How Your Fear Of Spending Money or Your Anxiety About Money May Actually Be Money Dysmorphia

By Kelsa Dickey

This past weekend, I went shopping for some brand new jean shorts at American Eagle. I love how their jeans fit. I’ve been buying them for years. As I was looking for the perfect new pair, something really crazy happened. 

You see, since working with a personal trainer and losing weight I’ve been experiencing a kind of body dysmorphia. And it definitely shows up when I’m jean shopping.

I hold up jeans in the store that I have in the same size at home and think, “There’s no way these can fit me.”

But it makes no sense because I’ve been buying and wearing this new size for over a year now. And yet I still struggle to take them off the rack and try them on. Even though the logical part of my brain knows they will fit me, my eyes are deceiving me. I cannot picture being able to button the top button, let alone get them over my hips. 

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You see, the picture in my head of my body is one that’s 30 pounds heavier. That’s the body I had for so long. Even though I can see my body as it is today in the mirror, it’s not the image I believe.

So what do I often do? 

I’ll get the size that fits me, but I also will grab a pair that is one or sometimes even two sizes bigger. I end up taking tons of jeans into the dressing room, but sure enough, the small size fits me perfectly every time.

This is body dysmorphia. It’s when the picture you have in your head does not match real life. It is a mental roadblock that happens to plenty of people for plenty of reasons. 

And here’s the craziest part: IT HAPPENS WITH YOUR MONEY TOO!

What is money dysmorphia?

Money dysmorphia isn’t a concept many people think or know about. But we see our financial coaching clients go through this same type of struggle with their money. They face roadblocks and sometimes have money anxiety because they don’t believe the numbers in their bank account are real. 

Money dysmorphia can show up in a few different ways.  

People who have money dysmorphia live with the mentality of a broke person. They feel poor even though they are not. This person thinks they can’t afford anything, even when it’s budgeted for. They might go to purchase an item or book a trip that they’ve saved for, and their first thought is, “You can’t afford this!” Even when they can. 

Money dysmorphia also shows up as not trusting yourself.

Let’s say that for a long time you couldn’t trust yourself with money. You overspent and had bad money habits, but you got yourself out from under it. You’ve been working for a long time to make yourself financially secure. You now make great financial decisions, and you accomplish your goals. Yet when a big financial decision shows up, you do not trust yourself to make it.

Having one or two years of trusting ourselves with these decisions sometimes doesn’t feel long enough. We haven’t shifted our identity yet. It might take you a while to believe, “Yes, I can trust myself, and I can make these decisions.”

Money dysmorphia can also mean feeling insecure and unstable despite having plenty of money in savings, a padded emergency fund, and being in a really stable financial position. You might have everything you’re supposed to have, and still feel insecure about your money. 

That’s money dysmorphia. Even when you’re doing well financially, you’ve worked hard to get there, and you’re making great decisions, you struggle with a fear of spending money.

Shifting Your Mindset Takes Work

This is why as a part of financial coaching we often have to help our clients with their money mindset. Money is not all dollars and cents. Because making decisions about money is inherently emotional, we can’t rely on the logic of numbers. Numbers don’t tell the whole story. 

As financial coaches, we have to coach people through the mental part of managing, saving, spending, and planning their money. We have to work through how people have always felt and thought about money so they can adopt a whole new mindset and a whole new identity. We want to eliminate their money dysmorphia, but it first takes practice to train their brains to think differently with money.

Just like I’ll eventually stop taking four different sizes of jean shorts into the dressing room with me, eventually you too will start to see yourself as the fiscally fit person you are. It takes time.

How does money dysmorphia show up in your life?

Tell me in the comments below. And if you want to learn more about money mindset shifts you can make, this podcast episode by Coach Jill talks all about the Diderot effect. If you’ve ever redecorated your house (or desperately wanted it), it’s probably shown up in your life. See how here.