The reality: Even people who earn more than enough to cover their expenses can be hit with unexpected bills, due to anything from a lost job to a major illness.
You’re most vulnerable if: Your parents were nervous about money or you grew up in a home where it was a constant struggle to make ends meet. Others believe that having more money will make them feel more secure or garner respect. “Sometimes people look to money to make up for what they’re missing in love, power, or self-esteem,” says Edward Hallowell, M.D., author of Worry ($17, amazon.com).
What to do: Keep a budget and track what you spend in cash; make a list of how much you owe, and note if you’re saving any money. This will give you a sense of whether you need to be concerned. (If you can’t gauge this on your own, see a financial planner.) It’s also wise to think about what money symbolizes to you, Leahy says. If it represents security, success, pride, or moral worth, for example, finding other (free!) ways to fulfill those desires can take some of the pressure off your financial picture. Also, avoid comparing your finances and happiness with those of people who have more money, Leahy says, because “this can fuel money worries.”
It has gone too far when: The smallest expenditure sends you spinning into a budgetary tizzy, or you can’t enjoy a few simple indulgences. Leahy suggests talking to a therapist, possibly one who specializes in financial issues.