Good Grief and Financial Discipline

Good Grief and Financial Discipline

This is a guest post from my friend Mrs. Picky Pincher. It couldn’t be more timely for me, and I appreciate her willingness to open up and share this part of her story with us. <3

My mom was never one for jewelry. But, on one chilly November morning, I remember clutching to her necklace until my knuckles were white. It was Black Friday and we’d just celebrated Thanksgiving with our family the day before. But there we were, in the ER of the hospital, getting the worst news you could imagine. A very sympathetic doctor explained that my mom died, and there wasn’t anything else they could do.

Everyone asks how it feels to go through something like that. Crying isn’t always the first reaction, either. My initial reaction was to vomit. For a good 30 minutes, all I wanted to do was hurl. I was in shock, and I remember I couldn’t even cry until the next day, when I sorted through my mom’s things.

That’s when we discovered she had a prescription painkiller addiction, which ended up killing her.

I’ll be honest: I didn’t have a fantastic relationship with my mom. She had an untreated mental illness that made her impossible to be around. She was the antagonist of our lives and was a source of near-constant abuse. I could write a book of all the terrible things we went through with her.

But she was still my mom. I mourned the loss of any salvageable relationship with the person who put me on Earth. I mourned that she didn’t get help. I mourned that my children would never know her.

The one piece of comfort I got was from holding her jewelry. It was gaudy stuff made in the 90s, but it didn’t matter. I held onto the bedazzled pearl earrings and a chunky Arabian gold necklace and, for a moment, it felt like I was holding my mom’s hand. Physical objects soothed me; I could touch them and briefly numb the tornado of thoughts and sadness and questions.

Time really is the only thing that soothes grief. It teaches you that life does go on, and that everything is okay.

Unless, of course, something skips along and rips your healing heart to pieces, and that’s what happened to me.

A few months after my mom died, I lost my amazing grandma to a very long, hard battle with breast cancer (but I like to remember her for her Oklahoma drawl and how she cussed when she lost at a game of dominoes). My aunt died from kidney disease two months after that, and my great-grandma died from old age a few weeks later. Oh, and our dogs died after that, too.

Good Grief

Daily life looks different when you’re grieving and everyone grieves in a different way. My dad would take hour-long showers and blare sad country music before disappearing for a week. My sister was 8 months pregnant at the time and tended to my four-year-old niece who didn’t understand what was happening. I retreated into my love of video games and just wanted to sit all day. We lost interest in food and were scared of people and the world. We didn’t even celebrate Christmas that year.

I gained an appreciation for silence. After so much loss, you’re grateful for any second that you’re not on the phone with a preacher planning a funeral.

I wasn’t ticked off when people cut me off in traffic. I didn’t care when I stepped in a giant wad of gum in the parking lot. I jammed my finger in a door and shrugged it off. Grief gives you an amazing numbness and resilience to daily annoyances. And to be honest, I kind of miss that.

Unfortunately, my grief led me into the bright, shiny world of shopping. I latched onto my mom’s jewelry after her passing. After a while, the comfort I got from these objects waned, but I thirsted for the feelings of comfort again.

The world was a scary place that could rip anyone away from you – but it couldn’t take away my new stuff.

The $1,000 Amazon Bill

I was in college at the time and that meant I had a cheap Amazon Prime membership. It started out innocently enough: I bought a shiny piece of costume jewelry that I really loved. Boom! It was on my dorm doorstep in two days. I felt amazing. For a few hours, I felt a rush of comfort and excitement that I so craved.

So, I kept shopping.

I got an instant high each time I received a package. I loved the anticipation of knowing I had an item on the way; it was like knowing someone was sending me a big, juicy birthday present. I mostly bought jewelry, but I also bought random crap like hair extensions (that didn’t match my hair), dresses (that didn’t fit me), and self-tanning lotion (that turned me Oompa Loompa orange).

This habit continued for several years. I would try to cut back, but Amazon’s deal emails reeled me in each time. By the time I graduated from college, I spent over $1,000 just on Amazon trinkets that engorged my closet. I now had my “big girl” job out of college and no longer had access to daddy’s money. I could barely afford to buy groceries, let alone buy $50-worth of earrings!

I had a problem.

Getting Whipped Into Shape

To cure my shopping habit, I had to look inside myself. I realized that I was really shopping for a sense of comfort, confidence, and stability. It cost me $1,000 to learn that these things didn’t come from Amazon Two-Day Shipping: it was something I had to create for myself and with the people around me.

I couldn’t buy good feelings. That realization was scary and so, so upsetting. I was adjusting to the adult world and sobbed the first time I filed taxes. I wanted to clutch to my shopping habit like a flimsy life jacket, but I knew it wouldn’t save me against the tsunami of the real world.

I made a few changes in my life, and that’s ultimately what saved me.

1. I made barriers to convenience.

This included removing all of my online payment information from Amazon, as well as my browser. I even put my debt and credit cards in a safe and locked ’em up. I switched to a cash-only envelope system for a year to quit my shopping habit cold turkey. It’s hard to buy non-essentials when all of your money is locked up!

