If your bank statement and a one-way ticket to the North Pole are lying side by side, which one would you pick up?
There are some people who would not mind going to the North Pole if that saves them from laying their hands on anything connected with their own money. Be it a statement of a bank account or a credit card bill, these people find it difficult to take interest in their financial matters. It is not that they are facing any financial trouble. Their finances, on the contrary, may be in a relatively good shape. But they suffer from what is described as “financial phobia” by psychologists. Anybody showing symptoms of financial phobia finds it difficult to form a consistent and fruitful relationship with their money.
Johnny: Well, I have heard about worst-known financial manias and panics. But what’s financial phobia?
Jinny: There is nothing new about what we call financial phobia. Fear of getting involved with one’s own money looks like an age-old problem. It is just that this problem has now been given a scientific name, which means that it is now being taken more seriously. The term financial phobia was first coined by researchers at the University of Cambridge in 2003 when it was found that almost one in five people in the UK displayed different degrees of its symptoms. It was found that women and younger people below 35 were more likely to suffer from financial phobia. Although we need to carry out further studies in other countries, the results are not likely to be much different. The truth seems to be that almost all of us may be to some extent subject to financial phobia of one kind or another. But in some people the level of anxiety is so high that they might actually require professional help.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
Johnny: What are the most common symptoms of financial phobia?
Jinny: There are multiple symptoms having varying degrees of emotional as well as physical manifestations. The researchers at Cambridge found that nearly half of those suffering from financial phobia experienced a racing heart when they had to deal with anything connected with their money. Some of the people felt completely frozen and immobilized and some even became dizzy and physically ill. The causes and its effects may not be so obvious in real life, but they all seemed connected when observed by a professional psychologist. A person suffering from financial phobia otherwise may well be leading a normal life. In some cases he might actually be very successful in earning money through his vocation. But when it comes to dealing with his hard-earned money he may display the symptoms of the phobia.
Johnny: How does a person suffering from financial phobia react when he has to deal with his financial matters?
Jinny: There are some common patterns of behaviour. A person suffering from financial phobia would not like to read his financial statements. In extreme cases, he may avoid financial relationship of any kind that demands his active involvement in checking balances, making repayments on time, depositing cheques for collection, reading about financial products, hunting for a good deal and many such things that we have to encounter while managing our money.
In case he does get into some sort of financial relationship, it would be either the bare minimum that he requires or the near excess that may not be suitable for his requirements. In both cases, the choices reflect non-evaluation of pros and cons. A person suffering from the phobia is more likely to blindly sign financial documents, falter in making timely payment of credit card bills and fall into a debt trap. He would not show much interest in setting a financial goal, and his lifestyle would be more like the “earn and spend” type, with little left for savings or investments.
Johnny: What can be done to deal with the phobia?
Jinny: Well, just like any other problem, the first step in dealing with financial phobia lies in identifying where the problem lies. Sometimes we may not even be aware that our behaviour is being influenced by any kind of such phobia. Knowledge about the problem and your desire to deal with it can win you half the battle. The other half of the battle has to be fought more at the social level. Here we need to think about multiple strategies. Imparting knowledge about personal finance at the school and college level, providing financial counselling for people in need and a conscious effort to demystify all mysteries surrounding money could be some of them. But we also need to recognize that there will always be some people with some kind of worry related to financial issues. We just need to ensure that they don’t end up burying their heads in the sand when it comes to dealing with their finance.
Johnny: That’s really a good idea. Battles of the mind need to be fought at all fronts.
What:A person suffering from “financial phobia” finds it difficult to form a consistent and fruitful relationship with his money.
Who: The term was coined by researchers at the University of Cambridge in 2003.
How many: The researchers found that almost one in five people in the UK showed symptoms of the phobia.
Shailaja and Manoj K. Singh have important day jobs with an important bank. But Jinny and Johnny have plenty of time for your suggestions and ideas for their weekly chat. You can write to both of them at email@example.com