Money really does make the world go around, but it can also be a huge source of stress and anxiety for people. It is necessary for so many things, but there are lots of structural and social reasons why some people have more access to money than others. Money might bring up feelings of happiness, safety, pride, or opportunity, but it can also bring up feelings like shame, scarcity, fear, and uncertainty. Not only is money stressful on an individual level, but money issues are a major cause of relationship problems for couples. The level of anxiety that some people feel about money is a common source of distress for people regardless of background.
Even though money is an important part of everyday life, we treat it like it’s something shameful.
It’s still seen as taboo to talk about money, how much things cost, how much money you make, or how you spend it, but that doesn’t need to be the case. There are steps we can all take to reduce money anxiety and feel more comfortable in our relationship to money.
In the last year and a half, many Americans have dealt with unemployment or fragile work situations because of the pandemic. Money has always been a source of stress, but it has become even more so during covid. If you’ve noticed your feelings about money changing or becoming more anxious over the last year and a half, you’re not alone.
It’s also important to note that money is something that can make people’s lives a lot harder or a lot easier. We often hear that money can’t buy happiness, but money can make it easier to get access to medical care, education, jobs, and more. There is a difference between being stressed about money because you’re broke and being stressed about money because you feel guilt over spending it. Both are completely valid reasons to be anxious about money, but it’s important to recognize that money can and does make a difference in people’s quality of life.
Anxiety about money is real. If you are looking for ways to deal with money anxiety, here are 5 tips on how to approach it.
Be curious about your attitude about money
The things we believe all come from somewhere, and money is no exception. When you notice a negative feeling about money coming up, try to explore it instead of pushing it away. What are your current feelings about money? Are you a spender or do you tend to save? Is it easy for you to stay on top of your finances, or do you struggle in that area? Do you consider yourself to be “bad” with money? You might not even realize that you have certain beliefs about money until you pay more attention.
Figure out where your money beliefs come from
Now that you’ve spent some time exploring what your beliefs about money are, you can take some time to think about where those beliefs come from. What in your past shaped the way you think about money now? Did you have money growing up? Was it a constant source of stress for your caretakers? How did your family view money during your childhood and adolescence? You might not even realize that you picked up on those beliefs, especially if your financial situation is different from your family’s. The thing is, though, that these beliefs aren’t always helpful. Sometimes they help, but sometimes they do nothing but make you feel worse about your current relationship with money.
This might sound like a goofy way to deal with money, but a huge part of mindfulness is letting go of the urge to judge yourself. When you’re focusing on the present moment, it can be easy to get swept up in being hard on yourself for your decisions, actions, and even thoughts. Mindfulness can help protect against that impulse. When you regularly practice redirecting your thoughts away from judging yourself, it gets easier and easier to stop judging yourself. Your relationship with money isn’t going to change if you’re a jerk to yourself.
Keep track (compassionately)
This isn’t about punishing yourself, or feeling guilty about where your money goes. This is simply about knowing all the information. Keep track of what comes in and out of your accounts. You can use a budgeting tool like Mint or YNAB, or you can use a note on your phone, a page in your journal, a spreadsheet- whatever works for you. Write down what you spend and when, and what you earn and when. Note any recurring expenses, like bills, subscriptions, tuition, etc. It can be scary to keep a really close eye on things, but it can also be a relief to get the full picture.
Remember, don’t beat yourself up for what you see or don’t see. You’re a person – you’re allowed to spend money on things as you see fit. You’re also allowed to make mistakes. Many of us don’t learn how to manage our finances from anything other than experience, so it takes some trial and error to get it right. It’s human to make mistakes. It’s impossible to move on from a mistake if you never acknowledge it, so getting a full account of what’s going on can actually help you move forward.
Use affirmations or mantras
When your anxiety about money is high, try repeating an affirmation to yourself to help calm down. It can be something like “The money I earn and spend makes me happy” if you’re struggling with feelings of guilt over how you spend your money. If you’re dealing with anxiety because you’re stressed making ends meet, try something like “The amount of money I make does not define who I am or my success”. Pick a phrase that helps you feel empowered and repeat it to yourself as much as possible.
Talk about it
One of the reasons that money feels so fraught is because we are taught not to talk about it. We grow up thinking it’s rude to talk about finances, so we grow up not knowing how to deal when we have issues. One of the biggest steps we can take to undo that is to talk about money now. It doesn’t have to be rude to talk about how much you make or how you spend your money. Talking about how much we make can actually help ensure everyone is being paid fairly! It’s also okay to make money choices that are different from other people’s – you know what is right for you, and you don’t have to make choices based on someone else’s beliefs. It will get easier to talk about tough subjects like money as you practice more and more.