Financial Anxiety: What It Looks Like & How To Manage It
Chrometophobia sounds a bit like someone has an aversion to Google Chrome, but it turns out that it's the abnormal and persistent fear of spending — or even being around — money.
Refinery29 Jasmine Wallis
While this particular condition is a severe, irrational fear of money, many of us can relate to having complicated and anxious feelings around our finances.
How comfortable are you when talking about money? Did you think you had enough money growing up? Do you have enough now? How are you choosing to spend your money? Is there even a right way to spend it?
Jane Monica-Jones is a financial therapist of eight years and host of the Financial Therapy podcast. She believes that our society creates structures to make us feel insecure about our financial situations.
"In most Western societies, our level of success or failure is often measured by money," she says. "We have an internal drive that says, 'If I'm not good with money, I'm a failure,' regardless of the fact that you might contribute a lot to your community."
For many people with financial trauma, these anxious thoughts about money can run in an endless loop. But how do you tell the difference between wanting to watch your money and suffering from crippling anxiety around it?
Where does money anxiety stem from?
According to the Stress and Wellbeing report by the Australian Psychological Society, personal finance is the top cause of stress in Australia, with 49% of the population feeling the strain.
Under capitalism, money equals safety. It equals resources. It equals food, water and shelter. Therefore, when we don’t have enough (or we think we won’t have enough in the future), stress and anxiety can manifest. Monica-Jones agrees.
"Humans don't like to feel insecure, particularly around basic needs such as whether we can feed, clothe, or shelter ourselves," she says. "And if that's under threat, then it causes us to be anxious."
If you grew up in a household where money was an issue, or used as a tool to fund addiction like drugs and alcohol, it’s no wonder that your feelings are complicated as an adult. According to Monica-Jones, we get conditioned to adapt or behave in a particular way in response to stress.
So, what are the signs of money anxiety that you need to watch out for?
We’ve all avoided checking our accounts after a weekend of tap-and-go purchases, but when does it turn into straight-up denial? Rather than facing your feelings (and your bank account) head on, financial denial is the act of avoiding the situation altogether.
This can look like refusing to check your bank balance, not opening up letters pertaining to money, borrowing money from friends and avoiding conversations around cash when that loan is eventually brought up.
Financial infidelity — where you lie to your partner about your money and debt situation — can also be intertwined with this. This type of money anxiety can cause a lot of strain on your mental health, relationships and financial security.
While our culture loves the “material girl” trope, one form of money anxiety can manifest in compulsive buying. Also known as a shopping addiction, compulsive spending is characterised by people continuing to spend money on material items, even to the detriment of their financial health. Like other addictions, compulsive spending can begin innocently before spiralling out of control.
This form of financial anxiety is detrimental to your financial future and can create guilt cycles as you get a high after making a new purchase, followed by a sudden low.
Over on the opposite end of the spectrum, we have hoarding. Whether it’s money or objects, hoarding can impact your life heavily as your personal (and mental) space turns into a shrine for your financial anxiety. While it’s great to get a good deal, hoarding can turn serious when you begin to buy multiple of the same items, develop a deep attachment to seemingly worthless possessions and panic at the thought of having to part with them.
Although hoarding money can be seen as investing in your future, anxiety around spending anything is different from having a strict savings goal. If the thought of spending money on even everyday items sends you into a spin, it’s time to reassess a few things.
If any of this sounds familiar, how can you manage your financial anxiety?
See a therapist
Everyone’s financial anxiety can manifest differently, however a great way to figure out what’s going on is to see a therapist, preferably one who has some experience in financial health.
It may seem counterproductive to spend money on a therapist when you’re stressed about finances, but they can help identify your triggers, how you got to this point and most importantly, how to heal moving forward.
Make a money plan
What do you actually want to achieve with your money? Are you saving for a particular goal, or looking to buy a house?
By making a plan, you can figure out how you want to use your hard-earned cash and feel less guilty when you spend on the things that matter to you. Budgeting apps can help by allowing you to create different savings accounts for your personalised goals.
Get it out on paper
Writing down how you feel in a journal when you spend (or don’t spend) can be an insightful way to identify any money anxieties, as well as how to work with them in the future.
Monica-Jones suggests looking at how you respond to stress in the first place. "Do you go out and spend when you're stressed? Do you start spending when you're bored? A lot of people think being good with money is about numbers, but for me, being good with money is looking at those soft skills," she says.
Increase your exposure to financial resources. Whether it’s a podcast, article, book or even Finance TikTok, by engaging with content about money, the concepts may seem less confronting and anxiety-inducing.
Ask for help
While feeling anxious about your finances can make you feel isolated, it’s important to reach out for help. If you don’t have a safe support network, places like the National Debt Hotline or Lifeline can be a starting point to help you tackle money anxiety, one step at a time.