How to Get Over Your Fear of Money
Every negative belief we've internalized about money? They all boil down to fear. It's time to get past it.
I've struggled with anxiety surrounding money for as long as I can remember. As a freelancer whose work—and paychecks—comes in fits and starts, for me it was easier to operate like I was constantly broke than investigate the truth behind that assumption. While this frugal mindset helped protect me when times were more famine than feast, it also left me terrified of checking of checking my bank account, taking on additional monetary responsibilities, or making the kind of investments that could ultimately grow my long-term wealth.
A disordered relationship with money is easy to fall into, regardless of how much of it you have. Like religion, sex, and politics, finances are a loaded topic. We're often told the rich are evil, the poor are lazy, and other vastly reductive myths. We're led to believe that money is fickle; some people are just naturally better at making it. But ultimately, every negative belief boils down to fear. If what we're telling ourselves about the nature of money isn't true, what does that say about us as potential earners? No wonder I felt more comfortable simply holding my breath every time I pulled out my credit card than questioning the reality of my situation.
No matter where you fall on the spectrum, you have the ability to heal your relationship with money—and create a mindset that will ultimate lead to increased financial security. We spoke with personal finance experts to weigh in on how to start the process.
Realize that money is neither good nor evil
Currency, whether it's rocks and shells traded for goods and services, or ones and zeroes on a computer screen, is a morally neutral tool that we've agreed represents a form of energy exchange. It's what we do with it that creates meaning. As Jen Sincero, author of You Are a Badass at Making Money explains, living paycheck-to-paycheck for a large portion of her life sucked, but it was the belief that she was incapable of attracting that form of energy (money) that really got her down.
"It was always the biggest complaint, the biggest failure in my life," she says. "I always struggled with money…But it but also one of the biggest incentives for me to shift my mindset and start making money. I can do so much better than this. I wanted to create, as opposed to just silently accepting what I've been given that wasn't making me happy."
Write a letter to money
Accepting that money is value-neutral is a good start. But to get to the bottom of how you feel about your paycheck, Sincero suggests writing a letter to money—the same way you would a person. While this practice might seem a bit woo-woo, it can unlock a level of honesty that will allow you to determine where your messaging comes from.
"When you just write, stream-of-consciousness, you see [your beliefs] staring back on the page," she says. "How much you want money, and how much fun it would be to make so much, and how you feel disgusting for even saying you want money, and how you don't think it's OK. You get to see all of your pros and cons on the page...and you get to see what you decided is the truth around it. And that is absolutely the first step, because you can't budge if you're participating in an unreality."
It's only then that you can integrate your perceptions, and create new beliefs. Make a list, create mantras, tell a friend—whatever it takes to help reprogram your brain.
"You know the gripe, or question, like: 'Is it wrong to want to make lots of money?'" Sincero continues. "People do good things with lots of money! You start questioning it, and then you can shine a light on the fact that you are buying into something that isn't true."
Invest in learning about money
Healing any kind of relationship requires specialized knowledge. If you're not doing your own dry cleaning, changing your own oil, or filling your own cavities, why would you attempt to rid yourself of your fear surrounding money...alone? Hiring an accountant or even a professional coach, or reading books written by experts on the topic—all that allows you to piggyback off someone else's learnings. The bonus is that then, there'll be someone else on this journey to guide you when your emotions threaten to pull you off track. (Spoiler: Your emotions will attempt to pull you off track.) Ultimately it will be money well spent.
This approach worked for Sincero, whose Badass books regularly extoll the value of hiring someone else rather than leaning on your own (still-developing) knowledge.
"I was so, so serious about it that I did everything," says Sincero. "I read self-help books, I read all the money books. The first thing I did that was really pivotal was I made the decision to focus on making money…I was like, I don't care what anybody says, I'm doing it. And then, once I made that decision, I started reading books on how to make money, books on wealth consciousness, I went to every money-making seminar I could get my hands on, I hired coaches, I enrolled in any kind of program that had to do with financial getting your act together."
"I think all of the financial recovery work is about helping people meet their true needs and wants...[Creating] a plan to meet those needs and wants in the present, as well as prepar[ing] for the future," says Dana Conley, a certified financial recovery counselor. "I'm really all about helping people create a conscious money revolution."
Conley advises people to see how their money attitude has been "impacted by their family history, by their culture, their religion, just by the various experiences that they've had in their life. And to look at what they're spending, not just their money...their time and energy."
Create appointments to check on your finances.
Even if you're only able to stare at your bank account or check your credit card statements for a few minutes each week, stay consistent. Exposure will reinforce the fact that these are morally neutral numbers on a page. Conley sees this practice as the beginning of a lifelong practice that will allow people to question the beliefs, attitudes, habits and behaviors that they have around finances—and begin to track how their money is really being used.
"You can actually get people started on the concrete action plan," she says. "And usually we do try to do that, because you want to build a momentum and you want to get them in the place where they're creating a habit of tracking their money in and money out. So, we do want to establish that early on, because [clients] can get caught up in just working with the family history and our emotions, but they're not actually doing any of what I would call the outer work of actually managing their money and creating some change."
Start a regular savings plan
A lot of people's anxiety surrounding money (and certainly mine!) hinged on the belief that any second, an unexpected expense would come tearing around the corner, ready to knock my meager budget off its axis. Conley has a no-nonsense suggestion for overcoming this—whether it's $2 a week or $2,000 a month: Start an automatic savings plan. Having a safety net will become a habit, and being able to defray the cost of a new computer or surprise dental work will go a long way toward peace of mind.
"If it's just on the personal side, we need to make sure that their income is taking care of all of their expenses and that they're really spending their money in the areas of their life that they most value," she says. "Whatever's left over at the end of the month we can start putting towards saving for those non-monthly expenses that come up, maybe quarterly, or twice a year, or annually. Taking time to identify those expenses and then starting to set aside a portion of that every month will get people ahead and that also helps them stop using credit cards for the things that come around."
Remember why you're doing this
"I believe that everybody has the ability; I also know that everybody has very different circumstances they live in. We all arrived here privileged or not at all privileged, so I don't believe that everybody has equal footing," she says. That said, she's focused on the things we can change about our individual situations, such as our own self-talk and behaviors.
"Everything I write about is for the human mindset, so it really is the same steps for everybody. Some people have an easier door in than others…If you want to really experience life on planet earth as a human being, you need money. You need money to do stuff, you need money to survive, you need money to give back," she explains. "So taking the time to get over your issues around it and...learn how to make it in a way that feels good to you is one of the most important things you can do."
Of course, despite our best intentions, it is difficult to change your own behaviors—if your previous behavior provided any form of positive feedback, that is. Nothing changes without a motivation that's more powerful than stasis. Consider why you want to reform your relationship with money. To save for a vacation? To buy a house? To sleep through the night for a change? Whatever the reason, this is your guiding star. Journal about it, vision-board about it, or tell a friend who's great at keeping you accountable. As Sincero notes, improving your relationship with money is difficult—but a mindset of abundance is available to anyone who's willing to work for it.