“I feel a pit in my stomach when I look my personal finances. I get overwhelmed and shut down. Money just makes me so nervous.” -Jacqueline, 42 year old divorced mother and career professional
Have you ever felt like Jacqueline? If so, you are not alone. Eighty-one percent of women worry about money and forty-eight percent of Canadians say they have lost sleep because of financial worries. Similarly, 44% of Americans report that money is their largest stressor.
In addition to day-to-day concerns, women report feeling anxious about running out of money in retirement, becoming sick and unable to work, and needing to financially support a loved one. For some, anxiety is a motivator to take action. For others it fuels avoidance.
Whatever your reaction, know it is human to be emotional about money. The problem isn’t that you have feelings about your finances; it is what you do with them.
Behavioral finance is the study of how psychology impacts financial habits and decision-making. While finance is often viewed as a logical, intellectual exercise, behavioral finance has shown that money management and investing is heavily influenced by human thoughts and feelings. The good news is once you are aware of what you are feeling, then you can use that information to make better financial choices.
Here are five steps for turning your anxiety about money into positive actions.
Don’t bury your head in the sand.
It you have more flight than fight, you may have a tendency to hide from difficult situations. Avoidance may provide relief in the short run, but makes a small problem bigger. Instead embrace your anxiety as a sign to be paid attention to. Simply saying to yourself or a trusted friend, “I am stressed about money” can help.

Jacqueline had never shared her money concerns with anyone. Once she told a friend from her divorced support group, she felt relieved. Turns out many women go through a phase of monetary uncertainty after their marriages end.

Identify what’s underneath the anxiety.
Anxiety is a socially acceptable feeling, and one that many women are comfortable expressing. However, anxiety often masks other emotions such as anger, frustration, and hurt. Take time to get curious about what might be underneath your worry. Ask yourself, what else might I be feeling besides anxiety?
Jacqueline worried a lot about not proactively managing her finances. Upon further reflection, she discovered that she was angry at her ex-husband for not including her in financial meetings with the couple’s advisor, and regretful that she hadn’t taken an interest in the family finances when they were still married.
Take one small step toward change.
Changing money behaviors takes time and typically happens through a series of small steps. Now that you know more about your emotions, identify one action you can take to change the situation. Keep it small and doable so you can experience little successes as you move toward a resolution.
The one step Jacqueline took was to ask members of her divorce support group for a referral to a female-friendly advisor. She didn’t put pressure on herself to make an appointment. Her only goal was gathering information.
Notice new feelings as they arise.
Expect to experience additional feelings when you begin to take action. It is normal to fear change, or be apprehensive about doing something different with your money. Just notice when these new emotions surface. Let them wash over you and consider what insights can be gleaned from them.
Jacqueline felt her heartbeat quicken and her palms sweat as she sat in the advisor’s office. It was her good old friend, anxiety. This time she quickly noticed her feelings and shared them with the advisor. She feared she didn’t know enough about investing. The advisor reassured her that she could learn more and could invest a small amount to practice as a way to boost her confidence.
Learn from mistakes.
There is no right or wrong way to manage money and plan for your financial future. Instead of trying to be perfect, welcome money mistakes into your life. Use each opportunity to learn and grow so you can avoid repeating the same errors.
Over time, Jacqueline learned more about investing, created a budget, and proactively planned for her financial future. Increasing her financial knowledge, working with a trusted advisor, and using her emotions to help determine her next steps proved beneficial. She made some money mistakes, and learned something new each time.
The next time your anxiety bubbles up, take a deep breath and remind yourself that a healthy relationship with money involves both your rational and your emotional mind. Then follow the five steps and turn your anxiety into action.
5 Signs You Are Anxious about Money

  1. You avoid opening bills when they arrive in your inbox or mailbox.
  2. You check your bank balance multiple times a day so you can breathe.
  3. You avoid discussing finances with your partner or friends because you don’t want to fight.
  4. You lose sleep due to worrying about an investment, your spending habits, or fears about making enough money compared to your friends.
  5. You want to learn more about finances but you worry you will look stupid.

By Kathleen Burns Kingsbury
Kathleen Burns Kingsbury is a wealth psychology expert, founder of KBK Wealth Connection, host of the Breaking Money Silence® podcast, and the author of several books including How to Give Financial Advice to Women, How to Give Financial Advice to Couples, and Breaking Money Silence®. For more information, www.breakingmoneysilence.com.