14 Signs You Have a Toxic Relationship With Money


We obsess over it, we hoard it, we covet it, and we hate it… all at the same time. Our relationship with money is anything but simple.

Ironically, it's that same relationship that influences how much of the green stuff we'll have. Those that maintain a healthy relationship with money typically do very well financially, while those of us that don't? Well, let's just say we struggle more than we should, and not just in the money department. (See also: For a Better Relationship With Money, Make Plans)

Unhealthy money relationships can typically be classified in one or more of five categories: fear, avoidance, resentment, shame/guilt, and obsession, but they're not always apparent. Sometimes, we have to do a little digging to discover the real cause of our discomfort.

So, how can you tell if you have a toxic relationship with money? Here are 14 classic signs that you might need to rethink how you relate to your cash flow.

1. You Resent Spending It

Years and years ago, a relative of mine went through a small financial crisis. Between a mound of credit card debt and an unexpected layoff, money was suddenly tight for a while. Fast forward to the present, and he still behaves as if he were flat broke. He's not of course, but he lives as if he's one paycheck away from losing it all, even though the house is paid for, and he lives comfortably off his retirement.

As a result, he doesn't spend money often. He ties knots in broken shoelaces to make them last longer. He adds water to milk so that he doesn't have to buy more. He thinks he's being thrifty, but the truth is, he's created a toxic relationship with his money that brings nothing but stress and grief. In short, he's so worried about losing it, he doesn't have time to enjoy it.

Being frugal is one thing, but being bitter about every dime that leaves your pocket is another. If parting with your money — even for the really important things — causes you pain, it's time to start looking at why.

2. You Must Spend It

On the flip side, my daughter never has money, despite getting monetary gifts on a regular basis from aunts, uncles, grandparents, and yes, her dad and I. In theory, she should be rolling in the green, but the minute she comes into money, she absolutely has to spend it, even if there's not anything she really, truly wants.

We all have those things that we don't really "need," but we'd love to have, and there's nothing wrong with splurging now and then or treating yourself to something that's not a necessity. But if that urge to buy turns into a need to spend, it's time to be honest about what you think the spending will accomplish.

That excitement you experience before and during the purchase isn't going to last and you'll have to find something else to fill the void. Except that it can't be filled — at least not with "stuff."

3. You Pay Your Bills at the Last Minute

Are you paying your bills at the last minute because you enjoy seeing the bigger balance in your bank account? Or is it because you're afraid you might end up needing that money for something else, and you're giving yourself the option ahead of time?

Or perhaps, like my relative in the story above, you can't stand the idea of parting with your hard-earned cash, and somehow waiting until the last minute is your private "so-there" to your creditors?

Whatever the reason, you're creating stress you don't need to have. Get yourself a workable budget and stick to it. You'll be happier as a result and have tons more time to focus on all the "other" drama in your life.

4. You're Constantly Broke (or Short)

You're either living beyond your means or you don't have a workable budget. Either way, this "I have money, now I don't have money" roller coaster means your finances are out of control. You're simply working to survive and have no real plan for how to make your money work for you.

Is it an easy fix? It depends on the underlying cause and the sooner you face it, the sooner you can make the situation manageable. Because rest assured, if you don't address it, that roller coaster is going to fly off the tracks sooner or later.

5. You Spend Your Money Before You Get It

You got paid yesterday and you're already pushing bills to your next paycheck, so that things won't be so tight now.

This is a variation of the "Always Broke" sign, and it stems from the same toxic money emotion: avoidance. Rather than creating a workable budget, you pay what must be paid now and bump the rest to another payday.

Yes, emergencies happen and sometimes this kind of creative financial planning is unavoidable. But if every payday has you doing magic tricks with your bills, there's a deeper problem at play.

6. You Pay the Minimum on Your Credit Cards

Another sign of avoidance, paying the minimum on your credit cards suggests that you're living beyond your means or at the very least, haven't given much thought to your financial future. After all, we all know that paying the minimum isn't getting you anywhere — you're basically just spinning your wheels.

If this is a temporary situation, you can count yourself out of this group. But if paying the minimum is your normal budgeting strategy, it's time to take a serious look at your finances and develop a smarter plan to pay off your debt.

7. You Resent People Who Have Money

There's a very distinct "us vs. them" mentality when it comes to money and if you're on the side that doesn't have it, it can be very frustrating indeed. But there's a difference between concerns over the wealth gap and just hating everyone with money.

Speak out about income inequality? Absolutely. Write letters to Congress and march in protest? More power to you. That's the stuff this country was founded on.

