Why We’re Afraid of Money and How to Beat the Fear 

financial-fears-2Skydiving is a natural fear. Sure, people do it all the time and they’re fine. But that doesn’t stop your body from freaking out at the idea of plunging toward the earth at 200 miles per hour. It’s a survival thing.

Skydiving is a totally understandable, primal fear. Some fears are a little more complex, though. We’re often afraid of things we don’t understand or we can’t control–like money.

The Life We Want Vs. The Life We Can Afford

It’s not like we’re afraid of money itself, though. It’s just pieces of paper. We’re afraid of dealing with it.  But why are we afraid of dealing with money? It’s not because we’re lazy or we’re afraid of the work. I think, at its core, the fear has to do with scarcity. Dealing with money reveals our struggle to balance what we can afford with the life we want. The idea that we can’t afford the life we want is terrifying.

A lot of us react to this fear with denial. We pretend money doesn’t exist.  We don’t bother looking at our budgets, we don’t learn about money, we keep buying crap we don’t need and maybe we even cope by telling ourselves money is evil and all rich people are greedy.

I take this fear to the other extreme, though. Instead of financial denial, I idealize money. 

The Irony of Idealizing Money

Growing up poor, I always thought money was the solution to everything. As a result, I allowed it to rule my life completely as an adult. Like a bad relationship, idealizing money gets complicated. You start to prioritize it over everything else–even your goals and dreams. You make bad decisions because you’re afraid of losing it. Ironically, I was afraid of money because I was afraid of not being able to afford the life I want. Yet I almost ditched the life I wanted, several times, because of money.

When I got my first “real” job, for example, I felt like I struck gold. Sure, I was only making $24,000 a year, but that was a lot to me. For the first time in my life, I could afford things that were typically off limits (like Oreos). I felt lucky; I was grateful.

One day I got bored, though.  Just to see what was out there, I started looking for jobs online. And I found one. I was qualified, it was a big technical writing firm, and it paid DOUBLE. I applied for it, just for giggles. I went to the interview, just for giggles. To my surprise, I got the job. At this point, my decision should have been clear: accept the job, progress in my career, buy more Oreos.

But I hesitated.  I was afraid to take it.

What if the new job didn’t work out? I kept wondering. What if I had no job? What if I end up with nothing? In a way, that fear kept me a willing prisoner of money. Fear ruled my life so hard I almost didn’t take one of the biggest salary jumps in my career. In the personal finance world, they have a name for this: scarcity mindset.

After a few years of writing about money for a living, I feel like I understand my own relationship with it pretty well. I’d be lying, though, if I said I’m completely over that fear. It still comes up every now and then. I take on work I don’t have time to do because I’m afraid of rejecting money. Or I buy the cheap boots even though I know splurging on quality makes more financial sense in the long run.

Learning to Feel in Control

Chances are, you can relate to this in some way, even if your coping method is denial. Pretty much all of us have financial fears and it’s partly because money is, indeed, such a hard thing to control. From the stock market to inflation to income inequality, there are so many outside forces that affect your personal financial situation.

We’ve talked about the cure to all of this before: it comes down to putting yourself in control through tiny actions tied to larger, more meaningful goals. I’ve written about this in detail and in this week’s Road to Financial Wellness tour, I talked about it at length. Those solutions are important, but the first step in getting past financial fear is the first step in getting past any fear, really: acknowledge it exists, then try to understand it.

Why We’re Afraid of Money and How to Beat the Fear 

It’s not like we’re afraid of money itself: it’s just pieces of paper. We’re afraid of dealing with it. But why are we afraid of dealing with money? It’s not because we’re lazy or we’re afraid of the work. I think, at its core, the fear has to do with scarcity.

The Struggle to Find Career Focus

Instead of constantly searching for and trying to define my “one true calling,” I’m learning to build a career that includes so many different things I’m interested in.

Join Us on the Road to Financial Wellness

It was hard to cope with the reality that I couldn’t afford the life I wanted. I learned that the more you push money away because of that fear, though, the more it gets in your way.


I'm Kristin Wong, a travel and money writer who lives to explore. I love helping people figure out their finances so they can make their money work for them instead of the other way around. Want to know more? Start here.

What You're Saying

  • Anna Weisend: I can so relate to the fear! Being self employed my biggest fear is not taking on business, whether I...
  • Daniel: “I don’t know what I am. I know that I am not a category. I am not a thing — a noun. I seem to be...
  • Done by Forty: Thanks for sharing how you had to come to terms with screenwriting maybe not being your calling. I had...
  • Rajkumar: I really loved the article. It reminded me of my childhood days when I used to think what I wanted to...
  • ST: I love this! Thanks for sharing. I’m going to spend some time this weekend trying to word my theme...