Your Emotions and Your Money


Jason M. Fields, CFEI, CCRS

A Certified Financial Education Instructor, and the CEO of the Financial Promise Foundation, Inc., a non-profit organization that teaches personal financial and business literacy.



Before I can begin to teach financial literacy and the technical aspects of money, investing, budgeting, and or saving, I have often found that my students need to address how their emotions have impacted their behavior.

There are some things you need to know about your emotions and their relationship with money:

  • Emotions play a significant role.

  • Anxiety and avoidance can keep you trapped.

  • Psychologically, you must address your family and your past.

The most critical emotions when it pertains to money are fear, guilt, shame, and jealousy. It's worth spending some time to become aware of these feelings that are mostly tied to money for you because without understanding them, they can replace smart thinking and dictate your choices.

Many have the same fears, which often include the fear of not having enough, the fear of looking foolish, the anxiety of jealousy, and the fear of being shamed or guilted.

That said, one must understand that guilt and shame are not the same feelings. Guilt is feeling bad about specific negativity you have had on others, and shame, on the other hand, is how you feel about yourself when you've let yourself down.

Believe it or not, some people will feel guilty because they have more money than others, or they may feel guilty because they haven't been charitable, or money has come to them quite effortlessly.

Shame is one of the most frequent and controlling emotions associated with money and personal finance. It is the number one reason people avoid doing what they know they should. It's only natural to want to hide something you're ashamed about.

For example, here are some of the shameful feelings we have when it relates to our financial picture:

  • I don't have any money.

  • I don't want to think about my money or lack thereof.

  • I've avoided doing what I'm supposed to do about finances (creating a safety net, planning for retirement, sensible budgeting).

  • I'm dumb about all of this.

  • I spend way too much.

  • I go on a spending spree when I'm unhappy.


Shame intermingles with avoidance to keep you trapped. When you are full of being ashamed, the natural thing that many people do is avoid dealing with whatever is making them feel ashamed, trust me, I've been there. When that occurs, the next thing you know is that you haven't paid taxes, you haven't saved any money, or you getting that bill collector calling you. The problem with this is that it does help reduce your anxiety when you avoid these things in the short term. However, because it works, you will continue to do this over and over again.

This is how it happens. You finally get to a point when you say to yourself, "I'm going to sit down and take a hard look at my financial situation, and I'm going to create a game plan." But just as you start thinking about it, your anxiety level increases because now you're afraid you won't be able to face the reality that you may not be anywhere close enough to have saved for your kids' education, your retirement, or that significant goal you've always dreamed about achieving. Now, that anxiety leads to putting it off. You postpone creating a game plan and distract yourself with other projects. At that moment, your anxiety level drops, giving you positive reinforcement for not moving ahead with evaluating your financial situation. Once that occurs, you continue the cycle over and over again. But unfortunately, every time you have a drop in anxiety, it doesn't bring you back to the former distress level. As time goes on, your overall level of stress continues to increase.

Contrast this behavior by attacking the task head-on. When you face the facts, your anxiety temporarily rises. But, eventually and typically faster than you think, your overall level of anxiety will steadily decline if you stay with it. I tell most of my students that you have to tolerate that short-term increase in stress if you want to change your current financial situation.

In the end, you will find that dealing with the issue head on and facing facts is much better for you both emotionally and financially.


You must address Family and Childhood experiences

Every family in America has unique psychology of money. From what can be talked about, who should be in control of it, what roles are assigned to each, and how important money is or is not.

Moreover, all families have some story that fits a family's identity. Maybe a family member who often has the next big thing is the family member who has lost a ton of money, or perhaps it's the aunt who has made it and has decided to distance herself.

Many of us have experienced the family pressures to right the wrongs perpetrated by or suffered by previous generations. Maybe you feel it's best not to adopt the family motto as it relates to finances.

If you're the first to make it, maybe you might want to give back and neglect your own financial needs. Either way, to move forward wisely, we must do a deep dive into our family and childhood influences and experiences related to our emotions and money.


How to harness your money emotions


Emotions aren't always destructive. They let us know what matters to us. They can be accommodating when we use them to address what we need to face and begin to understand that we will feel better when we've done so.

The key is to be self-aware. Your unconscious rules most of your emotions. But it's not that hard to change if you know what to look for and have a blueprint for addressing, altering, and using those emotions to influence your relationship with money.