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Hawaii_Jake's avatar

How does one change an unhealthy attitude about money?

Asked by Hawaii_Jake (25804 points ) August 10th, 2012

I’m poor. Money scares me.

I have a very small, very secure monthly income (SSDI) that allows me to live with only one luxury, the Internet.

I have faced many fears in my life and worked through them. This fear seems to have outlived them all.

How do you overcome fear?

What steps have you taken to overcome it?

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17 Answers

DigitalBlue's avatar

I am working with the same issue, currently. On top of my current situation being perfect for this type of stress, I was raised with some very strict views about money and how/when it should be spent (aka never) and that has contributed a great deal to my fear and obsessive nature with money.

I have not conquered this fear, so all that I can offer is that I often remind myself that: Other people are in the same boat. Others are often far worse off, and still manage to live happy lives. You can’t take it with you. Things don’t matter, people do.

fremen_warrior's avatar

I do not claim to know exactly what you might be going through now, but IMO it’s a normal reaction to being in an uncomfortable position. If you manage to put away even a meagre sum monthly, weekly etc., over time you will become more confident because your safety net will grow stronger…

Shippy's avatar

I have been thinking about this very question for ages. I do think “fear” of money leads to a type of poverty. I have in periods of my life had a lot of money, and the more that money came to me, the less the fear became, but it was always there deep rooted inside me.

I believe that is why I go in cycles of having some then none.

My father feared losing money his entire life, and it made him tight fisted with it. So I learned that fear from him. Because I dont even earn a regular small income but rely on circumstance each month currently, I cannot say doing all the sensible things will help me, like save 10%, do this or that and the fear should go. Because those types of sensible steps do help to consolidate wealth. As well as a good financial plan.

So currently I am going back to the idea of “the flow of money” idea. That is to say, keep a little of what I have earned, give some away, and believe in my ability to be my strongest asset and therefore make more money. For the longest time, I believed I could not make any money in anyway. After a long sustained period of making too much money. So I went from one polarized point to the other. So the steps I am taking is, make my fear work for me. Get active in creating wealth (in which ever way I see it). Understanding that money comes from unexpected sources, that it is never a tap turned off, until I become completely incapacitated. That each day, birds start with nothing but by nightfall they have eaten and found a home. By trusting my higher power a bit more and asking for what I need. By visualizing money coming to me.

If I make 100 SAR to give R10 away, to keep the flow. Because that his how life works, it is a spiritual law. I will keep you posted on how well I am doing! Because I do believe that I can change things and I will.

JLeslie's avatar

@Hawaii_Jake Money scares you. Does that mean you are afraid to hold onto it? You spend everything you earn, because savings scare you?

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@JLeslie : I suppose if I dig into the pit of my stomach when I think about money, it’s the fear of financial insecurity. I don’t have enough to save. I might even be able to say that I’m afraid of having too much of it, but that sounds like a cliche.

Jeruba's avatar

I’ve never been rich or even close to it, but I’ve been comfortable and I’ve also been very poor. I learned that when I didn’t have any money, it seemed as if I just about couldn’t think about anything else. It loomed like a monstrous presence over every minute of every day. All decisions were made in the light of financial concerns. Buying a roll of cellophane tape required a family conference. Tossing a bag of potato chips into the grocery cart would have been an unthinkable luxury. It seemed to me that the true misery was not the enforced frugality and the doing without things so much as just having my awareness monopolized by this one single concern day and night.

The only thing that seemed to bring relief was gaining some measure of control over it. I tracked our expenditures obsessively. I recorded every purchase, no matter how small, and analyzed patterns. I learned where our biggest lapses occurred. We lived quite simply. We were not spendthrifts and we did not go in for any kind of luxuries, but we still allowed ourselves too many prepared foods and too many meals out (even if it was only McDonald’s or Subway). I learned to predict with considerable precision what our expenses would be for the coming month and how to juggle and maneuver so as to cover everything somehow. Doing the best I could with what I had was a major goal, and gradually things got better.

Even when we had dug ourselves out and begun to experience some freedom, a horror of becoming destitute remained with me. I still worry about it and probably always will, whether it makes any sense or not. My parents were youngsters during the Great Depression, and I think their fears were embedded in me.

