What are people afraid of when it comes to money?
That it will come between them and their partner. That the education it bought would lead to the income it should. That mistakes made with it can never be undone. That the debt will never be paid off, retirement will never be secure, and that no matter how much they make, it will never be enough. People are afraid money will cause rifts in their families, that it reflects some sort of personal failing in morality or intelligence, that is always outside their control. There doesn’t seem to be a number that makes our fears go away. Many of the people that confessed their fears said that no matter how much they earned or saved, they couldn’t shake the fear of it not being enough.
Many people feel helpless with money, and those that don’t, feel on the verge of it.
Reading the responses to my newsletter last week has been humbling and deeply reassuring. I can’t believe how many people were worried about the exact same things I was: being unable to help our parents, the feeling that just one thing like losing our jobs would erase all the progress we’ve made, the sense that we can not save enough.
Below are the responses I received to the question, “what are your deep dark financial fears?”. Heads up: this post is long. I often underestimate the size of the Money After Graduation community, which is why it was such a pleasure to hear from so many of you on such a nitty-gritty topic. Note that I have made minor edits to spelling, grammar, and broken text up to keep anonymity. I’ve also added links to related posts, when the topic fit in. Thanks to all of you for sharing! Anyone who missed the newsletter but can definitely relate, please don’t hesitate to share YOUR deep dark financial fear in the comments below!
What Are Your Deep Dark Financial Fears?
That poor money management will ruin my relationship.
“My biggest financial fear for the future is that an otherwise strong and healthy relationship will be ruined by my poor financial management skills”
“Although I am now on track with my finances, my fiance is terrible with money is frequently beyond the red and getting calls from his bank. Although we’ve talked about it numerous times and made budgets and plans, there is always a spanner in the works, mainly due to his low income. I fear that our wildly different financial profiles will come between us.”
“My saving money is fear driven. I’m scared because I just bought a home here in Calgary – which as you know is expensive – and although I love my boyfriend, I see that he really doesn’t care to understand money. I shoulder the stress of managing, saving and budgeting all alone. With the house purchase, I am hesitant to even have kids, as I feel like I can’t ‘afford’ them, which is a crappy feeling. I am scared that I will be the saver forever, and he will ever be the spender, and I will live with the anxiety of having to make him ‘get it’.”
“I mostly do the budgeting & bills myself. We use to do it together but hubby couldn’t handle the stress. We argued constantly because we have different ideas on how to pay things off. It saddens me that he won’t help me do this, when he does/did help make the debt. But we spend pretty much 24/7 together so I don’t push it anymore. I do feel better when I can tell him how worried and stressed I get. Sometimes I just don’t feel the budget stretches enough!
That the degree I went into debt for wasn’t worth it.
“My financial fear? I have $50,000 in undergraduate loans. My family is far from wealthy. Loans were the sole source for me being able to get through college. So now I have a BS degree , and I somehow find myself working at an entry-level salary afraid that my pursuit for higher education was an entire waste.”
“The biggest financial mistake I made was racking up over 30k in mostly consumer debt by trying to live the life of an adult on a grad student stipend. It’s mostly paid down, but it has seriously crippled my wealth accumulation in the first few years post-grad.”
That the financial mistakes I made years ago will haunt me forever.
“I’ve been in Canada since 2010 after my wife and I spent a good portion of our lives working on cruise ships. We saw the world for the fraction of what it would cost normally. And this year, after working five years in Canada, I have finally woken up to the scary reality of our financial future. If only I could talk to my 20-year-old self. Heck, I would settle for talking to my 30-year-old self. But I fear that I have woken up too late. I wish I had saved our tax-free, no-living-expenses income while working on cruise ships. We made some good moves (bought a house in South Africa and in Canada) but not enough.”
“I think the biggest fear is making big mistakes again. I’ve learnt but we all know how easy it can be to slip into bad habits.”
“My stupidest financial mistake was helping someone with a loan years back, and now paying it for myself, to the tune of 20K. This is my only consumer debt, and it’s not even mine.”
That my parents are not the financial position to take care of themselves.
“My 54 year old mum, who has been unemployed for something like 5 years now, filed for bankruptcy recently and solely relies on financial aid at the moment. I can’t really help her should anything bad happen to her. My dad is accumulating debt after some really bad decisions, and he’s now trying to make things better but in a rather risky way (for his financial future). Also, he’s a freelancer now and he didn’t really save much for retirement, which means he’ll either live on a very small pension, or he’ll have to work until he’s too sick/old to continue…”
“About a month before I was to move half way around the world, my mum asked for a loan. I didn’t have the money but I had excellent credit in my home country so I was approved for a loan. (I know, I know, stupid mistake, many hours have been spent lamenting this) She assured me she would take on the payments and it wouldn’t be my problem. Although she stayed true to her word for a few months, eventually the payments started slipping. Rather than jumping on the problem immediately like I should have, I buried my head in the sand and avoided the calls at odd hours from my bank (yay time zones). Finally, the loan was defaulted and they threatened to send it to collections which was when I finally wised up and organised a payment plan with the bank. Although the international transfer fees were a pain, I finally started seeing the balance drop. Earlier this year, I was approved a two year loan in this country at a better interest rate which I used to offer a settlement deal to my bank back home. This is my next debt goal to beat.”
