Why we naturally worry about money – but needn’t

The key to combatting money worries is to decide what’s important for you and then use money as the tool to make it happen.

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Most of us worry about money. It might be soaring rents and house prices. It might be a monthly wage packet that never meaningfully increases. For some there’s the insecurity of self-employment. For many there’s the need to save for the future.

It might be a combination of several of these things.

That’s normal. Worrying about money doesn’t make you weak, or weird. It’s the way we are. But there are some things you can do to reduce your money worries.

Kim Stephenson is an ex financial adviser who got tired of his industry and retrained as a psychologist – people are more interesting than money, he says. The key to tackling money stress says Stephenson is to think about what’s important for you, then use money as the tool to make it happen.

“Think about what you want from life,” he starts, “because one of the big things about money worry is everyone compares themselves with their neighbours. There’s good evolutionary reasons. If you were a hunter-gatherer, you would need to know where the good resources are, or who’s on your side. The human brain is naturally geared to make sure you don’t fall behind.”

All in the mind?

But in a modern first-world economy, finding the basic resources – food, protection, warmth and comfort – isn’t hard. The problem is paying for them, plus other rush-to-the-brain must-haves: holidays, cars, clothes and treats.

A friend might show you their brand new shiny car and everyone is thinking, ‘I’d love a car like that’. They don’t need a new car. Stephenson calls it ‘comparenomics’.

It’s about your real priorities Stephenson says. If you tell someone who’s clearly showing off that what they have is nice and you’re genuinely happy for them, you’re ahead.

“A lot of the stress then goes,” Stephenson continues, “and it becomes easier to focus on what you really want. Focus on the right things.” And if your focus is more clothes or a newer car, go for it. But endless consumerism is a losing game warns Stephenson.

Is less really more?

There’s a thin line between being content with less and spartan self-denial because you’re low on cash. Some psychologists will tell you that most of us just want more independence, be it time with friends and family. Or perhaps a better working life. Or simply the chance to try something unexpected.

The trick is to live more intentionally for what makes you feel really alive. Perhaps invest in new skills that can make you more money, or buy in new skills and experiences when you need. “If you are in a well-paid job that you hate, quit it,” is Stephenson’s advice.

There is no single piece of advice that works for everyone. As Stephenson says: “For that advice to work the individual must have 2.4 children and a live in a 3.1 bedroomed house. They don’t. Each person is unique.”

The point is to plan for what you want, then use money to make it happen.

“When we were hunter gatherers if you got obsessed with what was going to happen next year, you’d miss the prey today and your family would go hungry. You’d die and so would all your family and you would not pass on your genes.

“So the families who survived and did pass on their genes – the ancestors of all of us now, thousands of generations later – are people who discounted the future hugely. People say it’s very short-sighted to spend money and not save for the future but our brains don’t think like that.”

The way to break that cycle is to remind yourself why you want to change. “Take cash, put it in a wallet, with a clasp, and then put an elastic band round it. That reminds you of the picture on your wall of what you are saving for,” he says.

Three simple decisions to help worry less about money

  1. Micro decisions such as buying fewer coffees and snacks might help. But larger one-off decisions, such as switching your insurance policy, can be ultimately more effective. So enjoy every-day pleasures, plan ahead, and always shop around for the best quote
  2. If you get a pay hike, consider saving more. That way it’s easier not to notice the extra money going out
  3. Give yourself 30 days before you spend on anything large. One person MoneySuperMarket spoke to advised keeping credit cards in the freezer “so you have to let them thaw out before using”

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