When I have extra, I like to share it. I know how much difference even a small windfall can make when things are tight.

I still don’t like money and wish I didn’t have to have anything to do with it. I’ll never really understand it as a thing or power in itself. To me it is a means to an end and a nuisance otherwise. I’d rather not ever think about it. But I don’t know anyone who has that degree of freedom: the poor have their endless struggle, and I suspect the rich are slaves to what they own.

If I were under the burden of penury now, I would probably try to take a lesson from Zen and simplify my life to the greatest possible extent, detaching from the desire to possess and working to focus instead on being present in my life.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@Jeruba : ”...having my awareness monopolized by this one single concern day and night.” That is it in a nutshell, I believe.

When I wrote that money scares me, I think that’s what I truly meant. I obsess about it and how I’m going to use it.

That obsession is what I want to break.

JLeslie's avatar

@Hawaii_Jake So you are afraid of being financially insecure and you are afraid of having a lot of money? You are in a can’t win.

Oh, I just saw your last post. Here is how I think of money: it gives you freedom. It isn’t about buying things, it is if you have it in savings you can do what you want. You can quit your job, you can buy something you like, you can weather a bad time. So, money in the bank represents freedom to me, and I like to see that freedom grow and grow.

I really do understand what @Jeruba has outlined though. I wish we didn’t have to have money, but our economic system works on money. It would be great to have a Star Trek like country or world even better, where money was not necessary, but we don’t.

gailcalled's avatar

If you don’t have enough money to supply a modest standard of living, let alone plan for the future when you no longer can earn, it is legitimately scary.

Rather than concentrating on the fear, why not keep a budget and see where you can trim your sails ever a little bit?

I had a friend who stopped smoking; then he put the cost of a carton of ciggies into a jar every week. He was surprised at how it added up.

Are there any areas where you can barter?

YARNLADY's avatar

I found that having a strict budget and sticking to it freed me from any financial worries.

Pandora's avatar

Is there a small part time job you can do that will allow you to save some money? Then you can squirrel that away and feel like you really don’t have to think about the money.
I know when I was broke, I would have two separate accounts. One was all the bills that I could count on to be the same (ex. rent, utilities, credit cards and 200 every two weeks for bulk grocery buying), the next account was for daily living expenses. Then I would divide what I had for that in the number of days till my next check. Every day, I would allow myself, (lets say 10 dollars) If I only used 8 then I would save 2 for emergency money. Some days I could avoid even using the 10. Then it became a game about how to find ways for the day to save money. There would be that emergency that would come and wipe out what I saved but I always felt relief that I was able to have something and not have to ask people for help.

Bellatrix's avatar

While reading your question, the thought that came into my mind is that if you have insufficient money you cannot help it being one of the most pressing worries in your life. As @gailcalled wrote, this is a justified fear. You aren’t be irrational. If you have no savings you are at the whim of any unexpected emergency. Not a good place to be. As I read through the responses I found @Jeruba‘s post also contains great truth. Anyone who has experienced poverty to the point where purchasing the smallest luxury carries the weight of guilt and worry can understand your feelings. I remember a time when I had two work dresses that I had to alternate and couldn’t afford a lipstick. It was incredibly stressful and I felt the pressure of surviving financially constantly.

You often suggest to people who post here about dealing with other types of anxiety that they should take small steps to resolve the problem. I think this is how you will help to alleviate your stress about money too. Take control of your finances so you are in charge of your money and don’t feel external elements are influencing your security. One step at a time though. It won’t be resolved over night but little by little you will take back ownership of your financial security.

Start a budget. Make sure you allow yourself a little ‘play’ money. It doesn’t have to be a lot but you should have a little money that you can feel quite okay about spending on a new book (or one from the second hand book store) or a glass of wine with friends, a trip to the theatre. Don’t see this spending as a luxury, see it as essential for your mental health.

Factor in some savings. Even $10 a week (and I know that can be a lot if you don’t have it) grows and will start to provide you with a safety net. Knowing there is some money in the bank to fall back on if you need it is very freeing.

I think there have been questions here about tips to save money. Go through them and see what options will help you to better manage the little money you have.

