My life was bursting with experiences that helped my head rest on the pillow at night because I knew I was squeezing every last drop of life out of the years. At least, so I thought.
My muses – travel, music, partying, friendships, even education and my business – were a cloak, masking something deep inside me that I wasn’t willing to admit. I was gay.
It was only after I came out, at 29 years old, that I was able to detach from my addiction to external validation – and my self-sabotaging relationship with money.
In hindsight I was overcompensating externally for what I wasn’t giving myself on the inside. In other words, truth. I tried to squash down thoughts that flirted with the idea that, maybe, I wasn’t straight.
I did this by keeping myself busy, distracted and infatuated with my first true love: travel. This also manifested in an exuberant calendar packed with music festivals, gigs, dinners, nights out, coffee dates, a brand-new car, a fancy apartment, another degree and working weekends.
Pre-coming out, it was my decade of travel. I stamped over 50 countries and two new homes into my passport, and probably spent over £60k on trips – equivalent to one quarter of what I earned in that decade.
I was addicted to the unknown, to what was around the bend and what that would lead to. If I’m completely honest, deep inside I was hoping it would land me in the arms of a love…the kind of love I’d never experienced. A love so unequivocally strong that it would leave me no option but to come out, loud and proud.
So I kept unknowingly searching…through spending.
I remember freaking out the night before I was flying to Europe. I had £85 in my savings account and I was staring at the £11,300 debt I had accrued. I was relying on my clients to fund my trip, through invoices that would be paid while I was away.
I subconsciously kept trying to bend the rules, getting as close to the edge as possible – the adrenaline fuelling my amusement, keeping my mind occupied. I shouldn’t have gone on that trip. I couldn’t afford it. Heck, most of the things I did on borrowed money were just to maintain my well-kept façade, my veil.
Of course, I had the time of my life during the rite of passage that was my 20s. But at the tail end of this decade, these luxuries started to lose their lustre. I eventually ran out of escapes, out of exits. That voice got louder and louder. And I realised that if I didn’t lean in and listen to what it had been telling me all these years, I was going to live a life of regret.
No amount of external bliss could satiate the whispers of the soul. So I mustered up the courage to download Tinder and within a few months, met the love of my life. It didn’t take long but it was 29 years in the making. Falling in love with her didn’t just help me come out to my friends and family. It also restored my unhealthy bind with money.
I no longer felt the need to attend the hottest festivals, go to bars, buy new outfits and take trips that would push my psyche. I stopped working every weekend and, slowly but surely, peeled away that perfect mask I was wearing, that role I was playing. I replaced staying out until 3am with waking up at 6am, turning 24-hour flights into two-hour road trips.
I didn’t need to prove anything. I just wanted to live a good life and take care of my girlfriend and those I love. And that’s when I realised that I didn’t need to learn to budget, read I Will Teach You To Be Rich or work every weekend to earn more money. I just needed to trust myself.
I had to accept who I was so that I could give those who love me a chance to do so, too.
It seems I’m not alone in this journey. In a recent poll by WNYC, one in four queer individuals said that their sexuality or gender identity has impacted their finances. After these people came out, their reliance on others for financial support also dropped. This shows a correlation between being out and being financially stable.
Brooke Tomasetti, a money coach who helps young professionals get organised with their finances, sees people rationalising their spending as self-care.
"These actions give you a nice boost of dopamine in the moment but are self-sabotaging over time. Buying things that you don’t need, on the other hand, feels nice in the moment and provides a distraction and even a temporary self-esteem boost. I think this is why we overspend when we’re feeling unhappy," Brooke says.
"It’s easy to carry a lot of shame around money, which can create a mental block when it comes to learning about personal finance. You therefore ignore the symptoms and worsen the anxiety-overspending cycle."
It takes time to draw the connections between coping behaviours and the coming out journey.
Fast-forward three years and I’m still a baby queer. Sometimes I feel like I’m thrust back into my teenage years because I’m dating a new gender. But in the grand scheme of life, I’m right where I want to be: 33 years old, planning to marry my girlfriend, buy a house and maybe have kids one day. My 'queer' life doesn’t look much different from what I had envisioned when I was younger. I wish I had known this earlier. It would have saved me a lot.
Naturally as my priorities changed, my finances cleaned up. My desire to care for the person I loved, and myself, trumped any momentary high. I just didn’t need all of that anymore. The big trips, the partying, the outfits and the acclaim – all the scaffolding that upheld my identity dissolved.
After I came out, they shifted into beautiful add-ons. I found joy in the smaller things: the outdoors, home-cooked meals, more honest conversations, and continuing to develop my relationship with myself.
Money shifted into a tool, something that I learned to respect, not use up. It takes courage to look at your money situation, Brooke adds. But queers are well versed in bravery.
"Explore who in your life and what experiences may have influenced your money mindset. Acknowledge where your current perspective came from because you start to realise that your mindset is fluid and a lot of what keeps you stuck are your beliefs."
That rings true for most things in life.
Now, I’m the closest I’ve ever been to debt-free. I owe this to giving myself permission to change. To free myself from the shackles of who I thought I was and what society expects of me.
The heart always knows best. The head and the ego might take you on some fun adventures but the heart is what truly needs satisfying.
If you are struggling with debt and don't know where to turn, please reach out to StepChange for free, nonjudgmental advice and help to get you back on track. For advice on coming out, check out the resources over at Stonewall.