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Finance FAQ: What You Need to Know in Early Recovery

Money matters are almost always primary for people in early recovery. After months, if not years, of addiction, most people have a pile of debt and no ability to pay it off. With tax season comes fresh pressure, as it is often clear how much you are making (or not making).

The good news is that, no matter how dire the situation may seem, there is always a way out, and it starts with creating a budget. A budget is your map from where you are today in your finances to the financial stability you need to be successful in recovery. It is a journey that will take time, unfolding month by month, with lots of adjustments along the way. As you get started building a budget that works for you in recovery, here are a few tips to get you started.

Woman shopping at the supermarket and checking a long grocery receipt she is using a budgeting and money saving mobile app

Budgeting Do’s in Recovery

  • Do make a budget. Download a simple budget sheet online, and write down all of your expenses and income sources for the month, estimating costs when there is no set bill.
  • Do talk to a professional. There are a number of people who can help you to create a budget if you are unsure how to deal with unique issues in your budget like fluctuating income or bimonthly expenses.
  • Do write down every dollar. It can feel tedious to go back and adjust your budget if your projected water bill was $50 and you spent $55 but it is important to be as accurate as possible.
  • Do use apps. There are a number of apps that can help you. These apps can track your expenses easily so you can avoid overspending.
  • Do connect with community. You are not alone in recovery, and you are not alone in your fight for financial stability. Find your people and connect.
  • Do keep calm in a crisis. If you have a budget, and you have to spend your “extra” at the end of the month to manage a big unexpected expense, it’s okay. Just keep going.
  • Do give yourself leeway. Give yourself a little bit of spending money each month – just enough to keep you going until you start achieving your financial goals.
  • Do reassess as needed. Your budget may change from month to month, so do not expect to have a “perfect month.” Instead, reassess and adjust as needed.
  • Do be consistent. Finances, like recovery, take time and persistence if you are going to be successful for the long-term. Consistency is key.

Budgeting Don’ts in Recovery

  • Don’t forget little expenses. $2 on coffee? $1.50 for the bus? $5 to a friend? These little expenses add up and can make a big difference in your budget.
  • Don’t ignore old debt. Credit card debt, school loans, court fees, back rent, unpaid child support – all these will eventually come back to haunt you if you try to ignore them in your budgeting.
  • Don’t focus on interest rates. When paying off debt, it can be tempting to try to pay off the bill with the highest interest even if it’s the largest debt you owe. Instead, pay off the smallest debt first and celebrate your progress.
  • Don’t create new debt. Though you may be getting credit card offers in the mail, avoid the notion that credit can help you as long as you pay it off every month. Miss a payment, overdraft the card, or have someone hack your account and you’ll find that it’s not worth the hassle. Stick to cash and you’ll likely spend less, too.
  • Don’t pay bills with credit. Those credit card offers are enticing, especially if they come with free offers. But they are one more thing to manage when you are working to simplify your life and finances, and they don’t allow you to effectively budget.
  • Don’t get bogged down. If you owe a lot of money or if your bills are stacking up, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed. Just like in recovery, the goal is to stay focused on what you can do right now in this moment to get through the month and keep going.
  • Don’t ignore risk. Buying a car with a low monthly payment but a huge loan is risky, as are credit cards and other loan-based “opportunities.” Just as in everything in recovery, keep it simple.
  • Don’t forget to save. You will need funds set aside in the event of a medical or other financial emergency, and when you are done paying off debt, you can really start to grow your savings.
  • Don’t give up. Be patient with yourself. Give yourself time to learn and make mistakes – and changes – until you feel comfortable with your finances in recovery.

Are You Getting Financially Stronger in Sobriety?

As you build a budget for yourself in recovery, it is a good idea to connect with other people who are also working to get their financial lives in order. Like recovery, it takes discipline, support, and an ability to be flexible when unexpected challenges arise – and it is well worth the effort invested.

Are you working to live on a budget in recovery? How do you create the balance you need to pay your bills and reach your financial goals? What are the biggest challenges you face in creating and sticking to a budget in recovery?

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