If there are ways you can earn some extra cash, and I know this might not be easy, try some things. I know you are an editor. Can you get some work proofreading for publishers, writers, academics, students etc. Something you can do from home and just provides a little more income without burdening you with stress. The internet and the huge volume of content being produced could be your friend here.

Whatever you do and however you do it, take back your ownership of this problem. If you own the control, you can minimize the anxiety.

wundayatta's avatar

When we got married, we had a negative net worth. Lots of student loans. We got jobs and worked pretty steadily. I was out of work for two or three years between then and now. She’s been out of work for a year. She always made a good deal more than I did, but we both believed in saving money, and so we funded our 401Ks and all the other tax advantaged savings vehicles that we could afford, plus we saved after tax money.

We never spent much. At least, not early on. We took cheap vacations. We didn’t buy furniture or fancy electronic equipment. What we did buy, we used for a long time. We bought small, inexpensive cars and drove them until they got stolen or totaled in accidents. We only had one car, and we didn’t use it much because we used bikes or public transport to get to work.

We tried to be efficient in our energy and water use, but there are some things we should have done twenty years ago that we are only getting to now, like insulating the house. That might save us a thousand dollars a year. We hope. We’ll see.

So we’ve paid off the house, and now we’re getting prepared for college. That means spending our after tax money on the house, so that we look poor. Also, since my wife isn’t working, our income is much much lower than it was. All our assets are untouchable. We won’t have much money while the kids are in college, but hopefully we will have enough when we retire.

The book that got me started was Jane Bryant Quinn’s book. She tells you what to save and how to save (invest) and what insurance to buy and all kinds of other things. There may be better books now, but I don’t think financial wisdom changes much, except that people urge you to be more conservative in your expectations about the growth of investments now.

You are in a tough place if you have little income. But if you can, you look for ways to scrimp and save. Can you spend less on your home, somehow? Less on electricity? Less on a vehicle? You look for ideas for each of these items. Everything you save, you save. You don’t spend. You want to build up enough money to live on. First you want enough to survive for six months with no income. Then for a year. Then two. Etc.

You are systematic about it. You do your research. You analyze your situation, and you find ways to manage money. You do it one step at a time. You do one thing first. Then look at something else. Obviously it’s best if you do a high value item first, like maybe getting a job, but it doesn’t matter, so long as you do something. Like eliminating the need for a car. Something. Anything.

Fear is an excuse to do nothing. But there’s no reason to do nothing. And when you build up a nest egg, you can do nothing. But not now. It is possible to start from deep in the hole and end up with a nice net worth. I’m sure we could have had a much fancier life, if we chose to. But then we would not have peace of mind, knowing that if things go bad for a few years, we will be able to weather the storm. Of course, if things go really bad, that’s another story. But that’s something no one can prepare for.

Coloma's avatar

I think a good rule to live by is ” spend some, save some and give some away.”
We should all treat ourselves, and in doing so you are making a statement to yourself, that you love and believe you are worth having nice things and a sense of security. Even in these tough economic times we can learn to value ourselves and celebrate even it it is in small ways.

I have my money challenges right now but I thrive on being generous with myself and others whenever possible. Do not fear money, money is a tool and nothing more.

flutherother's avatar

Having a secure income is better than having a large income. As long as you can adapt your lifestyle to suit your means you aren’t doing too badly. There may be ways to supplement your income that will allow you to buy extra luxuries but that would be icing on the cake. When money becomes really frightening is when your expenses are greater than your income. I have been in that position just once in my life and it gave me a sense of existential horror.

As Mr Micawber said “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.”

mattbrowne's avatar

My parents raised me in a way that made me learn how to save money. Although they had enough money already at the time, their own youth after WWII had shaped their attitude. When I became an adult I actually had to learn how to spend more money to not get in trouble with my wife.

A good approach with money is this: Whenever you are about to spend some ask yourself the question whether you really need what you want to buy.

bkcunningham's avatar

@Hawaii_Jake, I have just very recently discovered something I want to share with you. Have you ever heard of Joe Dominguez? Look up the name. Also, look around on this website and see if it is what you are looking for in your life. I sincerely hope it helps. I saw your question and it seemed to fit.

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