How to Overcome Your Financial Fears

If talking about money causes you stress, use these strategies to overcome your biggest financial fears.

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If you let money matters like setting a budget or taking a peek at your credit report scare the bejeebers out of you, you could make some truly fearsome financial decisions. That’s because, while we no longer contend with saber-tooth tigers on our daily commute, our brains still react in the same way to anything we deem threatening—including financial threats. “As far as the brain is concerned, a threat is a threat is a threat. And instinctively, it pushes us to avoid these threats as if they were threats to our lives,” says Simon Rego, Psy.D., director of psychology training at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine. In fact, one of the most difficult fears to discuss is the worry surrounding money, says John Sharp, M.D., Harvard psychiatrist and author of The Emotional Calendar ($26, Usually this is because of fear–fear of inadequacy, lack of planning or lack of confidence. Here are tips for overcoming for of the most common worries.

1. The Fear of Budgeting

Budgeting is very scary to many people—of all ages, and from all walks of life, says Kevin Gallegos, vice president of Phoenix Operations for Freedom Financial Network, who helps clients evaluate debt repayment options. “People think setting a budget is more complicated than it needs to be, or that it will restrict them too much and ‘curb their style,’” he says. In fact, budgeting tells you exactly what you have so you can spend (and save) with confidence. But that doesn’t matter if sitting down to balance your bills makes you break out in a cold sweat.

Face the fear: “The best strategy for this fear is something called graded exposure,” says Rego. “This means you gradually, systematically and repeatedly face your fear.” Do that by breaking down the task into not-so-scary, bite-sized piece, he advises. Instead of trying to set a yearly or even monthly budget, start by setting a budget for tomorrow. Do that for a week or two, and then move on to setting a weekly budget. Over time, you’ll kick your fear and be on your way to a bottom line that won’t scare your pants off. Honest.


2. The Fear of Being Honest

Tempted to “hide” a purchase from your spouse, or fib about the new credit card you opened to score a discount on your kid’s Halloween costume? It’s known as financial infidelity and it’s a very common habit in relationships. “Fessing up to a spouse or significant other about splurges, spending or other financial matters is a common fear,” says Tim Brinkmann, Certified Credit Counselor at ClearPoint Credit Counseling Solutions in St. Louis, MO. “I’ve had a few clients who have explicitly told me not to include their spouses as co-applicants [for debt counseling] for fear of a ‘discussion’ about overdraft charges, charged off credit cards, etc.”

Face the fear: Both men and women may be afraid to be honest, says Rego, but honesty truly is the best policy. The path to honesty starts on neutral ground. Face this fear by asking your mate to meet for coffee; Rego explains that there’s less chance anyone will boil over in front of a barista. Then start by setting ground rules that you won’t judge each other, but will instead work toward better communication to avoid the need to fib about your finances in the future. One way to avoid little white lies is to make sure you manage your money in a way that works for both of you.