2. I got help.

There are times in life when you need to ask for help. I saw a grief counselor who helped me work through my tumultuous emotions. We worked through my anxiety and depression issues and I learned how to cope with my feelings in a healthy way.

3. I trusted people.

Impulse shopping was just as much about money as it was about working through my grief.

With so much loss in a short amount of time, I realized I had never processed what happened. I let the sadness form into a heavy ball and chain around my ankles. It followed me everywhere for years. I didn’t feel like I could trust anyone and I was so afraid to make friends and then lose them. It seemed better to not live life and avoid loss than to live and risk losing something.

Meeting my husband really was a game changer for me. I learned how to relate to others again and to trust. I got the sense of comfort that I was looking for all along, thanks to taking a chance on living again.

Big life events change people. Grief and loss are probably the most earth-shattering things that can happen in our lives, and everyone deals with them differently. Too often I think grief makes us develop unhealthy habits or thoughts. Your brain just doesn’t function the same way. It’s a journey of learning how to both come to terms with your life and emotions, as well as healing the side effects of grief (like shopping).

It’s been a long road, and I still have a long way to go. It’s been six years since I lost everyone. Time makes the sadness easier, but it will never be easy.

Mrs. Picky Pincher is the blogger and money-saving maven behind Picky Pinchers. She writes about living the good life while paying off $225,000 of debt.

  • What a journey, Mrs. Picky Pincher! I cannot imagine going through so much loss in college. I think it is truly admirable that you were able to recognize that shopping had become an unhealthy crutch and were able to take the steps necessary to break the habit. That is often not easy to do, especially when the habits are tied to comfort in some way.

    And I think I need more silence in my life. I don’t appreciate silence and time to think often enough.

  • Thanks for sharing your story. That’s quite a lot to go through in a short period of time. I’m glad that the crutch you leaned on was Amazon instead of something like painkillers and I’m glad that you were able to find your way out. Your steps to escape are important for everyone who has bad habits to try to learn.

  • This is very raw and very powerful. It can’t be easy to share, but I’m sure it also helps. I’m so sorry for your loss, and for the road you had to travel. Everyone has to come to terms with grief at one time or another and we all have different ways of coping – some healthy, some not. It sounds like you’re in a better, stronger place. I’m sure your story will inspire many people who have had to endure similar struggles. No one should have to do it alone.

  • Wow. My heart goes out to you. Thanks for sharing, and I admire you even more for taking the harder but most constructive way out of your struggle. You’ve come so far, and have great things in your future I’m sure! Lots of love, keep believing in people and yourself.

  • Thank you so much for sharing your story. I’m so sorry for all the loss that you have had to endure. Grief makes us do things we normally wouldn’t, that is for sure. Congratulations on seeing your habit for what it was and making changes – that’s often half the battle.

  • Thank you for sharing your story. I too suffered a few losses within a short period of time, and that grief has forever changed me. It’s comforting to know that someone else understands it, because so many of my friends and even some of my family didn’t. Looking forward to reading more of your work on your blog!

  • Thank you; this is such a beautifully written post! It’s amazing what you did to not only work through your grief but also stop your shopping addiction. Thanks so much for sharing.

  • So many hugs, Mrs. Picky Pincher. So much of this is so familiar to me. The day after my mom died I went through her jewelry and put one of her necklaces on. I grab it when I think about her or want to feel close to her. I’m so glad you were able to start getting help to process all your loss.

  • Thank you for the honesty Mrs. Picky Pincher. I’m so sorry you had to experience so much heartbreak in such a short period of time. Grief is like a tidal wave and certainly changes the way you see things. And often we don’t realise those changes until the thick veil slowly starts to dissipate. I’m so glad you were able to take away some lessons and found the courage to address them. I really appreciate the silence now you really notice a lot about yourself. Best of luck with the debt repayment :)

  • Thanks for sharing your story, now I’m debt free but I’m going to have a sort of shopping ban from 1st of September because I noticed that I buying more than I need…I started to have and understand the importance of budget few years ago after I’ve lost job and I need to repay a little debt…but reading this testimonials helped and still helping me, so thanks for share all your feelings…god bless you daily!

  • What a powerful article! I haven’t experienced the loss of a parent yet, and I cannot imagine that grief multiplied by so many others in a short period of time. I did have parents that have been absent at points in my life while they wrestled addiction and mental illness. I think losing them while they were still in that stage could be even harder for many reasons. Many people shop to numb pain, but not as many can be honest with themselves about it and learn a different way. You have a lot to be proud of. Thank you for sharing this powerful story. <3

  • This post is so poignant. I’m glad you eventually got counseling and learned how to process the grief and handle your emotions. I’m sorry you had to go through so much in such a short time-span. The world is vastly unfair sometimes. Solidarity.

  • Half the battle is recognising the problem. The other half of the battle is actually doing something about it. You did both. Well done, and I’m so sorry to hear that you had to go through so much loss in such a short period of time.

  • Thank you so much for being vulnerable about your life with us. I can really relate to your story and you writing this helped me to put things into perspective. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  • Wow. Just wow. I’m so sorry you had to go through all of this. These are stories that need to be told, though, so thank you for being open and vulnerable here!

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