Many people assume they’ll achieve financial peace once they’ve saved a year-long emergency fund, paid off their mortgage, or have £1m in their stocks and shares ISA. Yet anxiety about money can occur no matter how much of it you have.
We know that not having enough money to cover basic needs can have severe consequences. The UK is currently experiencing the biggest drop in living standards for 70 years as prices rise at petrol pumps, shops and across household bills, which means that more and more people will feel the pinch.
But when we push the practicalities aside and focus on the psychological and emotional aspect of money, the amount a person has in the bank seems to have little impact on whether or not they feel anxious about money.
Money worries can stem from childhood
Money anxiety is something I occasionally experience myself, even though I make a living helping other people with their finances.
Being comfortable financially didn’t stop me stressing when my car is due its MOT. So where does this anxiety come from? The research shows, many of our money anxieties are rooted in childhood experiences.
When I was a child, my mum used to worry that her car would fail its MOT and she wouldn’t be able to pick us up from school. It was a 15-mile trip to and from school each day, so we relied on that car. Her fears rubbed off on me as a child. On MOT day, I’d spend most of the school day wondering whether I’d be able to get home.
30 years later, a car was due its first MOT. And as the day approached, I couldn’t shake the worry that it might fail.
As a paced around in my mind, trying to find rational reason, I simply couldn’t. So what if it cost £1,000, I have an emergency fund for just that? I couldn’t make it go away. And then I remembered. My mum would get really anxious in the run up and spend all day worrying about the outcome. I can’t remember whether the cars did or didn’t fail. She always picked us up! But, that underlying fear remained present, to this day.
We find new things to worry about
You’d think that as our net worth gets larger, we’d stop worrying about money. What tends to happen instead is that we find new things to worry about.
On a lower income, we might worry about paying the bills or getting out of our overdraft.
On a higher income, we might take our ability to do these things for granted. Now we’re feeling guilty for not maximising our pension contributions, worrying we’ve not taken out enough insurance, and lying awake at night wondering whether to overpay the mortgage or invest in the stock market.
Unfortunately, reminding yourself how lucky you are rarely seems to help. Why is this?
It’s easy to lose perspective
Even if you’ve come from humble beginnings, it’s easy to forget how much harder things used to be.
Over the course of your career, you may go from earning minimum wage to being a higher tax payer. You may convince yourself you’ve nothing left over once HMRC’s taken most of your pay cheque - even though you’re taking home four times what you used to.
You may be so used to saving money that it becomes difficult to break the habit. It can be difficult to shift that perspective, but it’s important to do that, otherwise the purpose of money becomes pointless.
When it came to my anxiety about my MOT, I couldn't make it go away completely, but it did help to understand it. Once I realised where my worries stemmed from, I felt a lot less anxious. I ignored the anxiety.
When I speak to clients, there’s often some form of underlying and deep rooted anxiety that's stopping them from enjoying their wealth. A barrier from doing and experiencing what they want from life. At the heart of good financial planning is the act of listening, identifying the concerns and giving people the confidence to live without fear or regret.
It’s actually much easier for someone like me - who’s listening but removed - to understand why the person feels the way they do. Often once I’ve explored that with them, they become as enlightened as me, as I realised why I was worried about my MOT. And from there we can create a path around the issue.
Take comfort in following a plan
This is where the planning comes in. Following a financial plan with structure and goals could help to calm your money nerves. By focusing on what you want the money to do, rather than the amount, you can shift your thinking from the details to the bigger picture.
Perhaps you’re putting £500 a month in your stocks & shares ISA, maxing out your pension or overpaying your mortgage. Whatever it is you’re doing, remind yourself of the end goal and next time you find yourself panicking about your finances, look at the facts.
· Do you have a solid emergency fund?
· Is your debt under control?
· Are you investing for the future?
· Do you have the right insurance?
· Is your financial planner confident in your ability to achieve your goals?
If the answer to the above questions is ‘yes’, then you can take comfort in the fact that the hard work has been done. It may seem unnatural to let go of money worries, but by trying to shift your thinking from the amount you have to what that money can do for you. You might find you start to see money differently.