How to Recognize and Overcome Financial Anxiety

Do you struggle with anxiety about finances? There is help.

person in anguish looking over their bills

Grace Pomroy: After following Danielle’s Instagram Money in Matrimony for the past few years, I was excited to get a chance to talk with her about financial anxiety. As someone who enjoys talking about money with seminary students, congregation leaders, and—let’s be honest—just about everybody, I brush up against financial anxiety a lot. From people clamming up and saying “I’m just not good with money” to people quickly changing the subject when I bring up my occupation, talking about money can make people nervous and bring up deeper feelings of guilt and shame. While working with congregations on their stewardship ministry, I’ve also seen the various ways financial anxiety can manifest itself at church—whether it’s frustration over the pastor mentioning money in a sermon or a treasurer who is unwilling to spend a congregation’s large amount of reserve funds on a mission project. Financial anxiety can not only spill over into our congregations but also our faith lives. I’m excited to hear from Danielle about what financial anxiety looks like, how to recognize it, and what we might do about it.

Grace: To begin, can you tell us what financial anxiety is?

Danielle: Financial anxiety consists of any negative thoughts and feelings, such as worry, fear or unease about money. Small amounts of financial stress are normal. However, when the stress lingers and becomes increasingly overwhelming, you may be experiencing financial anxiety.

Even if you have a relatively healthy relationship with money, you can still experience financial anxiety during certain times in your life, because money is very emotional. The key to defeating or even minimizing financial anxiety is recognizing how and when it manifests in you, and then figuring out which tools and resources will help you overcome it.

Grace: That’s a helpful definition. From what you’ve shared it sounds like financial anxiety is something that could impact any of us. Can you give us some examples of what financial anxiety might look like?

Danielle: To help you combat financial anxiety, you must first recognize some of the signs. While this is not an exhaustive list, this will at least give you an idea about what to look out for.

  1. Feelings of depression because of money
  2. Worrying about how to pay the bills
  3. Hoarding money due to feelings of lack
  4. Discomfort with accumulating wealth
  5. Continuous pattern of overspending
  6. Inability to effectively manage finances
  7. Unpreparedness for financial emergencies
  8. Extreme frugality (forgoing needs)
  9. Repeatedly giving money to adult children
  10. Lack of confidence about the future

Grace: I appreciate those tangible examples. Looking back I can see some instances of financial anxiety in my own life. I’ve struggled with 3, 4, and 8 during different times in my life. In your work, have you noticed different times in someone’s life that might trigger financial anxiety?

Danielle: Financial anxiety can show up in different seasons of your life. Making financial decisions that impact your future can be particularly challenging and anxiety producing. Anxiety around finances is common when you are asking questions like these.

  • Do I pursue higher education? Where? When? 
  • How do I advise my kids about college and the expenses around it? 
  • How will financing some or all costs of college for my kids impact my life? 
  • Shall we move across the country or out of the country?
  • When is the right time to purchase a home?
  • Can we afford to have children? 
  • What is “enough” money to have saved and invested to live for a number of years without income?

It can also manifest during periods of trauma caused by any number of things: an employment change or layoff, loss of a spouse or partner, unexpected medical bills, loss of a home, and natural disaster—anything unexpected that impacts finance.

And—everyone experiences anxiety around finances differently. One person might be anxious because they’ve just received an unexpected bill, when they are already struggling to keep up with current bills due to a recent job loss. On the other hand, a different person might experience financial anxiety because they are struggling to figure out if they will have saved enough money so that their child can attend college debt-free. These examples are at two different ends of the spectrum, but they both can still cause financial anxiety.

Grace: Oh wow, I can certainly see how all of the trauma and change brought on by the pandemic might trigger someone’s financial anxiety. I can also see why someone’s personal financial anxiety might spill over to their life at church, especially if they are someone who is handling church finances.

With these triggers and situations in mind, what should we do when we encounter financial anxiety?

Danielle: There are many approaches you can take. Here is a list of practical exercises you can try. I’d encourage you to start with one or two. If you still need additional assistance, please reach out to a trusted financial or mental health professional.

  1. Write down your biggest sources of financial stress. This helps you to face your fears.
  2. Evaluate your current spending plan (budget). If you don’t have one, now is the time to create one.  
  3. Schedule time weekly to stay on top of your finances.   
  4. Talk to someone about how you are feeling.   
  5. Stop comparing yourself to others.   
  6. Be mindful about how your body reacts in certain financial situations. 
  7. Make a list of your SMART financial goals.

Don’t be afraid to seek professional help from a trusted financial therapist.

Grace: Thanks so much, Danielle! It sounds like there is quite a bit we can do if we find ourselves feeling financially anxious. I especially appreciate your encouragement to seek out a financial therapist. I’m guessing many people may never have heard of financial therapy before. Financial therapy brings together both therapeutic and financial competencies to help people think, feel, communicate, and behave differently with money. This is a great specialized area of therapy for faith leaders to be aware of as they have conversations about money.

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