I am a recovering alcoholic.
The first step is to admit you have a problem. Sometimes, the first little nudge toward recognizing your problem comes from quantifying how much damage your problem is doing to your life. There are no apps to measure the status of relationships and friendships, those things in life more important than money. But money is a symptom – and a quantified, inarguable report of your financial (in)stability can give you some clues about what condition your condition is in.
My condition was bad, and I had to do something about it. Mint didn’t fix me, but it helped me get to the point where I had the courage to look at myself, face my reality and to begin righting my ship.
My misery began in 2010 when I lost my dream job with the global recession. As was my wont, I dulled my confusion and shame with tequila, vodka, and some other stuff I can’t pronounce. Early on, a helpful little chirp somewhere in my brain began to notice how horribly expensive booze can be, particularly when the threshold for numbness increases.
To sustain my new chosen lifestyle, I avoided friends and family I knew would notice call me on it. I played little tricks on myself, such as selling my possessions for cash and spending the money on booze in a manner that would not reflect on my bank account. Soon enough, I was scrambling to make rent and bills each month. I downloaded the Mint app in 2012 because I liked the idea of sorting out my finances.
I didn’t use Mint much in the first year because I was scared. I was scared to look at it. I was terrified to watch its wheels spin as it calculated how much money I was dropping in dive bars versus… everything else. I lied to my wife about why I couldn’t afford to treat her on her birthday, but Mint knew. Mint had a line item for “Bars and Alcohol,” and it was consistently deep in the red.
I loaded my credit cards into Mint and saw that I was investing hundreds of dollars a week into getting drunk, money I didn’t even have. Every time I looked at Mint, it reminded me that my spending habits did not square with any values I wanted to have. Ultimately, the reality of sorting out my finances became a concern that I knew, even in my bleary and stupefied state, needed serious attention.
It feels corny and weird to say that an Android app helped save my life. But Mint helped save my life. As I braced myself to look at it every day and fire up my third-grade math skills, I saw – in raw numbers – the harm I was doing to myself. And I finally believed in a better life beyond this.
Quantification is a firm judge, but it is fair. I stopped drinking. I chipped away at my debts. And my Mint numbers became no longer a reflection of my shame, but something in which I could take significant pride.
Now, I can get up early, load up Mint on my way to work, and see strong evidence that I’m doing okay. Don’t be afraid of money and don’t be afraid of getting objective help. In some cases, it’s the best sort of friend you could have.
Emerson Dameron is a user experience designer, writer, and comedian from Los Angeles.