I’ll admit I have a few fears, boa constrictors and heights among them. Fortunately I don’t have to face either on a regular basis. To really face my fears I’d have to go bungee jumping with a boa constrictor.
A true anxiety invoking fear of money is called chrematophobia. Some of its symptoms include heart palpitations, anxiety attacks, sweaty palms and an intense desire to flee the situation. That depth of fear needs to be addressed by a professional.
I’ve met many people in my life who have a fear of money that presents itself as a strong aversion to anything financial. Symptoms include:
- Not opening bank statements, bills or mortgage statements.
- Not checking accounts balances or keeping a balanced cheque book.
- Refusing to track net worth or spending.
- Being defensive about a lack of financial literacy.
- Trusting someone else too much with their money.
- Letting someone else make their financial decisions.
- Worrying excessively about finances or refusing to think about it at all.
- Not planning for the basics (RRSPs, life insurance, wills).
- Overspending or over-saving.
Based on working with people as a financial coach, I see this a lot. It makes me wonder just how rampant it is and what can be done to help people get over their strong aversion to money. Occasionally it presents itself as a fear of math or numbers but more often it comes down to the emotions that seem so closely tied to finances.
I admit, I work mostly with women. I am not one for gender stereotyping. I generally think of people as individuals rather than by gender. Yet more and more I hear women talk about their fear of money. Is it that they will admit it more readily or more easily ask for help? I don’t know but what I do know is that there are many incredibly bright, well educated, intelligent women who have a strong aversion to finances and would rather not think about it at all or pass it off to someone else to handle.
Recently I read What I know Now: Letters to My Younger Self (link). In the book successful women wrote something to their younger selves at challenging time in their lives. One of the authors featured in the book is Naomi Wolf, one of my favourite writers. In it she writes:
“…I reacted by moving further into the elaborate complex of stupidity about money that I had begun to pick up in college. Like many women, I went into a numbers-induced fog that enveloped me whenever I had to discuss my income. I was embarrassed talking to the woman who helped me with my taxes. I thought it was inappropriate for me to learn the least detail about handling my income.” pg. 175
She put into words what so many women I’ve talked to have tried to explain. It’s difficult to ask for help and embarrassing to admit they don’t know the first thing about handling money. This is coming from a woman who has more brain cells than I could ever dream of having!
I worked with someone else who was an over-saver. It was difficult for her to spend money even with a secure, well paid government job and a fully indexed pension. I was shocked when I found out how much she was putting away in savings and RRSPs. With a pension that size, as a single woman with no dependents, she didn’t even need an RRSP. I asked her why she was putting away so much and she said her financial advisor recommended it. I gently asked her how her financial advisor was paid. She said she didn’t know. When I explained that she was paid through commissions every time an investment was purchased, she was shocked. She trusted this person with her money and her advice. She didn’t realize the advisor might not have her best interests at heart. She confessed that she has a lot of anxiety when it comes to money.
I wonder if the fear of money is becoming more rampant as a generation of people go through school without one course in economics or personal finance. Math isn’t always fun and if in someone’s mind math = money and they weren’t very good at math than the logical outcome would mean money management is difficult. I went to school when home-economics was still a required course. That and typing are about the only classes I remember and still use to this day.
Bringing financial literacy back into the classroom would only be a start. At least that way people would have the basic skills. The next step is being willing to talk about it and get help if you need it. It’s only shameful when it’s hidden. Money anxiety can be overcome if people are willing to walk through their shame, admit their fears and begin to educate themselves about the basics they need to know about personal finance. It won’t be easy but it can be learned. Learning a new skill as an adult is never easy but there are people, personal finance blogs and forums that are here to help.
Have you or someone you know overcome a fear of money?
Kathryn has been a staff writer for MDJ since January 2009. During the day she works in an office. In her off hours, she volunteers as a financial coach helping ordinary Canadians with the basics of money management. Kathryn, along with her husband and two children live in Ontario.