Updated: May 18
Fear and anxiety have taken a front seat in our lives during the Covid-19 scare. In addition to fears about our health and the health of our loved ones, our financial worries have increased. Not only are we worried about our actual finances, we often feel anxious about the concept of money? How can we tame our fear of money “monsters”?
Monsters are big. Kids are little, and monsters are big. Our paychecks are little, and our bills are big. Being small in the face of a towering troll is frightening, and money worries can easily take the form of a gigantic monster. As Daniel Crosby, behavioral finance expert, says, “so much subtext and hidden meaning [is] wrapped up in money….Money is shorthand for happiness, power, and personal efficacy, so it can be very scary.”
Monsters might hurt you. Kids don’t know what a monster might do to them, and a strong imagination magnifies the terror. Adults are no different when it comes to scary money monsters, especially when they lurch your way clothed in unfamiliar jargon. A bad investment can hurt you, and that’s a very real terror. You don’t always know if a financial decision will turn out to be a fiend or a friend.
Monsters pop out unexpectedly. Kids lie in dread for the moment the monster finally jumps out. Grownups wait in fear for the blindside of the car accident, the health crisis, the stock market drop, not knowing when disaster might strike. The uncertainty – just like anticipating pain in the dentist’s chair – makes life uncomfortable.
Monsters can sometimes be real. Unfortunately, actual scary things can happen to kids at night. Children can’t be protected from all danger, and neither can your pocketbook. Tornados tear off roofs. Life-threatening cancers develop. And, as the well-known billboard bluntly shows, when your teenage drove drunk and “just blew $10,000K,” it’s your financial dragon to slay.
How Do You Tame Your Money Monsters?
· Turn a problem into an opportunity. Continually being short of cash can be the impetus for you to train for a new job. High car insurance bills might make you a safer driver. Worries about paying for health care in old age could be the reason you stop smoking. Actions you take to reduce fear impact your life in positive ways and are powerful steps to reducing fear.
· Acknowledge and draw out fears. Just saying “I’m scared” can start the process of feeling better. As psychologist Robi Ludwig explains, money is “a powerful symbol representing many different things …. It can symbolize the comfort of being taken care of and loved, as well as bring up issues of dependence and survival.” Admitting the power money has over us can start us on a path of greater control.
· Track the trigger. Often it’s just one thing that’s really terrifying you – like paying for your kids’ college. In that case, doing your research and nailing down the worst case scenario can minimize the T-Rex looming over you.
· Tell the truth. Ignoring money issues won’t make them go away. On good days try to face the money ogre, take stock of your financial situation, make some plans, and do your best to stick to them.
· Create a less scary environment. Try to be realistic about what you owe. Making a list or putting together a spreadsheet can show the facts, which are often less dire than what you imagined. Tip – make your list after dawn, because realism usually doesn’t work when you’ve seen every half-hour on the clock since 1 am. In the light of day you can take the time to honestly ask if yourself if things are as bad as they seemed under the covers last night.
· Change false perceptions and beliefs. Many fears are just plain silly. Social Security is highly unlikely to disappear. You’re not going to end up a bag lady digging through dumpsters. Being wealthy doesn’t make you a bad person. We invest money with all sorts of emotional baggage that can stagger us and slow our financial progress.
And don’t feel bad if you are reluctant to talk about the money monsters disturbing your sleep! You are not alone; Americans would rather talk about death, politics, sex or religion than money, according to a recent Wells Fargo study. We all know that monsters lurk in the shadows and disappear when light shines on them; try some of these ideas to banish your own money monsters.
Kathryn Hauer, a Certified Financial Planner ™, adjunct professor, and financial literacy educator has written numerous articles and several books including the “11-Step, DIY, Comprehensive Financial Plan Workbook” and “Financial Advice for Blue Collar America.” She works to help clients and readers understand and act on complex financial information to keep them and their money safe. She functions as a strong advocate and guiding light for her clients as they move through murky and unfamiliar financial and career worlds.