“My fear for the future is that I have to also help my financially fucked parents, and I won’t be able to either. I’m scared of being poor.”
That no amount of money will shake the feeling that I don’t have enough.
My husband and I are debt-free, we are very close to having what we call our Secure Fund, enough money to cover our basic expenses for six month, he just got a new job he’s very excited about and where he’s being paid more than now, and we’re building our business together… But somehow, I see that I still have moments when I’m extremely stressed, even panicked, about money and our financial situation! I know most of my thoughts aren’t very rational, but I can’t help it, maybe because when I was a kid, my family went through some really really rough patches… I’ll always remember that time we went to pick up free food at a charity cause we couldn’t afford it otherwise, or when my dad would cook only pasta for days on end, cause it’s cheap (I was little so to me, since I love pasta, it was fun, but later, I asked my mum why she hates pasta, and understood her trauma from that period).”
That I don’t really deserve the income I earn and the money I have saved.
“There was a time in the not so distant past when I had less than $5K in the bank, no budget or plan, and a pile of debt. I didn’t seem too concerned at the time. These days, I have over $120K in the bank and I am more careful with money than ever! Isn’t it strange how that works. Like this illogical fear that someone is going to come and take it all away. Like you, I remind myself that I deserve the $80K a year they pay me and although it is more than enough money it doesn’t mean I have to stop trying to advance my career (and earn even more money).”
“I’m afraid that no matter how much money I make, I’ll always feel like I’m two steps behind everyone else. I’m constantly comparing myself to the people that I’m closest to and feel like I’m lagging.”
That we will never become debt-free.
“My first money fear is retirement. Both my husband and I went through divorces and each payed our ex spouses out ALOT of money (house equity, businesses, etc). My husband actually had to claim bankruptcy over it. He’s been discharged for 3 years now but it’s literally a blank slate. He’s 43 and I’m 34 and it feels like we’re never going to be able to be completely debt free, let alone secure enough to retire. We have 5 boys (yours, mine and ours) and two of our kids are special needs. What will happen to these two if we can’t get our shit together? I don’t want our other kids to be monetarily responsible for them. To be fair, they each have a decent RDSP percolating, but still.”
“My biggest financial mistakes are charging to the credit card (mostly) stupid things that were not in my budget. I guess I don’t budget the real thing sometimes – my budget is not rational.”
“Over the years, I’ve never had too much debt (I’ve capped out at about $5,000) but I have a bad habit of racking it all back up just as quickly as I got rid of it. It’s a vicious cycle which I’m trying to break.”
“I’m in my 40’s and even after we paid all our scary health issues plus credit card debt off from ’04-05, I thought I/we had learned our lesson and mostly did.. except we didn’t. I mean we paid IN FULL the Disney trip for family but the little extras like when we were in Disney, trinkets from Harry potter park, etc. I started “justifying” this souvenir or have-to-have that T-shirt. There are 5 people in my family so of course if I got something, so did everyone else. Long story short we racked up our 3 credit cards again.”
That I cannot survive a single financial setback.
“What scares me most about our current money situation is that we’re only a few paychecks from losing everything if something goes sideways. We are both dependent on oil and gas professions (and make fairly decent money) and have been fortunate to keep working through this downturn, but it weighs heavily. So it’s a constant balancing act. Do we pay off our outstanding debt (thus reducing our output every month) or do we stash cash in order to pay for our daily lives (mortgage, bills, etc) if something happens and one or both of us ends up unemployed. Ugh!”
“I’m afraid that one serious shit-storm could still throw me off track. Even with my new five-figure retirement account, I am not comfortable with the buffer between me an disaster. I think I’d need about 10k in cash, and a net worth (of investments, not real estate equity) above 50k to start feeling a bit less worried.”
“My current situation right now is this: I’m in my late 20s, and going to get married this September, but I don’t have any emergency fund, and am carrying these enormous debts. I have no emergency fund, and no life insurance because I can’t afford to pay for life insurance.”
“I can handle my debt. I’m in this battle with my debt and optimist I am going to win against debt by September 2017, before I reach 30. But I’m afraid that if I lose my job, I can’t pay off my debt.”
“I worry about our future because my hubby & I run his parents’ business, which is not 100% secure. It fluctuates with construction/housing economy.”
