Recently, my wife and I started watching New Girl again on Netflix. We typically do this with shows we like – we’ll rotate and start them over from the beginning.
Anyway, this episode was called “The Box” and was about one of the main characters, Nick, who put his bills and any other financial-related document, into this old cardboard box that he shoved in his closet.
He thought that if it was in the box, it went away and he didn’t have to deal with it. He had past due bills, unpaid parking tickets, and a deed to the car he lost. Yes, lost.
Jess, the main character you probably see anytime you see an ad for this show, decides to take some money Nick inherited and pay off some of these bills. Bad idea.
To make a long story short, Nick truly thought that he didn’t have to pay them as long as they were in his cardboard box.
So it got me thinking… Even though this is a funny show, do people seriously have these types of psychological money disorders?
The Onsite workshop
I did a little research and found a great little series of articles by Julie Cazzin (@) from MoneySense on money disorders. Julie attended a workshop called Onsite, which is for people with severe money-related disorders, and met some interesting folks.
One woman, for instance, gets an ‘allowance’ from her seemingly fake rich husband every month. She says that money just burns a hole in her pocket so she has to spend it.
Only she doesn’t spend it on herself, she buys stuff for other people.
A noble gesture, sure, but when the husband found out – he cut her off and told her to go ‘fix herself’.
Ms. Cazzin says that having a severe money disorder isn’t common – in fact, only 5% of adults have one. It’s also the result of a much deeper-rooted issue…
“The truth is, you’re only as sick as your secrets and people with money disorders keep a lot of secrets,” says Ted Klontz, a psychologist and life coach who, along with his son Brad (also a psychologist), runs the Onsite program. The Klontzs are also the authors of Mind Over Money, and Wired for Wealth, two ground-breaking books in the field of financial psychology. “When people come for help around money, it goes so much deeper than what is in their bank accounts,” says the elder Klontz. “It’s a window into unresolved family histories and generational patterns. It’s often unresolved traumatic childhood events that end up triggering money disorders.”
The whole concept of the workshop is to identify what they’re calling money scripts – powerful ideas that form around money and how they affect us. This could be something like ‘money buys things which make me happier’, which could lead to hoarding.
The 7 deadly money disorders
Ms. Cazzin identifies 7 major ‘deadly money disorders’, which I’ll briefly break down (and urge you to go read the full articles on your own):
- Compulsive spending
- Financial incompatibility
- Financial enabling
- Financial incest
The one that REALLY stands out to me is underspending. It’s like extreme frugality. Let’s dive a little deeper.
While these are in fact very serious psychological disorders, and I assume you don’t have them, try to think about the concepts and what you might take away from each one as you read through.
“Hoarding occurs when we stockpile objects or money in order to feel safe and relieve anxiety. It’s an example of an otherwise positive behaviour — saving — taken to the extreme.”
Yikes. This one comes as no surprise to me – they make TV shows about it for crying out loud.
People hoard as a safety blanket and because they have unusual emotional attachments to things. It provides them a sense of security.
The thought that comes to my mind is how we may hoard money as a sense of security.
Instead of putting our savings on auto-pilot and directing it into an investment or retirement account, we might just hoard cash in our homes or stick all of our money in low-interest savings account with the notion that it provides a sense of security.
Does it though?
I can’t argue that having emergency savings on hand is a great idea. In fact, I agree that you should have three to six months of savings stashed in an easily accessible savings account.
This usually means a low-interest savings account. But again, we’re talking about extremes.
If you’re stock-piling all of your savings as cash in a jar at home or in a crappy savings account – you have to stop it.
As Ms. Cazzin lays out, you might be doing this because you have a deep insecurity about the future.
Non-money hoarders typically solve this issue by seeing a psychologist, who will help them get rid of clutter in their home and break the emotional attachment they have to material things.
So what do you do if you’re hoarding money?
First, you have to address the fact that you’re probably insecure about the future and what might happen.
Yet you’re actually losing money by leaving it in a low-interest savings account because of inflation.
So you’ve got to do something with the money.
My suggestion if you’re really nervous about the future is to keep six months of savings on hand in a low-interest savings account. You won’t really earn anything, but it’ll give you a security blanket if you need cash.
Next, put your money into a Roth IRA or personal investment account and stick to low-cost index funds or retirement funds that are more weighted toward safer investments, such as bonds.
As always, though, seek an investment pro before making any major decisions and you’re unsure of what to do.
2. Compulsive Spending
“…[compulsive spenders] try to achieve safety, comfort and affection by spending excessively on themselves and others.”
The non-extreme version of this more common than we probably care to admit. Living below your means is hard for many people.
While you may not be a compulsive overspender, I’m sure there’s been a time or two where you’ve spent money on something you later regretted or spent way too much at the grocery store because you were hungry when you shopped.
