Common Financial Phobias

Market Memo

September 2023 – By Bob Veres

According to a recent survey, more than half of all Americans fear for their financial futures.  Another study says that 77% of Americans feel anxious about their current financial situation.  Even if both of the surveys overstate the numbers, the fact is that many of us have phobias about our finances, often rooted in past traumatic events or our upbringing, or from cultural and societal pressures that can trigger the fear of financial failure.  Our emotional backgrounds influence our behavior, often negatively, often in hidden ways.

Researchers at Cambridge University have identified some of the most common phobias that will cause our heart to race, or make us feel physically ill, or become immobilized when we should be acting.  The list includes Chrometophobia, which is defined as an extreme fear of spending money.  (Even the thought of doing so can trigger a panic attack.)  Also: Plutophobia, the fear of becoming wealthy due to the associated responsibilities it brings or potential negative impacts on our lives and relationships.  (Think: the uprooted lives of lottery winners.)  Atychiphobia, or fear of failure, can prevent people from taking even calculated risks in their lives, and Peniaphobia is the intense fear of poverty.  (Just thinking about it can trigger extreme anxiety.)

These phobias can affect our financial behaviors in a number of ways.  Loss aversion causes people to overly focus on the downside possibilities rather than the chances of gains.  Impulsivity can push people into jumping into hot investments.  Panic can lead people to sell their holdings when the market declines—at just the wrong time for long term financial success.

Whatever the academic name is for them, these phobias can be hard to spot in ourselves.  The solution is to set a course during a rational discussion, and then stay that course while our emotions are giving us mixed or unhelpful messages.

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