“I work as a waitress/server in high end restaurants, but it’s impossible (ok, just difficult) to budget because each paycheck differs, scheduling is flexible and I receive no benefits, have no job security, and don’t know how to create a smart investment portfolio or save for retirement. I think a lot of college grads get job-locked into restaurant jobs because of the big tips: currently we’re making a lot more than our peers working in entry-level positions but aren’t working to advance our experience or position.”
That my children will make the same mistakes I did.
I too grew up in a low-income home — but in a coloured township in South Africa. My mum did a lot with a little and supported seven kids. You would think I would know better. I fear that I will neglect to teach my 3-year-old about money and she will make the same mistakes I made.”
That I will not have enough to retire comfortably.
I’m sure someone told me to save 10% of my salary. And I did, mostly. Maybe if someone told me near the start that if I saved 50% or more, that I could retire at 40. I’m 41 and I don’t think I will be retiring anytime before 70.”
“My biggest financial fear oscillates between not having enough in retirement, and not having enough to live my current life. I’m trying to find that balance between shorter term goals and enjoying my life.”
That my spending is too difficult to control, and I won’t be able to manage it to meet my goals.
“I fear that I will not be frugal enough to repair at least some of the damage of waiting too late. I am spending about 25% of my salary on debt and it’s working but I feel a profound sense of guilt when I go to a movie or go out to eat, with my future self just shaking his head. Every bit of spending I now do, I add six per cent per annum to reflect the true cost of what I am spending, as everything (besides investments and necessities) I don’t put into the debt, is money I don’t have, and therefore borrowing, and therefore accruing interest.”
“I don’t think I’m capable of keeping my shit together for retirement.”
“I’m worried on a micro level of one of my plans, where to save. I’m not well versed on the different vehicles of saving to get to my goal, and I’m hearing of other’s success and I regret not having started earlier. Having accomplished a retirement base, my goal is now trying to save for a down-payment on a house but it seems that I’ll always be playing the catch-up game to the market when trying to save 20%. FYI I’m not doing terribly, my financial picture is 30 for 30 on the 30 Financial Milestones You Need To Reach By Age 30 list.”
What helps you overcome these financial fears?
“I keep doing what I’m doing, remind myself why I’m doing it and stay consistent.”
“Thanks to you and Mr Money Mustache and YNAB and Wealthbar.com, I feel like, for the first time, I have a grasp, a handle even, on money matters.”
“Checking my retirement account balance growing, and seeing my debt go down. It’s hard to realize life and money take time – I can’t just expect everything to change in one month, so I need to look further back into the past to see the progress I’ve made, and will continue to make.”
“I work full time. I declutter stuff, sell them and collect money from them to repay my debts – little by little – until they are gone. I moved back to my parents’ home. I pack my lunch, said goodbye to starbucks and taxi to commutes – now I take the bus. I’ve learned to say no to every happy hour/after office hour meetings with my friends.
I really want to retire comfortably, I guess it’s my motive to want to stay debt free badly.”
“Sadly the only major trick that works is staying out of stores! Also, I DO NOT have current credit cards in my possession they are hidden. And we will just keep plugging along. ”
“I manage my fears by educating myself as much as I can about finances. By being frugal, budgeting, saving, investing and reading blogs like this to help me stay positive about how hard I work, and have worked to get myself where I am today.”
Thanks again for sharing, you brave souls! May we vanquish our money demons and fears together.
Wow. What responses, and gritty honesty. I guess we’re not all that different after all. Thanks for including my responses in there (I think I’m the only one who cursed, lol).
haha you’re not, there’s a few in there 😉
Wow, this is awesome(ly sad). Kudos to everyone who wrote with their fears with such honesty. It really makes me want to write a response post — would that be ok, do you think?
Go for it!
Let me know when it’s up and I’d like to share it on Twitter & FB!
I wonder if anyone else shares my fear of too much fear about money and the future, and how that can negatively impact my ability to enjoy what I have today. I share many of the worries expressed here and as a result do as much as I can to save for tomorrow. But I also think it is important to enjoy today. Does anyone else share my fear of striking the right balance?
Ding, ding, ding. We’ve been drilled to save, and it seems like we are constantly optimizing to save for retirement. Personally, I find the balance of enjoying life now, not when I’m 60 very difficult. I am a driven person, so when I see maxes on accounts (like RRSP or TFSAs) my first thought is “how can I max them out?”… but that’s not sustainable for me to have an enjoyable life now. And I also don’t need to save $20k+ per year. It’s still a work in progress, and I find it’s very cyclical.
I struggle with this too Ali.
