally. I used the age-old techniques we all know – careful budgeting and reducing my outgoings – to scrape together enough savings to see out my maternity leave. I believed passionately in giving my son as much one-to-one time as I possibly could in his first year and making this work financially (without going into debt) is one of my proudest achievements.
During that time I educated myself in personal finance, learning as many tips and tricks as I could to make managing my money easier. As soon as I was back at work and earning a regular salary, I set up sinking funds for the large expenses I had to manage – car maintenance and insurance and the management fee I paid for the building my flat was in.
Seeing these amounts build up slowly and finally being able to pay for my car insurance in a lump-sum felt fantastic! Finally, I was starting to feel in control.
It was then that I started to think about my mindset. What became clear was I’d been living with a mindset of lack. I was convinced I didn’t have enough money and so, therefore, I didn’t. And yet ironically I wasn’t in lots of debt and generally, I steered clear of my overdraft. So clearly I did have enough money coming in.
But I never felt able to treat myself. There was always something more important, sensible, or responsible to spend my money on.
My counsellor suggested I think of money as a form of energy. Energy cannot grow if it is being suppressed – or in my case, held too tightly. Embracing a mindset of abundance would, so I was told, help me to see money differently and in turn encourage more of it into my life.
For me, the jury is still out on whether or not money is energy. But embracing a more positive mindset about money – for example, using mantras such as “there is plenty of money in my life” – has helped me see my money quite differently.
Another step I took to regain control of my finances, and ultimately my life, was to put in the time. It is now normal for me to check my bank accounts at least once per day. This may seem obsessive, but let me explain.
Like most people I have multiple direct debits (for my mortgage and bills) leaving my account regularly as well as standing orders (for my sinking funds). This on any given day there are 2-3 payments leaving my bank account. I work part-time, receive child benefit and universal credit which means my income throughout the month is sporadic. To be sure that none of the payments bounce, I need to keep a close eye on my accounts, anticipate payments and move money if required.
It’s become part of my daily routine to take a #moneyminute and see where I’m at. I also use it as an opportunity to check in with my budget and sinking funds, to make sure I’m on track with my spending and saving.
But money still evoked feelings of anxiety and I was always thinking about it – almost obsessively. I wasn’t enjoying my money and I felt like there was never enough.
Taking back control of my money, through a clear and detailed understanding of my income and expenditure, has shown me there is room in my budget for small treats and so I no longer feel guilty when I spend money on myself. This has also virtually eliminated impulse and emotional spending. Too often I would scrimp and save for months and never spend a penny on myself, and then splurge in a fit of self-righteous indignation because I felt I deserved it.
This in turn has increased my sense of control – over both my finances and my life. I know what my financial goals are and where my money is going each month – and the sense of wellbeing I have when I look at my bank account is truly priceless.