How I Started a Business When I Was Terrified of Money

I remember it clearly: the bills, months old, corners frayed, stacked in the corner of my desk. They laid unopened, and with each new visit from the mail carrier, the pile got taller and the pit in my stomach heavier. After years of misusing credit cards, overspending, and a general sense of, “I’ll worry about that tomorrow,” I was $30,000 in debt, and I was terrified.

scared of money
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That was years — and at least a few lifetimes — ago. Today, I am a successful entrepreneur who lives a debt-free life. My business is thriving, I have an automatic savings plan, I have money in an IRA, and I even have a financial advisor I adore.

The days of massive debt may be long gone, but my response to all things financial is Pavlovian: When I hear the mailman at my door, my hands get sweaty, my throat tightens, and my stomach lurches. Instantly, I’m brought back to the days of collection calls and scary notices in the mail.

Let’s face it: Money is a basic source of human security, and having very little of it wrecked my peace of mind. The stress of my debt stretched beyond avoiding financial tasks. There were embarrassing moments at dinner with friends when my credit card was declined; the mortifying conversation with my parents when I had to explain why I’d defaulted on the loan they’d co-signed. And of course, there was the relationship chaos: My debt sealed the fate of my already-doomed first marriage. But worst of all was my shredded self-confidence. That young woman, the one with the dollar-sign-shaped albatross around her neck, never would’ve had the courage to start her own business.

Years later, I still struggle with money anxiety — but I also know what I’ve done to successfully manage my money and the stress it causes. Here’s how I not only paid down a huge debt, but also created a profitable business.

I Faced the Numbers
One thing is clear: Fear causes avoidance and avoidance causes more fear. I used to put off financial tasks, like paying bills and checking my balances, because of my fiscal angst.

But I feel the most empowered when I know where I stand. The number is just a symbol on a page; it doesn’t have the power to kill me, send me to jail, or even tattle to my mom. It doesn’t define my value as a human being. And when I know what it is, I can start to solve the problem.

Now I check my bank balances almost every day, which empowers me to make any adjustments before they become an issue. This is an important skill both in life and business: If cash isn’t flowing, I adjust the marketing budget. If a balance is low, it might mean an invoice wasn’t paid on time, and I can take appropriate action. I can’t pivot in the right direction if I don’t know what I have to spend, so checking my numbers regularly lets me be proactive.

Checking balances isn’t just about looking out for potential problems: It also means I get to see the fruits of my labor as I watch my profit account grow. I confess I experience a certain glee when I pay my bills and there’s plenty of money left over. After all, businesses exist to make money, and mine is no exception. If I don’t know whether my business is making money, I have no place being a business owner.


I Automated Everything
Since I tend to avoid financial tasks (and that avoidance creates heaps of problems: late fees, negative bank balances, etc.), I automate everything. Best. Decision. Ever. It makes me more streamlined and productive in life and business, saves me money on bookkeeping, and helped me build an excellent credit score. Plus my stress plummeted.

That success in my personal finances gave me the confidence to start my business, and I easily transferred the skill to my coaching and consulting practice. I set up every regularly occurring bill once for payment, and then I don’t have to think about it again. I have two monthly “review dates” —nonnegotiable blocks of 30 minutes each in which I review my accounts in detail and pay any irregular invoices that may have come in. I found a way to make this task fun, too: These are the dates when I pay myself, so the job is instantly less tedious.

I Enlisted Expert Friends
When I was ready to start my business, I knew I was going to need help. My friends were a treasure trove of information about money literacy, and they were willing to lend me their skills until I could pay for professionals. My one rule: They had to be trustworthy with my fragile ego. If they got condescending or judgy, they were out.

Because I knew my friends loved me, I was able to be vulnerable with them. I confessed my fears and confusion, and I was open about my financial failures. I learned that I wasn’t the only one who had messed up so big. There were other people — smart, capable grown-ups — who were also hot messes financially.

Even more importantly, my money mistakes didn’t make me unworthy, stupid, or incapable of success. My friends helped me forgive myself, and I got to learn from their mistakes as well as my own. Armed with that knowledge, I finally felt like I deserved to build a thriving, profitable business.

I Hired Professionals
Once my friends helped me forgive myself, I realized that I’m not supposed to know everything about money. There are experts for that, and my job is to find the best one for me.

My business is my baby, and I wouldn’t trust my baby to a hack. If I talked to an expert who made me feel dumb or uncomfortable, she wasn’t the expert for me. This is where those smart, connected friends came in: I asked around for the best in the business and then hired professionals to manage the parts of my business that stressed me out.

I’ll admit that these steps weren’t always easy or fun. But they were worth it. The result of that hard work? I have a business that brings me joy, has systems that support its success, and is lean on expenses and healthy on profit. And I’m over my fear of money.

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