I constantly wonder if I’ll look back and feel regret at not enjoying the present ‘enough’ due to my current money fears. I subscribe to a local travel deal site and am constantly battling booking a trip, I know I’ll enjoy (spend on memories/experiences and not things) or stay frugal and pay down more debt. With these fears comes guilt and doubt that many of us seem to have about spending on anything outside of the necessities. I feel like if you’re doing all the right things to secure your future, you definitely shouldn’t feel bad about enjoying your present, as long as it’s within what’s reasonable for you and your own circumstances. Who wants to be 40, 50, 60+, and look back and wish you had done so much more, right?
I feel this too! My sisters and cousins have all been on really exotic trips and sometimes I wonder if my two trips to Europe we “enough” for my whole twenties…. that seems so ridiculous to say because that’s pretty luxurious, but when I see people who have spent months or years traveling internationally (my fiance included), I feel a little left out.
Thank you for sharing such an intense & eye-opening post. Oftentimes digging into the PF blog sphere there’s a lot of positivity, but what about the other side of the spectrum? Vulnerabilities & fears loom, and I think bringing that to light allows for more support in the community of people that are working on their personal finance matters.
As Ali commented, I also struggle with finding that equilibrium between saving as much as I possibly can (retirement, short term goals, future goals, etc.), but also living in the present. There are opportunities and events now that I would like to participate in because they align with my values. How I work on this balance is saving ahead in preparation, that way I do not put myself in a poor financial position. Also, not adhering to lifestyle inflation. Every opportunity to earn more money (I.e. bonuses, raises, side income) is another chance to set aside more for my future goals.
Wonderful post, thank you for this!
Thanks Alyssa! I agree the PF blog community is really positive. I like that it’s upbeat because I think that keeps people motivated and inspired, but then when you have those really down days about your money it can feel really isolating.
I didn’t respond but my answers are all here… Especially this one: “I somehow find myself working at an entry-level salary afraid that my pursuit for higher education was an entire waste.” (Although I’m not even making an entry level salary. Bummer.)
It sucks that so many of us have so many money fears, but there’s something inspiring in knowing we’re not alone.
Thank you so much for sharing this, Bridget. It’s a fantastic post!
I’m glad you enjoyed it Amanda!
So many of my worries are listed above, which is reassuring but also scary. I guess I fear I will never be ok with what I have or what I am able to bring home or if it will ever be enough. I find myself worried about saving, that I don’t have enough for every category and when will I be done. I worry about not having enough to send my kids to university (and by kids I mean the ones I don’t even have it!! Yes I worry about that ha!).
Hopefully I will eventually stop worrying! Great post as always!
I feel the same way Laura! There are just SO MANY categories — it feels impossible to save for wedding, retirement, house, vacation, emergencies, etc etc all at the same time.
Glad you enjoyed the post!
Wow, what a powerful post, Bridget. Your readers have really put some of my own financial insecurities into perspective. It’s inspiring that you’ve built that kind of trust with your community.
Thanks <3 I was really overwhelmed by how many people opened up, and how much they shared. It's incredible how much we were all keeping "bottled up" about our finances!
Great post – you got so many honest and detailed responses which is cool. Nice to see that we are all human and have our own fears and worries, that sometimes are similar to everyone else.
O.M.MICKYFRICKY.GEE!!!!! I was too nervous to send you my fears but all of them are here. But what scares me the most is I will have to put my life on hold because my brother and I are paying for someone else’s mistakes and they feel like its our job to fix the mess they created. I want to tell them fix it themselves but it effects everyone not just them and if anything happened I would feel like it was my fault.
Wow what an incredible response by readers! This post is a great reminder that no matter what fear you have when it comes to money, there is someone else – likely MANY people – going through the same thing. I know there was a few things on this list that I can totally relate to.
It takes a strong person to admit fears and weakness. My biggest fear is losing my job and not being able to pay for my house. With mortgage almost paid off, that fear will soon be gone.
The one thing I notice is that there’s no ‘way to overcome; the many relationship woes which seem to mostly come from women postponing major life decisions because of their partners. It’s something I’ve begun seeing in my friends, where women start to feel that tick-tock in their thirties but the guys don’t get it at all and still act (spend) like they’re in their early twenties. Is there a way to overcome it? I don’t know the answer myself.
Such a great question and one I struggle with a LOT even though I don’t write about it very much. It took a long, long time for my fiance to “get it” when it came to how having a family would nearly obliterate my career in its current state, but would have zero consequences for him. I still don’t think men totally understand what it’s like.
This is truly amazing.
My biggest fear is that we won’t be able to own a house. That means no pets. That means, 99.9% guaranteed, living in cold damp rentals, and being forced to move more often than we’d like (bad enough normally, what about once we have kids?!) And what will rents cost when we are retired?
My other is just around our different money styles. I like to think we’ve found a good groove but it’s not perfect.
And lately, affording kids.