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How To Move Past Childhood Money Scarcity Anxieties

Simone Johnson  |  June 27, 2019

Do you have anxiety about your money disappearing? These tips can help you move past your insecurities and break the cycle. 

Given that nearly 80% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, it’s probably safe to say that many of us fear running out of cash. And if you were raised in a household where income was unpredictable, those fears may seem all the more real — and they may manifest in a number of different ways.  This is true even if financially you’ve moved beyond having to be insecure. Perhaps your stress strikes when you’re spending on food. Maybe it’s when your career is involved. For many, insecurity looms when trying to make sure you have the right clothes, shoes, or look to fit in.  

Whatever way it hits you, money anxiety sucks. But fear only wins when we don’t acknowledge it. Staring it in the face allows you to correct harmful practices that may be rooted in feelings of insecurity or inadequacy.  Here’s a look at how to move forward. 

IF YOU HAVE FOOD INSECURITIES… 

If you grew up scanning restaurant menus for the most affordable items, chances are you already know that in most cases, the burger will be cheaper than the salad. Likewise, If you grew up in a low-income neighborhood, it’s possible that your family didn’t always have access to fresh fruits and vegetables.  You may have plenty of money to shop healthfully now — and yet, you don’t. What’s the right move?  

No, you don’t immediately have to trade in your Cap’n Crunch for quinoa, but if you find you’re only eating fast food, take a beat and tackle your grocery list one item at a time. Start by simply buying more fruit, or even consider joining a community garden or food co-op where fresh veggies are super cheap. Cooking at home will always, always save you money. The average American household spends more than $3,000 dining out every year, and some families estimate they’ve been able to save as much as $10,000 just by cooking at home. 

It’s worth noting: Food insecurity doesn’t only affect what you eat — it can also influence how much you eat. If you grew up in a household where trips to the grocery store were stretched out a little further than your stomach could manage, those cycles of deprivation have been known to create unhealthy food intake when food is available, according to a report from the Food Research and Action Center. If overeating is a problem for you, try calming your nerves by creating a backup plan, explains Letizia Adorno, a psychotherapist. Cushion your concerns by stocking up on bulk items in your kitchen pantry, and by creating an emergency fund in a separate savings account, just in case you have a difficult month. 

IF YOU HAVE JOB INSECURITIES… 

If your family didn’t have stable sources of income when you were growing up, you may have career worries, or anxiety around losing your job, Adorno explains. “After you get a certain job, you may feel a strong level of imposter syndrome, feeling that you don’t belong there and that your job could be pulled away any second,” she says. To help calm your nerves, put your anxiety to work — literally. Get a part-time job so that you know you always have a second source of income to fall back on and don’t stop networking, Adorno suggests.   And make sure you always know where you stand with your employer. Request performance reviews on a regular schedule, then keep yourself accountable.

IF YOU STRUGGLE WITH SELF DOUBT…

Many adults who grew up struggling financially may feel “unlucky,” or have negative thoughts about their chances of success, Adorno says. Thankfully, this couldn’t be further from the truth — you are just as deserving of success as anyone else. If you don’t believe us, take it from Oprah. Reading her memoir (or countless other inspirational autobiographies) will help you realize that you’re not alone. “Reading these kinds of narratives can also help you navigate your own anxieties and financial journey,”  Adorno says. 

Keep in mind that negative thoughts can also be managed through daily affirmations, said aloud.  “I am in control. I am worthy. I am deserving. I am good enough,” are just a few that can help silence your self-doubt, Adorno says. The goal is that pretty soon, you start to believe them. 

IF YOU WORRY ABOUT YOUR APPEARANCE… 

Ever heard the saying that someone is “more scared to look poor than to be poor?” This fear impacts many of us whose families weren’t able to afford new clothing or accessories growing up. Sometimes when we’re not confident in our appearance or possessions, we feel pressure to overcompensate by overspending, explains New York-based mental health counselor Taina Andujar. 

If you’re having trouble controlling your spending, Andujar suggests speaking to a therapist or counselor. Opening a dialogue can help you unpack your feelings and get a handle on your decisions and insecurities. 

SEEK SUPPORT

You’ve likely heard of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), but what about Underearners Anonymous? The organization provides support for people who don’t make a lot of money, and as with any other support or recovery group, you can get a sponsor or be buddied up with someone who can encourage you and help you manage your finances. Groups like these can go a long way towards helping you develop lifelong strategies that will allow you to overcome your financial fears, Adorno says. 

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