When most people think of money addiction, an image of a gambling addict may come to mind, or someone who loves to flash their new designer outfit or their fancy car du jour.
It’s easy to spot these obvious manifestations. But the real trick is noticing the hidden signs—the ones that your friends, family, and maybe even you express.
The truth is, money addiction is at the root of under earning, overworking, compulsive shopping and spending, and even excessive saving.
You might be wondering, “How bad can it really be to be an overspender or a workaholic? What real damage can it do?” But when you peel back the curtain and find out what is driving your need to earn, to save, to spend—you’ll find that money is the mask you’ve chosen for your unique internal struggles.
As with any addiction, these behaviors will only get worse over time if they are not addressed. They will have a snowball effect on your life. A very common example that is becoming a cliché is the overworking husband and the overspending wife—both finding ways to fill the void of intimacy in their marriage. Or the frugal senior couples who never treat themselves to a vacation but instead feel good only when spending on their children or grandchildren. These behaviors, as you can see, take many shapes and forms. And when something breaks down, whether it’s a marriage, or the health and wellness of a parent, the damage becomes very real.
Money addictions in all forms can ruin marriages, pollute careers, limit creativity, trigger depression, and tarnish integrity and self-confidence. Left unchecked, it can seriously drain the quality and happiness of your life.
So, take a look at the hidden signs below that may be driving some of your unhealthy money behaviors. Do any apply to you?
Hidden Sign #1: Living in Denial
If you or someone you know is living in denial, you will tend to be vague about your money: your expenses, earning, and debt, how much money you have in your bank account.
From my own experience helping people out of financial tragedies, I see how common it is to live in a hazy financial fog. You may be unaware of the real amount of credit card debt you owe or unable to clearly state your current bank account balance. You can also be in denial about how much money you need to earn to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle.
Denial can also take the form of not having any financial goals in place, like a retirement plan or savings plan. You cope with your denial by telling yourself that a magical solution will appear to make things better.
It’s important to realize that denial doesn’t just apply to people who are compulsive spenders and chronic debtors. It can also apply to someone who is an excessive saver, and unable to face the reality that they do have enough money in the bank to spend. The problem here is that people are putting too much emphasis on the “number” they think they need to be happy.
Interestingly enough, denial is also what holds people back from getting help in the first place. You may not be ready to face the idea of new actions and habits, and instead choose to stay stuck and in your ways, which could be to your own detriment. Denial in some cases feels safer—it’s a choice to stick to what you know (or don’t know). Ultimately, the real issue stems from deep-seated beliefs around self-worth and self-sabotage, and these need to be explored in order to move forward.
Hidden Sign #2: Money Secrecy & Shame
In this scenario, you know you are struggling with money, but you don’t want other people to know about it. Perhaps you’re afraid people will judge you for not being able to manage things. Or maybe you don’t want to look as though you’re failing.
In other cases, you may sometimes spend in ways that are destructive, and feel like you must keep it to yourself. The secret starts to fester, making you feel shameful about not only what you did, but the fact that you are hiding it. In some cases, it can lead to acting out with more impulsive spending. Just think of someone who is constantly on a public diet, but binge-eats at home—this is a vicious cycle of secrecy, shame, beating yourself up, and then eating more to comfort yourself.
Just like with any addiction, trying to hide our shame and money issues make us isolate ourselves from the people and resources that could actually be of help. And more isolated we become, the worse we feel. The cycle continues.
Hidden Sign #3: Money Obsession
When you are obsessed with money, you are constantly thinking about it: how you plan to get it, how you’ll spend it, how you’ll juggle it.
You run numbers constantly in your head. You calculate money on the back of envelopes, trying to figure a way to manage what has become unmanageable. You spend hours scheming about things you want to purchase.
It’s similar to someone who goes on a strict diet, who gets extremely obsessive about calorie counting.
This obsession begins to take a real toll when you can’t calm your thoughts, and it disturbs your sleep. Worries about money take up the emotional mental space that was once devoted to enjoying life and being with loved ones.
Hidden Sign #4: Lack of Money Control
If you are unable to change your money habits and behaviors, no matter how hard you are trying, or badly you want to change, then the simple, hard-to-swallow truth is that you have little or no control over this aspect of your life.
You may start every day with the best of intentions: You go to Macy’s vowing to only buy one blouse, but you leave with four. You end up using your credit card, even though you intended to pay with cash. Each day, you wake up optimistic and hopeful that “Today will be different.” But every day looks like the one before.
The trouble here is that this lack of control starts to derail your self-confidence. You begin to doubt yourself, and lose trust in your own inherent abilities, or even worse, beat yourself up. What is needed is a gentle understanding of the underlying forces that are outweighing your desire to change.
Hidden Sign #5: Inability to Change Money Behavior Despite Negative Consequences
Similar to lack of control is the idea that even faced with serious consequences of our money behaviors—a dissolving marriage, bankruptcy, loss of property, maxed out credit cards—we are still unable to do what is in our best interest.
We tell ourselves, “Never again”. We want no more of the shame that results when we have neglected a financial responsibility, or broken another promise or told another half-truth. But somehow, our old ways of spending, or avoiding, or deceiving, resume despite the pain we want to avoid.
The Road to Financial Recovery
These five hidden signs—denial, shame and secrecy, obsessions, lack of control, and inability change despite negative consequences—can also be expressed with other compulsive behaviors: food addiction, alcohol addiction, work addiction, drug addiction.
If you want to establish a healthy relationship with money, it requires a willingness to explore your unique drivers—and this can be difficult to do on your own. The good news is that your road to recovery can be rewarding and fruitful. But the first step is accepting the fact it’s up to you to take control of your money—and you certainly don’t have to go at it alone. Just like any recovery process, you must accept that you have a problem, and then make a decision to actively seek out help.
Making significant and lasting behavioral changes is an “inside job”. It takes time, and the guidance of someone who can weave together the deeper layer of issues that causes your destructive behaviors, while also helping you look at the real numbers, and your spending plan.
The end result: a healthy, adult relationship with yourself and your money that can allow your financial future to blossom.
If you feel like you are ready to discover your unique relationship with money, don’t miss Karen’s free training, “Redesign Your Money Relationship”. It’s designed to help the money piece of your life finally fall into place, so you can earn what you deserve, spend on what you love, and start living a richer, truer life. Sign up free here.
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Karen McCall is the CEO and founder of the Financial Recovery Institute, a financial program that enables people to understand where they are, how they got there, how to change their financial circumstances and maintain a healthy relationship with money for the rest of their lives. Karen’s mission is to expand the community of professionals who can help people form new, healthy relationships to money, shed self-defeating money behaviors, and build financial lives that are stable and secure. For more information, visit www.financialrecovery.com