Money Problems: Are You a Worshipper, Avoider, Status-Seeker, or Vigilante?

Money Problems

I have money problems.

You have money problems.

It’s a fact of life.

You and I don’t want our self-worth tied to our net worth, but sometimes… it feels unavoidable.

I’m not here to bum you out though. I’d rather help you create self-awareness and take action on improving your relationship with money.

So I’ve extracted the wisdom from a money research study for us to learn some lessons necessary to simplify, organize, and be money wise.

Are you ready to shed some seriously pesky – and dangerous – money problems?

Old Money Problems, New Insight

[People] have become so indoctrinated with the idea that having money is important, that they no longer question why. They are unaware that perhaps what they are truly seeking is an increase in self-respect, or security, or freedom, or love, or power. ~ Goldberg and Lewis

I recently read a New York Times article called Net Worth, Self-Worth and How We Look at Money and I suggest you read it too.

This article, combined with one I wrote for Lifehack called Why Chasing Money Is Worse Than Dogs Chasing Cars, starts to reveal the deep, dark underbelly of our relationship with money.

But most importantly, the articles highlight why we need research on our hidden or harmful money problems.

Collectively, we are all kinds of money messed up. But there’s an antidote.

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That’s my summary of the research called Money Beliefs and Financial Behaviors in The Journal of Financial Therapy.

The research premise is to determine just how much money is stressing us out – personally and within a family – and also negatively contributing to our overall health.

So the researchers identified four distinct money belief patterns that most people fall into: money avoidance, money worship, money status, and money vigilance.

Here’s a quiz to determine if you have one of these money patterns. Just answer true, false, or “I don’t care/know” to these statements:

  1. I do not deserve a lot of money when others have less than me
  2. It’s not okay to have more than you need
  3. People get rich by taking advantage of others
  4. Good people should not care about money
  5. Things would get better if I had more money
  6. It’s hard to be poor and happy
  7. Poor people are lazy
  8. If something is not considered the “best,” it’s not worth buying
  9. It’s OK to keep secrets from your partner about money
  10. Rich people have no reason to be unhappy
  11. You should not tell others how much money you have or make
  12. Money should be saved, not spent
  13. People should work for their money and not be given financial handouts
  14. If you cannot pay cash for something, you shouldn’t buy it

If you answered “true” to any of those statements, you could have one of the four money problems. I answered “true” to numbers 1, 4, and 12, which puts me at risk for having money avoidance and money vigilance tendencies.

I don’t feel bad about it though. In fact, it motivates me to do something about it… and you can get fired up too.

But first, let’s understand the four major money problems before identifying the solutions.

Money Avoidance

I gotta watch out for this one. Hell, if you look at my recent Pulse Check, you’d think I was allergic to money (or just not good at making it).

According to the research, money avoiders believe that money is bad or that they don’t deserve it. Money is a force for anxiety, fear, and practical worries like checking account over-drafts or credit cards abuse.

These kind of people financially self-sabotage, defer even necessary purchases, or give money away so they have as little as possible.


There are at least two things that you can do if that description hits a little too close for comfort:

  1. Continue to age: You don’t really have a choice about this one. But the research shows that our patterns of money avoidance consistently fall as we age. So if you want to ditch your damaging feelings about shunning money, just turn 80 (or keep aging).
  2. Know your net worth: As an avid Quicken user, I know what my net worth is (even if I don’t care what the number is). Apparently, that’s a good thing for dealing with money avoidance because research respondents who didn’t know their net worth scored higher than everyone else on money avoidance beliefs. The researchers say, “No duh!” since money avoiders are by name not likely to be aware of their financial situation.

How about you? What other ways can you think of to combat money avoidance?

Money Worship

I used to have money worship issues before my personal renaissance began, but I’ve been cured. It’s a miracle!

Do you need an antidote? The researchers said this about money worshippers:

‘More money will make things better’ is the most common belief among Americans. Individuals who subscribe to this notion believe that an increase in income and/or financial windfall would solve their problems. However, there is a [scarcity] of empirical evidence to suggest that more money solves life problems.

Money ProblemsNow, you’re reading a website that declares “freedom is needing little and wanting less” and “give up the ‘good life’ to pursue a great life.” So Value of Simple generally doesn’t draw people who worship money.

However… demographic characteristics linked to money worshipers include being young, white, single, or having a tendency to carry a credit card balance.

Is that you?

Here are some resources to cleanse any unsightly traces of money worship whether you think this is you or not. Just in case.

