Managing Money Stress

Sue Bennett, PhD, ext. 320


Due to the global financial crisis, money matters are at the forefront of many peoples’ minds.  Money concerns are often listed as a top stressor for individuals.  In a recent stress survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, 76% of Americans cited money as a significant cause of stress (Molitor, 2010).  Because of its unique power to affect our sense of well being, it is especially important to understand our relationship with money.  Yet, even though people will cite finances as a major motivator for their behavior, most individuals do not closely examine their feelings or beliefs about this important topic.


Some argue this lack of understanding is due, in part, to a “money taboo” (Trachtman, 1999).  We are “seclusive, embarrassed, or conflicted about discussion of money” (Krueger, 1986, p. vii cited in Trachtman, 1999).  This cultural discomfort in directly acknowledging and understanding money motivations can significantly handicap individuals in understanding themselves and in making wise financial choices.


There are many possible consequences of having an unexamined relationship with money including anxiety, depression, shame, guilt, anger, beliefs of low self-worth, workaholism, feelings of under- or overentitlement, and self-destructive spending.  Also, conflict over money is considered to be a primary cause of divorce (Turkel, 1988 cited in Trachtman, 1999).  There is a shared belief (or fantasy) that money creates happiness despite evidence that after basic needs are met, additional money provides very little additional happiness (Meyers and Diener, 1997 cited in Trachtman, 1999).


Some suggest that our feelings about money are both deeply personal and interpersonal tapping into our basic beliefs about ourselves, others, and the world (Lloyd, 1997 cited in Trachtman, 1999, Trachtman, 1999).  Financial beliefs and behaviors may be shaped by individual economic circumstances while growing up, parents’ money attitudes, and more subtle personality factors.  For example, someone who generally felt disempowered growing up may not as an adult recognize opportunities to empower him/herself generally including within the financial arena.


Therapy is an ideal place to work on understanding one’s relationship with money.  In a culture where money talk is often shushed, therapy provides the space and safety to explore the relevant issues.  Underlying issues related to identity, self-worth, and relational security can be considered with sensitivity and care.


While an in-depth examination of one’s financial beliefs is likely the most powerful way to transform one’s relationship with money, there are strategies that can assist anyone in managing financial stress.  Nancy Molitor (2010) has provided tips to manage financial stress such as:


1. Avoid over- or underreacting to media reports.  Gather data about your individual situation.


2. Make a clear financial plan and stick to it.


3. Don’t funnel financial stress into self-destructive behavior.  Address finances directly.  Get help, if necessary, from a professional.


4. Use a financial crisis as an opportunity to try new healthy behaviors or develop new skills.


5. Seek professional support. In addition to therapists, non-profit agencies exist which offer low-cost or free counseling and advice to individuals struggling with debt or budgeting.







Kreuger, David. (Ed), (1986). The Last Taboo; Money as Symbol and Reality in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis. New York: Brunner/Mazel.


Lloyd, Carol. (1997). “Cents and sensibility – we readily talk about our addictions, so why can’t we discuss our dividends?,” New York Times Magazine, Dec.28, 50.


Meyers, David G. and Diener, Ed. (1997). The new scientific pursuit of happiness. The Harvard Mental Health Letter, V.14, No.2: 4-7.


Molitor, N. (2010, November) Managing your stress in tough economic times. APA. Retrieved November 3, 2011, from


Trachtman, R.  (1999). The money taboo: Its effects in everyday life and in the practice of psychotherapy. Clinical Social Work Journal, 27(3), 275-288.


Turkel, Ruth Ann (1988). “Money as a mirror of marriage.” Journal of the Academy of Psychoanalysis, 16:525-535.