For those people, it’s as simple as recognizing the money mistake and learning from it. What about when you’ve got a serious spending problem though?
First – know that you’re not alone.
As a credit analyst, my job was to stop overspenders in many cases, by taking away their credit. I would see normal, everyday people rack of 30, 40, 50 thousand dollars in credit card debt.
When I’d ask them how they accumulated it, many times it was “I don’t know”.
People buy stuff to make them feel something. It satisfies some need inside.
According to Ms. Cazzin’s piece on compulsive spending,
“A common cause of compulsive spending is deprivation during childhood. Overspenders were often teased and bullied for not having the right clothing or toys. They convince themselves that if they could only get the most popular style of sneakers or the latest electronic gadget, they could finally become happy. Overspenders learn early in life that shopping provides a temporary escape from worry and anxiety — whether from a traumatic past, depression, dissatisfaction with life, or a general feeling of emptiness.”
So what to do if you’re an overspender?
It’s like going on a diet. Baby steps.
First, you’ll want to stop making excuses and try some of these things:
- Set goals for yourself
- Create a budget
- Switch to cash
- Check and understand your credit report
- Cut up your credit cards
- Get into credit counseling (if needed)
- Do some hacks to beef up your savings
And don’t forget to reward yourself. Like a diet, if you deprive yourself of things you want, you’ll end up failing.
Just keep it within reason and don’t forget you ask yourself my favorite question:
Will this purchase add to my quality of life?
If at the end of the day, you’re still having a real problem with overspending, know that it’s okay to seek professional help.
This is the extreme cheapskate. The person who takes frugality too far (yes, you can).
I’ve probably talked about my old real estate investment professor before, but I’ll do it again to make this point. He always said that the person who dies with the most stuff wins.
That’s what I think of when I think of underspending. People so cheap that they won’t spend a dime of their money, and they ultimately die with tons of wealth. In fact, think Scrooge from A Christmas Carol.
“Recently, researchers got some insight into why that happens when they discovered that it physically pains chronic underspenders to part with their cash. Like money hoarders, such extreme misers worry constantly about money even if they have healthy savings and little debt. But in their case, the disorder is more an aversion to spending more than a desire to stockpile. They’ll leave an embarrassingly small tip at a restaurant, and when they shop they tend to haggle excessively over quality and price to get a better deal. The underspender’s income makes no difference — he could be the president of a corporation making $500,000 a year, or a bartender making $30,000.”
I guess if you’re leaving your family a ton of inheritance, it’s a nice gesture, but at what point do you decide to enjoy the life you’ve been given?
How do you stop underspending?
Frugality for frugality’s sake is nothing more than being a cheapskate.
If you’re going to live below your means, that’s great! But have a goal in mind!
Do you want to retire early? Do you want to move?
In other words, what’s your permanent paradise?
Ms. Cazzin’s article on underspending recommends things like going out to dinner with friends or going on vacation as solutions to underspending. I totally agree.
As my friend Steve from TSR put it, spend money on experiences, not things.
4. Financial Incompatibility
I don’t see this as a disorder in and of itself. This is when a couple doesn’t see eye to eye on money, which I think can lead to huge relationship problems.
But I wouldn’t call it a disorder.
I do think that one (or both) people in a relationship may have money disorders, which could lead to some even more serious issues.
The story discussed in the article on this talks about a guy who began hiding his purchases from his wife because she’d get so pissed at him when he spent money.
The wife had grown up in a household where money was tight, so she had many different views than the husband did.
Ultimately these dramatic differences ended up causing serious issues.
But what if we’re “financially incompatible”?
It’s incredibly important to discuss money with your partner before you get married.
If you guys can’t at least see eye-to-eye on finances, it’s going to be a hell of a ride making it work in the long-run.
If you don’t see eye-to-eye or just have completely different philosophies on money, there are plenty of things you can do, such as going to a group discussion or class on personal finance together and talking about it afterward.
Talking is HUGE.
“If you and your partner don’t see eye to eye about money, there are a few things you can do at home to make things better. Start by communicating and really listening to one another. Set up a weekly meeting to talk about any money and behaviour issues that have arisen over the past seven days. The key is to enter into the meetings agreeing that there will be no laying of blame, and neither partner is completely at fault.”
Aside from Ms. Cazzin’s excellent piece on this, here are a couple of other resources to help:
5. Financial Enabling
“Financial enabling is short-term help that hurts in the long run. It often involves a parent of substantial means who uses his or her money to try to keep the kids needy and dependent forever.”
I’m sure many of you know someone who is an FE (financial enabler). I surely do.
A few weeks ago I was having coffee with a friend of mine, not much older than me, who’d recently gotten a promotion and was now making quite a bit more money.
