When our cash-flow situation looks good, we might be gung ho with our money goals, putting things on autosave or diligently socking away funds for that dream vacay, car upgrade, or what have you. All in all, we feel good about things. But when money is tight and we start to lean too hard on our credit card, or bills start piling up, we might avoid looking at our finances altogether.
To learn more, I talked to Amanda Clayman, a financial therapist and host of Death, Sex & Money's Financial Therapy on WNYC, on how money avoidance can show up, why it's harmful, and what those who suffer from it can do about it:
At its core, money avoidance is when we flat-out ignore our financial situation at all costs. The number-one sign of this is if you ask someone what their money management routine looks like and they have a totally blank response, says Clayman.
Here are some other telltale signs that someone might be money avoidant:
• Not looking at bank or credit card statements
• Putting off any money tasks
• Not having a clue how much money is in the bank
• Being late or missing bills altogether, or needing to catch up on months' worth of bills
• Have problems sticking to a budget or creating one in the first place
• Avoiding talking about money with friends or family
• Not having a clue where outstanding debt has gone
• Not tackling debt that has gone to collections
• Having bills on autopay without having consciousness around their money
The root of money avoidance is that thinking about money, looking at our bank statements, or attempting to manage our finances can bring up feelings of shame, anxiety, worry, and overwhelmingness.
Ironically, money avoidance creates more money problems. "When we finally do take a look at our money, the experience is so unpleasant that what we've unwittingly done is reinforce the habit of avoidance," says Clayman.
Being money avoidant can create a slew of problems: We might pay a bunch of late fees for not keeping close track of cash flow or forget to pay a bill on time. Or because our credit scores may be lower, we might have to pay higher interest rates on a loan or credit card.
Now comes the fun part — or the actual work, rather — to get past bouts of money avoidance, we need to acknowledge the avoidance and the reasons for our avoidance, says Clayman.
If you feel that your financial life is just too big and too out of control, and as soon as you open that "box," it's going to take over your entire day, you won't be able to do it, says Clayman. Instead, set aside a specific chunk of time each week for money management.
Finally, avoidance is not a signal to plow through or ignore. Instead, avoidance is a signal to slow down and to unpack. "So instead of trying to push through and get it over with, we can sort of say like, oh, look, this is my avoidance. This is a sign that I need to be extra gentle with myself and to give myself extra time here," says Clayman.
Have you experienced money avoidance? Share what it feels like for you (or any tips that have helped you get through it) in the comments.
And for more stories about life and money, check out the rest of our personal finance posts.