But if that concern turns to bitter resentment, you need to find a way to let it go. Because it won't make the rich stop being rich, but it will wreak all sorts of havoc on your health, your well-being and your happiness.

8. You Resent People Who Don't Have Money

On the flip side of this "us vs. them" mindset, there are those who have that see those who don't as a drain on society.

And without getting too deep into a political debate, let me just say this: Your net worth, as impressive as it may be, is not the mark of success. How you treat people, how you live your life, and how you contribute to the world around you are much, much more important.

If you're able to dismiss someone simply because they make less, then you need to rethink your priorities and while you're at it, your relationship with money.

9. You Think (More) Money Will Solve Your Problems

Sure, we've all dreamed of being a gazillionaire and never having to worry about money again, but if you truly see your bank balance as the key to happiness, you're in for a serious disappointment.

All too often, we postpone the things we want to be, do, and have because we believe we need more money to make that happen. And while the green stuff can certainly grease the wheels, it's not the end-all, beat-all solution we think it is.

In fact, just the opposite is true. Every day, we hear about people accomplishing extraordinary things and money wasn't a factor at all. These people are changing the world, saving the planet, starting new businesses, building families and conquering their fears, and they're doing it without the help of a big bank account.

10. You're Afraid of It

When I first started freelancing full-time, I had a number in my head that I needed to meet. Coincidentally, that number was the same number I had made while working in the corporate world — it represented my financial comfort zone and as long as I hit that target, I was content.

Recently however, I'm feeling pulled to take that business in a different direction. And I have to say, I'm excited about the potential for growth it offers.

If only I wasn't afraid.

As crazy as it sounds, I've discovered that I'm a little fearful of what that growth might mean. After all, growth means more clients. More clients means more revenue. And more revenue means I'll be stepping out of that financial comfort zone I've come to know and love.

Am I being irrational? Perhaps, but fear can cause us to do all sorts of things that are counterproductive to our well-being. I know people who refuse to learn about investing for example, because they're intimidated by what they don't understand. I know people who avoid seeking promotions and raises because they're not sure what new responsibilities that money might bring and more to the point, what if they can't handle those responsibilities? They might lose the new job and be without any kind of paycheck at all.

But avoiding the issue isn't going to get you where you want to go; research and education will. The only way I can get past my somewhat ridiculous fear of making more money is to get comfortable with the changes I'll face. And the same is true with all the other money fears we've mentioned.

Start small and take it slow if need be, but step outside your comfort zone. Knowledge can help you conquer that fear and build a healthier relationship with money in the process.

11. You Lie About Your Finances

Its one thing to downplay what you make to friends and associates, but quite another if you're lying to your spouse or worse, yourself. We lie because we don't want to admit we have a shopping addiction for example, or because we don't want to disappoint our other half. We're afraid of being judged, of being lectured, of having the argument we know we're going to have when they find out what we spent.

But maybe that's a conversation that needs to happen.

12. You Don't Like Talking About It

And since we're on the subject, it has long been considered taboo to discuss financial matters outside your most inner circle of friends and family. And there are a couple of reasons this limitation exists.

For some, we don't want to make others — particularly those with less money — feel uncomfortable. In other instances, it might be because we're the ones with less money, and we don't want to feel judged. But when this discomfort causes you to stop talking about money altogether — even with that inner circle — it's time to address the fear.

Talking about money allows you to plan ahead. It enables you to create a better budget, deal with financial surprises and most importantly, develop a healthy relationship with your money. After all, your money is a tool, and the only way to use it effectively is to become comfortable with its existence.

13. You Can't Talk About Anything Else

When you look at the world, you see dollar signs. In fact, your value system is built around how much something costs or how much someone makes. And this obsession will manifest in one of two ways: you're either driven to make more and spend more because you feel it increases your status or you're exceptionally frugal and don't mind telling the world every time you saved a dime.

14. You Haven't Taken a Vacation, Bought a Car, Updated Your Wardrobe in Years

If you thought that relative with the broken shoelaces had gone to the extreme, you'd be right, but the mentality that pushes him to hoard his money is the same basic mentality that keeps you from enjoying life.

When was the last time you took a vacation? Bought a new car? Bought yourself anything nice?

Yes, I realize that's much easier to do when you have extra money to spend, but even the tightest budget should be able to accommodate at least some small "treat" for yourself now and then. A magazine, a new tube of lipstick, a new pair of shoes (even if they're off the clearance rack).

If you don't spend on yourself once in a while, you're basically working just to pay your bills. And what's the point in that?

Now it's your turn: How do you define your relationship with money? And how do you deal with hangups along the way?

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Guest's picture

I have done a lot of these. Right now, I am just working on stopping a few of these.

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