How Can I Reduce the Anxiety I Feel When Spending Money?

A woman facepalming in front of a blue wall.

For some, spending money is a source of enjoyment, whether it's purchasing a new car, splurging on new clothes or loading up on the latest tech toys. But for others, spending money is a major source of anxiety. When spending makes you feel vulnerable, regretful or out of control, it's not fun. It may even feel frightening.

Feeling some anxiety when making purchases is common, and in fact can serve as a healthy reminder to keep an eye on your expenses. Persistent anxiety, however, may be a sign that your spending habits—and your overall finances—need attention. When you're ready, you can take positive steps to understand where these worries are coming from, manage your money more effectively and build confidence in your financial health.

Why People Get Anxious Over Spending Money

There are many reasons why spending might cause you anxiety.

If you grew up experiencing financial hardships, you may feel the sting of remembered trauma. Spending can deplete your assets and make you more vulnerable to everything from momentary deprivation to eviction or bankruptcy—and that can make you anxious. Or you may spend money impulsively—or compulsively—and feel buyer's remorse after the fact.

Money is a frequent cause of friction between partners, as well, especially if your spending priorities are at odds. Some couples who disagree about money end up spending in secret or racking up debt that they hide from their partners.

Any real financial difficulties you may be facing can ratchet up the severity of your money anxiety. Maybe you've lost your job—or worry that you will in the near future. You may have growing debt and wonder how you'll ever pay it off. Millions of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, without much set aside for an emergency. In this case, an unexpected expense or regrettable spending decision, even a small one, can throw you for a loop.

Whatever your situation, money anxiety doesn't have to rule your life. Start by identifying some of the underlying causes of your stress, then look for ways to defuse them.

Analyze Your Finances to Get to the Root of Your Anxiety

Feeling out of control is one of the most basic sources of spending anxiety. Creating a simple budget can help by showing how your income and expenses compare. A budget helps you carefully track your expenses so you can make adjustments as necessary. Online and mobile tools, including a free personal finance tool from Experian, can show your spending across multiple accounts and even send you alerts when transactions occur.

How does tracking your money help?

  • You'll better understand where your money goes. Did you ever open your banking app only to discover a shockingly low account balance? Didn't you just get paid? What happened? If it wasn't fraud, it might be unconscious spending. Or you simply don't have a dollar-for-dollar, day-by-day understanding of where your money goes. Tracking your money makes this spending clear and visible—and can help you stay disciplined as you plan out your expenses going forward.
  • It'll give you a measure of control over how you spend. If it turns out you really can't afford something, it's better to know now than to have a rude awakening when coming up with cash to pay the water bill. If you know when and where spending is problematic, you can cut it before real damage is done.
  • It can offer you the opportunity to spend without fear. A healthy budget doesn't necessarily mean a minimalist lifestyle. If you budget correctly, you can pay for that gym membership or new pair of jeans without worrying that you're robbing yourself of essential funds or the ability to retire someday. Tracking your spending lets you know you're on target, and still gives you room to spoil yourself.

How to Reduce Anxiety Over Spending Money

Along with budgeting and tracking your finances, consider these tips for reducing your money stress:

  • Create an emergency fund. Knowing you can handle a few of life's curveballs is a huge confidence builder.
  • Save regularly. Living within your means and socking away a portion of your income every month can help alleviate the panic that comes with spending every dollar you earn.
  • Set goals and work toward them. Nothing soothes like success. Bonus: You'll sleep better knowing you have medical savings or are building a retirement fund.
  • Get financial help. Read up, take a personal finance class or seek out a personal finance advisor. You don't need to become an economic expert, but familiarize yourself with the practical tools you can use to help you manage your money. Financial help doesn't need to come at a cost, either. A certified credit counselor may be able to provide free help, financial literacy education and other services.

Paying Off Debt May Help Reduce Financial Anxiety

The term "nagging debt" is right on the money. Debt belongs in its own category when it comes to financial stress. Why is hard-to-manage debt uniquely distressing?

  • Monthly payments can make your finances unworkable.
  • As spending, interest charges and fees snowball, debt can feel out of control.
  • High credit card balances mean less available credit to use in a genuine emergency.
  • High credit utilization affects your credit score. Lower credit scores make it harder to access loans and credit at desirable rates.
  • Large debt can seem impossible to pay off.

If looming debt is causing you anxiety, it's time to take action. Paying down debt can be a slow process, but even as you go, reducing debt may reduce your anxiety levels as well. By taking control of the situation, you'll feel more empowered and less unnerved. As you activate your plan to pay down debt, don't forget to monitor your credit score and report to make sure your progress is being reflected.

Anxiety over spending is annoying, and sometimes even debilitating. But it can also prompt you to practice better money management, clean up your credit practices, and set and achieve financial goals. Taking steps to address the cause, not just the symptoms, of your anxiety can help you lead a happier life.