Money freaks me out. I’m afraid to spend it and stress every time I have to pay any bills because I’m worried the check is going to bounce. Money stresses me out and lives in a little anxiety ball in the back of my mind.

Because of this fear, my relationship to money is terrible. I’m constantly comparing products at the grocery store (usually there are pennies of difference in cost) and shopping clearance racks. I even question things I need to order to avoid spending money.

This is a problem. While being money conscious is always a good idea, the stress that accompanies it is not healthy. To help relieve some of this stress, consider these ways to improve your relationship with money.

1. Follow a budget.

A budget lets you know where you stand and where you’ll be once your expenses go through. With a budget, you have measurable control and know exactly where your money is going (as long as you track everything accurately). By parsing out how much you can spend on each category in your life ahead of time, you guarantee that you have the funds for each thing as long as you follow those limits.

If your hang up with money is feeling like every expense is going to break the bank and you won’t have the money you need for your necessary expenses, a budget can help calm this stress. A budget eliminates the surprises and allows you to anticipate expenses instead of being blindsided. But again, you have to be honest and track every expense.

A survey from Bankrate.com found that while 82 percent of Americans keep a budget, about a third of them just write it out on paper and 20 percent only do so in their heads. So even if you have a loosely planned budget, there may be a more effective way to utilize it to improve your relationship with money.

If you’re comfortable using spreadsheet formulas, you can set up a simple budget with Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets. Our free budget spreadsheet is available in the Resource Library.

Need a little more guidance? There are many programs (some free!) that can help you get your finances in check. Check out our review of YNAB here.


2. Be honest about your spending habits.

Do you tend to indulge in retail therapy? Are you victim to impulse purchases? Are you an extreme penny pincher? What is your money-spending style?

Figuring out where you stand on the spectrum is an important part of understanding your relationship to money because it shows how you treat money.

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The first step is admitting what your problem is. Once you understand this, you can figure out how to avoid the extremes and develop a healthier relationship.

There are a couple of quick fixes that can help move you into more neutral territory.

  • Retail therapy indulger: shop thrift stores and set a budget. Shopping at Goodwill or a local thrift store can calm the hurt of spending money and can open up your search to some unique finds. Setting a budget for you decompression method can also help you from going overboard. I’m all for treating yourself, but don’t let the wants of your present self hurt the wallet of your future self.
  • Impulse purchaser: make a list and avoid going to the store hungry. My dad once went to to grocery store hungry and came home with a bulk-size box of cream puffs. While we enjoyed them, the purchase could’ve been avoided. Whenever you go to a store, even if it’s just to grab a couple of things on the way home from work, make a list and check it twice. Know exactly what you’re getting when you go in and only leave with those things. Only buy what you need and avoid particularly tempting aisles if you need to.
  • Extreme penny pincher: let yourself spend. I’m going to give you permission right now to spend money. I can appreciate keeping the belt tight if you’re low on funds. Trust me, I’ve been there. But make sure you’re not keeping yourself from enjoying life if you can afford it. Indulging every now and then when you have the funds. You have permission to buy brand names every now and then.

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3. Set short-term and long-term goals.

With your budget in hand, you can start setting aside money for things down the line. Setting goals can help you be more active with your money and make saving some coin worth it.

Set both short-term goals and long-term goals to have a reason to save:

Short-term goals: I would categorize short-term goals as something that is under $2,000 or another amount that can be achieved in under year. These could include anything from upgrading your computer to getting on top of your debt to even setting up an emergency fund for yourself (which I highly recommend doing anyway because you never know). Having a short-term money saving goal provides a good incentive that you’ll be able to literally cash in to reward yourself.

Long-term goals: These are anything that cost more than $2,000 and can be achieved in the next one to five years. Long-term goals can include buying a house, paying off all your debt, or planning a big trip. These goals will feel more satisfying to achieve and may even bring you some relief when they’re realized.

Add these goals into your budget and be specific with how much it will take to achieve that goal. Even if you only put away $10 a month towards any of your goals, that’s $10 more than you had when you were just dreaming about it that once in a lifetime trip to Machu Picchu.

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4. Know the why behind your relationship with money.

I’m afraid of money. I hate spending money on myself and I don’t remember the last time I bought clothes that weren’t on sale. I know I’m like this because money was an issue while I was growing up. We were never broke, but there definitely was that stress and tension in the house. My husband on the other hand, grew up with parents who have disposable income to spare. For him, nothing is out of reach and he always wants the newest and shiniest stuff.

Knowing why you spend or save the way you do can help you address some of the anxieties you have around money, especially if your financial situation has changed. If you’re financial situation is now comfortable and allows you to be more open with your pocketbook, but you still find yourself afraid to spend money, address that. If the opposite is true, ensure that you know the risks and consequences of not understanding how to save and scrimp.

Book recommendation: You Are a Badass at Making Money by Jen Sincero (aff link)

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5. Understand money is a necessary evil, but there are ways to partner with it.

Money makes the world go ‘round, there’s no getting around that if you want to participate in modern society. Unfortunately, that means almost everything costs money and life is expensive. It’s a huge stressor for most people and the cause of a lot of anxiety, especially when there’s no room for emergencies in your paycheck to paycheck lifestyle.

But we can work with it. Money is necessary, but it can also be molded to fit our needs and our income levels. We can take control of it; it doesn’t have to control us.


By recognizing our spending habits and the reasons why we have certain tendencies, we can develop a better relationship with money. Building a budget and sticking to it is a good place to start facing those fears and impulses.

Money is a major part of our society, there’s no denying that. But our relationship to money can be improved and doesn’t have to be feared.