  1. Devour Becoming Minimalist: Joshua Becker is a fan favorite and required reading if you want to further simplify and minimize. Reading his articles on loving money, discovering new questions to ask, and stopping the endless comparison are a good start.
  2. Enjoy The Minimalists: Ryan and Joshua are shining examples of what happens when you reject materialism and embrace an intentional life. They know well not to try to fix the problem with the problem (money related or otherwise).
  3. Other good reads: The Power of Enough is a quick read by Sean D’Souza and great for business owners who might forget why they started their business. If you like the paleo scene or a fresh take on the topic of simplicity, Mark Sisson has some guidance for you about money problems and consumption.

But what happens if it’s money status that’s an issue?

Money Status

Money = status. At least for some people.

The research says that money is status to people who connect self-worth and net-worth (and that’s just about everyone at some point).

Competing to make more money than everyone else can result and – what’s worse – being materialistic has been associated with:

  • Lower ratings of well-being (Tatzel, 2002)
  • Lower levels of personal potential (Kasser & Ahuvia, 2002)
  • Less vitality and emotional happiness (Kasser & Ahuvia, 2002)
  • Higher levels of anxiety and physical symptoms of unhappiness (Kasser & Ahuvia, 2002)

Yikes, huh?

We can do something about this as well though.

  1. Gain self-confidence: Easier said than done, but there are people who can show you how. I also strive to be a beacon of self-confidence and I hope you feel it when I write or speak.
  2. Squash the urge to compare: This works just as well for money status tendencies as it does for money worship. Maybe it’s not all relative after all?

But what if you might be a money vigilante like me? Let’s explore this last money problem before taking action to resolve any unhealthy money relationships.

Money Vigilance

I embrace the label of rebel, counter-cultural, and mad scientist. But vigilante? No thanks.

The trouble is I might actually be a money vigilante according to the research.

You see, money can be a deep source of shame and secrecy, whether you have a little or a lot (Klontz & Klontz, 2009). And in one survey, forty percent of people reported that they had lied to their spouse about the cost of a purchase and/or said it was OK to withhold financial information from each other (Medintz).

Well, it’s clear I don’t have money secrecy issues. And my monthly family financial check-up with Melinda ensures nobody lies about a purchase or withholds financial information.

But I’ve felt guilt about how much money I have. I suppose that’s because I still compare myself to others and realize my abundance makes me highly financially fortunate. Sadly, gratitude is not an antidote for guilt.

So what could help a money vigilante? Try these on for size:

  1. Speak the truth: The lies we tell ourselves are the worst. To combat this, let’s find 49 lies we tell ourselves and determine how to speak the truth instead. Are you up to the challenge?
  2. Sunlight is a powerful disinfectant: You don’t have to show the world how much you make. But this whole cultural taboo of talking about our income and how much we’re worth is madness! It’s the fear of being judged that drives this insanity, but there’s a solution for that too. For an experiment, try revealing how much you made last week to a friend or family member. Did anything bad happen? Then try it with another person… and another… and another…

Whether it’s avoidance, worship, status, vigilance, or something else, we could all stand to resolve some money problems. Am I right, or am I right?

We Shall Overcome

Maybe you just read this and decided that you don’t need to do anything.

But some of us might want to embark on a quest for a better relationship with money. That can be done with a Personal User Guide, working towards a world without money, or in various other ways.

I want to see a world where money isn’t the biggest cause of stress – not just for Americans – but all over the world. Imagine a world where money is a by-product of helping other people and living our core values.

Wouldn’t that be amazing?!

Yet, there are people already doing it. And by following their lead to resolve money problems, you can too.

You can make money something you hate, struggle with and resist, or make it something you feel ease, joy and non-attachment to. You can be a slave to it, or a steward of it. You can use it to change the world, or let it get in the way of you doing your great work. And one thing is true, if you want to get paid to be who you are, working for yourself, you’re going to need to come to a positive, sustainable relationship with money. Without a loving, or at least amicable relationship to money, you’re setting yourself up for a lot of hardship. ~ Jonathan Mead

What steps will you take today to settle a money problem? Tell us in the comments.

Photo Credit: Gregg O’Connell and Erik Miller

14 Responses to Money Problems: Are You a Worshipper, Avoider, Status-Seeker, or Vigilante?

  1. Erin says:

    I’m one of those “money should be saved, not spent” people. Ironically, I’m also no good at consciously saving/using money. I tend to have a vague idea of what’s going where, but it’s more of a consciousness than anything particularly intentional. So when it comes to something like “I want to save $X for Y big goal,” I don’t really know where to begin.

