Letting go of your money fears in three steps


Fear and money are like two peas in a pod. They’re like chocolate and peanut butter…eggs and bacon…bagels and cream cheese…(I really shouldn’t have skipped breakfast).

We need money. It’s an integral part of life. As we’ve talked about before, security is a basic human need and money is in many ways central to that need. It buys us clothing. It buys us shelter. It buys us breakfast sandwiches when we wake up too late to even manage a bowl of cereal.

That’s why fear and money are so closely tied together. If we don’t have money, we don’t have security. The future becomes uncertain. We don’t know if we’ll be able to manage our basic human needs.

A recent poll held by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) found that nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of all respondents self-identified as being afraid that they wouldn’t have enough money to pay their monthly bills. That’s not good. The most basic premise of solid money management is having the ability to confidently manage your income and expenses on a month-to-month basis. If that’s causing you anxiety, something needs to change.

Start fresh 

Blank slate time. We usually approach budgeting on a month-to-month or annual basis, but in reality we’re constantly rolling over from previous time periods. In order to understand your fear of running out of money, it’s a good idea to start fresh. For one month, from the 1st to the 31st, track every dollar that came in and every dollar that went out. At the end of the month, examine the numbers. Where did you end the month – in the red or in the black?

Find your problem 

If you’re worried about making ends meet, there’s a problem. Even if you got to the end of the month and had money to spare, the fact that you’re worried indicates a problem. So figure out what it is.

  • You have a monthly deficit. You spent more than you made. The month might have been an anomaly (one unexpected expense can do that), but generally ending the month in the red is a sign that your spending isn’t aligned with your earning. So either your income needs to increase, or you need to find a way to reduce your expenses. It might be a single big picture change (you’re spending too much on rent), or it might be a series of little tweaks. A deficit can be hard to close, but as long as you know what the problem is you can at least start working on a solution.
  • You just broke even. If you’re income is just enough to cover your expenses, that’s not an ideal situation. It means any unexpected or irregular expense can knock you off your budget. If your budget is that tight, you need to work on reducing your expenses wherever possible. You also need to start bulking up your emergency savings. A robust emergency fund gives you the ability to weather rough patches and should help relieve some of your monthly money stress.
  • You came out on top. Here’s another possibility: you’ve already got your expenses under tight control and your income is more than enough to help you pay your bills and build your savings, but you’re still worried anyway. Our minds are magically imaginative and sometimes that results in visions of gloom and doom, despite all evidence to the contrary. If you’ve done all you can to build your cushion and keep your spending in line, try this the next time you start to worry about money: question those thoughts. Talk through your visions of financial ruin. “What if I lost my job?” “Well, that’s why I’m working on saving up six months’ salary.” “What if I wrecked my car?” “That’s what insurance is for.” Always challenge those anxious thoughts. Don’t let money anxiety go unchecked.

Take action 

The thing about fear is that it tends to be self-perpetuating. When you’re afraid it’s difficult to take action and conquer that fear, but that’s exactly what you need to do. If you’re afraid that you don’t have enough money to make ends meet, stop being afraid and start doing something about it.

Need help getting started? Try a free debt and budget counseling session. We'd love to review your finances and help you create a budget that works.

Jesse Campbell is the Content Manager at MMI, focused on creating and delivering valuable educational materials that help families through everyday and extraordinary financial challenges.

  • The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) is an association of nonprofit consumer organizations that was established in 1968 to advance the consumer interest through research, advocacy, and education. Today, nearly 300 of these groups participate in the federation and govern it through their representatives on the organization's Board of Directors.

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  • The National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC®), founded in 1951, is the nation’s largest and longest-serving nonprofit financial counseling organization. The NFCC’s mission is to promote the national agenda for financially responsible behavior, and build capacity for its members to deliver the highest-quality financial education and counseling services.