On top of having a second kid this year, he also built a new home.
He has DirecTV, all the movie channels, and pays extra for NFL Sunday Ticket.
He as a top of the line smartphone and claims to need tons of data, so he pays for a big ass data package.
This guy is a spender, and he definitely upgraded his lifestyle when his pay increased.
So as we’re talking, he mentions how his older kid (about 5) gets pretty much anything he wants.
He sounded annoyed when he said it too like it was the kid who was out there spending the money.
In reality, the kid gets whatever he wants because my friend buys it for him.
My friend said he didn’t grow up in a wealthy family, either. He wasn’t poor, but he didn’t get any and everything he wanted.
He was then complaining about how kids these days grow up privileged and won’t ever learn to want anything. They’ll just expect it all.
Gosh, I wonder why that will happen?
Needless to say, my buddy is an FE. He’s enabling his kid.
What’s going to happen when the kid grows up and does expect it all? Who does this primarily fall on?
So how do you solve financial enabling?
Ms. Cazzin suggests practicing saying “no” to your grown children who are still asking for handouts.
I agree, but think there’s a deeper root cause.
It’s the one I laid out in the story above. It starts at a young age.
Don’t enable your kids from an early age and they won’t grow up needing to be enabled.
This one is pretty clear-cut. If you work in any type of job, especially a corporate environment, you have seen this.
It’s the person who gets to the office early, works non-stop during the day, stays late, then goes home and works.
Regarding money, many people experience workaholism because of money and the respect that comes with the money.
People feel like they don’t have enough of it.
They need more.
And they need to prove something.
I’m all about having a good work ethic, but at what cost?
Workaholics might reach that desired position at work they’ve wanted forever.
They might get a nice corner office with a view of the city. With all of that, they’ll surely get the fat paycheck.
But they run the risk of (if they’re not already) becoming fake rich.
They may have worked so hard their whole life that they’ve missed out on things that are truly important, like family.
A job is something we all take for granted. You can be a workaholic, bust your ass for years and years, get the job, then have it taken away from you at a moment’s notice.
It happens. Life happens.
How do I stop being a workaholic?
From my vantage point, there’s no upside to being a workaholic. You’ll quickly burn out and the money and respect just aren’t worth it.
But we’re talking about disorders. First, workaholism is usually born from some deeper rooted issue (like all of these disorders).
Ms. Cazzin tells a story about a guy who eventually took to drugs, alcohol, and food as a means of coping with his workaholism.
As a solution, she suggests starting small:
“To stop workaholic behaviour, start small. Gradually cut down the number of hours you work each week. Make it a rule not to work weekends. That may mean delegating more tasks to others or being less of a perfectionist. As well, along with the regular meetings you schedule every day, schedule a set period of time daily for a short walk, trip to the gym or simply a half hour at the coffee shop to read a book for pleasure.”
7. Financial Incest
“Financial incest happens when adults force their children to take on an unreasonable, inappropriate role in their finances or relationship. It often happens when a parent doesn’t feel she has a satisfying relationship with her spouse or partner. Examples include using a child as a go-between in arguments about money (common in divorce), putting pressure on a child to work excessively to pay household bills, or expecting a child to keep a financial secret from another family member.”
This one is totally messed up. Parents may make you feel guilty or responsible for something that’s actually their financial problem.
Being that they’re your family and you feel bad, you could end up hurting your own financial position to improve theirs.
Another big part of financial incest is exhibiting learned money behaviors that your parents showed. Maybe you’re the parent who is over-involving your children in the family finances.
“If you find yourself involving your kids too much in the family finances or relying on them as you would on a spouse, it’s a sign that your marriage is under extreme stress. The solution is to take your anxiety, frustration, and financial stress to a therapist or adviser and avoid involving your children in issues that you need to resolve yourself. You should admit to your child that you were wrong to put so much responsibility on their shoulders at such a young age. Then ask a friend, therapist or planner to keep an eye on your behaviour and have them hold you accountable.”
I gotta be honest – this was one of my favorite posts to write. What started out as a blind curiosity from something I’d seen on a TV show ended up being a major learning experience.
I can’t thank Julie Cazzin enough for her inspiration (and quotes!) for this post. As I was writing, I learned a ton about some serious money disorders that people really have.
Again, while I’m sure none of you have any of these money disorders to the extreme, I’m hoping you learned something from the post and can connect it in some way to your financial life.
Please take a couple of minutes to comment below – share any experiences you’ve had with money disorders and what you may have learned from this post!
Chris is the founder of Money Mozart, a blog about personal finance. He discusses frugality, minimalism, and achieving financial independence by living well below your means. He’s also an avid craft beer lover and an aspiring minimalist.