    • I have some resources for “I want to save $X for Y big goal” if you’d like an email, Erin. I also have some groovy budgeting spreadsheets if you think you’d like to be more intentional about tracking your income and expenses. Take me up on everything or nothing… or somewhere in-between.

      • Erin says:

        I think I’m good, Joel, but thanks. I already do lots of tracking (one of the few places I voluntarily use a spreadsheet :) ). But should a big goal come up that I have to get serious about, I know who to talk to!

  2. Shanna says:

    It’s funny, but I was just redoing my 5 year plan to account for my new employee/subcontractor and the plans to expand. And as I started idly figuring out how much it was possible to gross, I got very, very uncomfortable. It *felt* too rich. Now, on the other hand, I’m not too worried about *getting* too rich off a six figure gross, because expenses and then taxes will take care of a good bit of that, and in terms of real income it likely won’t mean too much of a difference. But it was sure weird to feel my hackles raise.

    That said, I don’t think I’m a money avoider. If anything, my hackles raised because my subconscious realized the dangers of *feeling rich* and wanted me to step back from something that hasn’t yet, and might not, come to pass.

    • You probably don’t have any of these tendencies, Shanna. That’s the thing with frameworks: many people fall into them, but no one framework is big enough to capture everyone (especially those based around negative things).

      I hope you get to experience some money awkwardness though because you’re making more than you ever had. I know you’ll do what’s in your household’s best interest if/when this comes to pass and not try to recreate an imperial garden in your back yard with all that dough. :)

  3. Sarah says:

    I think I’m an avoider. I assume that it will show up and take care of me. I’ve been told multiple times this year that I need to step up and take control of my money, which I started doing this month… We’ll see how it goes!

    • Denise says:

      I also assume money will show up. I’m not sure why that is because I don’t believe in the law of attraction or anything. I’m not even sure how to step up, so you’re a step ahead of me.

  4. I think I fall in a weird cross between avoider and worshiper. It’s like a pendulum of extremes that as bills start to get tough, I worship. When the immediate problems go away, I avoid.

    Right now, I’m seeing that I way overcommit to the amount of tasks I believe I can complete. And often, personal tasks like managing money fall to the wayside for a time. This is my biggest goal over the next few months: set a sustainable pace that covers what’s most important first (family time, money matters, etc.).

    • I’d love to unpack that statement of following a sustainable pace of prioritizing the most important things first, Michael. But you’ve given us an insight that shouldn’t be surprising… yet somehow we often get caught up in the urgent at the expense of the important. I’ve wondered a lot why this happens and how to stop it, but I won’t claim to have many answers.

      However, I’m like you in that I now notice when I’m over-committing and need to scale back (so the truly important things get the love they need). Properly managing the money you have right now instead of forgetting about it to pursue more new money is a trap we all fall into from time-to-time. Sounds like you’re on the right track, man.

  5. David Delp says:

    I have to give a shout out to the woman who helped me and my wife (at the time), solve our money problems. After working with Susan Bross for a year (4 visits), we never once argued about money again. 2 years after that, we realized we never worried about money again. That’s freaking amazing!

    Our problems were part technical, part emotional. She helped us separate our childhood stories about money from the numbers. Once we did that, the content of our conversations were just a matter of math. We learned how to save money for different projects including rainy days and emergencies. VISA bills were always paid in full, on time, without a thought.

    The deal, though, is a common goal to free ourselves from the old stories of feeling like money was a way to get what we deserved (or in my case to give me a reason to just work harder!)

    The old stories lurk sometimes, but they don’t rule.

    • That is amazing stuff, David. And I want you to know that the way you finished up your comment – “The old stories lurk sometimes, but they don’t rule” – is going to stick with me for a while. Thank you for your story and for trying to help other people out with their money problems.

  6. Everyone has money problems and these will never go away. The key to addressing these problems is to be capable of coping with the issue at hand. We need to overcome, just as you wrote, and have a better understanding about money.

    • Money can be maddening and enlightening at the same time, wouldn’t you say, David? Everybody has their issues and you’re right: some of them will never go away. Having the self-awareness to know what your struggles are is the first step to overcoming them in my experience though. I hope some people had their self-awareness raised by reading this article, and perhaps left with some tips on how to make some positive changes.

      Was there an insight you gained from reading this or a subtle change in behavior you’re planning now?

  7. Birdy& Bambi says:

    I really, really like your blog! I’m just starting to tip-toe into minimalism and find your site really well written and informative!

    Greetings from Germany and a sunny weekend,

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