Where to start when you’re feeling like a financial failure

It’s 3am and I am sitting at my desk staring at the pile of medical and legal bills that have accrued in the last year. All were things that had to be done, there was no way to brush off my child’s re-occurring ear infections, nor could I just let my children be taken away from me by my ex-husband. Now I am facing well over $10,000 in bills and I have no way to pay them off.

“I no longer have that crippling doubt of not knowing if a transaction will go through or not.”

I am sure you have been there too, waking up in the middle of the night and unable to get back to sleep because you are worrying about money. Or maybe you have done what I used to do, I would go into a store and spend money I didn’t really have to spend, just for that brief feeling of having money. Even if it was an illusion and got myself in more financial trouble than before, that brief feeling that everything would be okay because I just bought a new bedspread was addicting.

1. Don’t wait for your financial life to be in order

I was really bad about this, I didn’t want to confront the problem, so I pushed it under the rug until I “fixed it”. The problem being that I couldn’t fix the problem without know where to start and what to do. When I finally started paying attention to my finances and not sticking my head in the sand I realized that I created a lot of my problems in my ignorance and desperate attempts to ignore the issue. Once I took charge, I got my financial feet under me by getting a clear picture of my financial situation. Knowledge is power, especially when it comes to finances.

2. Make a list of financial obligations

I built an excel spreadsheet where I could fill in all of my bills that come each month, rent, cell phone, electric, etc. Having the list in front of me keeps me from feeling overwhelmed when the bills start coming in. I can write in the amount each one is for the month and transfer the money into my bill pay account. It’s a visual checklist so I can see how many of my bills have been paid and how many are still on the way. No surprises.

3. Make a list of all debts owed

This sounds so ominous, but I promise it will be freeing more than anything. Just having all of the debts tracked on a piece of paper takes away the feeling of being lost. I no longer feel like there is a bill out there with my name on it that I don’t know about. I also write down any time I make a payment and adjust the amount owed. Even if it’s only $20 on a $3000 bill, I can see the effects of the numbers going down and it makes me realize that I am bringing down the amount owed, slowly but surely.

4. Keep track of your bank accounts

I have a list in my budget binder that is simply a list of all of my accounts that I keep along with what their purpose is. Knowing where my money is and how much I have gives me a feeling of power over my finances. Even on the months when there is very little in the main account, I never have the dread of going to the bank only to find that there is nothing in my account. Because I keep track of what is where I no longer have that crippling doubt of not knowing if a transaction will go through or not.

5. set small GOALS to achieve

I keep a clipboard on my office wall that has a goal checklist for the year. My number one goal right now is starting a business from my house. Right under that is paying off 2 of my smaller medical debts completely. I write smaller goals under each main goal, such as: Pay off $50 extra on small debt; become certified in Quickbooks, etc. When I check off those smaller goals I can see that I am working towards my larger goal. It gives me a feeling of accomplishing something and that spurs me on to greater efforts.

6. Know you are not alone

This is such a big one for me. When I am feeling overwhelmed by finances, I start to feel like I am the only one and everyone else has their life together. Nothing could be further from the truth. Everyone is dealing with their finances, and if they say they aren’t, they are lying. To admit out loud that I was struggling felt like it would be me claiming defeat. I started reading Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey and found out that there are people struggling with money just like me everywhere. It isn’t just limited to single moms, college students, or middle class families. Everyone has problems with money at some point.

7. Don’t feel like you failed

I had a bad day and spent money I had no place spending. I stole from my bill paying account and bought new towels. It make me feel like a financial failure and I spiraled into feeling overwhelmed by money again. For two months I stopped keeping track of my money and the situation got worse and worse. Finally, one evening I slapped myself across the head and reminded myself that I didn’t have to feel overwhelmed and lost, I could take control of my situation again. It felt like I was starting over again from day one. I had to go in and recreate my budget to fix what I had done in those two months. After those two hours, I felt in control again. I reminded myself that I am going to make mistakes, I am human after all.

8. find a friend

I have a really hard time sharing personal struggles with others. It makes me feel like a failure. Once I realized though that everyone is going through some sort of financial struggle, I found it easier to talk to someone. My financial accountability person is a friend of mine in a similar situation, feeling overwhelmed by money and not knowing where to start. I talk to them constantly about what I am doing to pay off bills. Talking about it encourages both of us to be accountable and to work on the issue rather than just moan about it or worse, ignore it. Trading ideas with a friend really lit a fire under me so I can brag to them about what I have done this month to pay off some of my debt, and visa-versa.

9. Become an expert

In Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover he says that anyone who studies a subject for an hour each day will become an expert in that field eventually. I started reading books like Women and Money by Suze Orman. By immersing myself in the world of finances I have become so much more mindful of my money. I also rent audio books from my library’s website so that I can listen to financial gurus while I clean or drive too. There is a world of info at your fingertips, take advantage of others expertise to become an expert yourself.


There are a lot of great ways to keep track of your debt and finances, find one that works for you. Whether it is a budget binder like the one I use, or a graph on the wall that you can track your progress, get started on SOMETHING. It will give you a feeling of being in control of your money. Knowledge is power.

Have you been feeling overwhelmed by finances lately? How do you take control of your money?