Reality Check: Unmistakable Signs of an Abusive Relationship with Money

Relationships run through our lives every day. From family members to friends and coworkers, our daily habits rely on the relationships we cultivate. It seems natural for us to put work into maintaining the relationships we have with other people, but we also have relationships with objects-- tangible things that affect our lives sometimes as deeply as humans do. One of those objects we often forget we are in a relationship with is money.

Money and personal finance makes up a large part of our livelihood and influences our daily habits and decisions. Like any other relationship, our relationship with money can turn toxic if we don’t pay attention.

Unhealthy Approaches to Money

Money is undeniably emotional. As it infiltrates our daily lives and helps establish our future, we develop emotional affinities both for and against money. Many times, we build our own views on money based on how it impacts our world throughout our life. Other times, we adopt unhealthy approaches to money based on what we’ve seen in our families and past relationships. There are so many different ways to arrive at an “unhealthy” way of coping with your finances, but it can often be difficult to spot when your approach to money is negatively impacting you when you’re directly in the middle of it all.

Now is a great time to look introspectively at your own relationship with money to determine if it is a healthy one. Be honest with yourself as you move through this list and know that if you feel a particular attachment to one of these negative points, there is always a positive solution. Below, you will find some tell-tale signs that you are in a toxic relationship with money.


    • Do you find yourself splurging often?
    • Are there times where you spend a lot of money on things you may not actually need or want?
    • Do you make large financial decisions quickly and without sufficient planning?

Overspending can happen, but it can turn toxic when it becomes a habit that occurs on a regular basis. The “treat yourself” mindset may not be the most appropriate when managing your finances. Try to find ways to plan for larger expenditures and use your budget to help determine if making a large purchase is a good move for you at a specific time.


    • Do you feel weighed down by fixed expenses?
    • Can you distinguish the difference between being frugal and not spending enough?
    • Have you found that your tendency is to deprive yourself of basic necessities like food in order to save money?

Underspending can be just as big of a detriment as overspending in terms of your overall health and well-being. Sometimes if we think our financial burden is too heavy, we begin to halt all spending completely, even on necessary items. If you find yourself purposely depriving yourself, you are probably underspending.

Tension and Stress

    • How do you feel when you talk about money? Is there ever anxiety, apprehension, or fear surrounding the topic?
    • Do you find it difficult to sleep at night because you are concerned about money?
    • Do you feel angry or resentful towards money?

If you find that money is one of your prime catalysts for tension and stress, you may have a toxic relationship with it. If you correlate anger and resentment with money, it is also important that you are aware of these feelings and get to the root of the negativity in order for you to fully resolve it.

The Ubiquitous ‘Fix’

    • Do you believe that money has the power to fix your problems?
    • Do you idealize the role that money plays in your overall health, well-being, and satisfaction?

It is important to note that money is just a tool, something that doesn’t have an inherent bias. It is neither good nor bad, merely an agent that is used. Money is also not the one-stop-shop answer to or, conversely, the reason for all of your problems, and framing money as a tool is a healthier approach to looking at it.

Healthy Approaches to Money

You may have heard this saying when it comes to relationships and finding the right person to spend your life with, “you’ll just know.” Though sweet and utterly romantic, it is not all that specific. I want to take that lovely sentiment and add some concrete signs to help you know when your relationship with money is in a healthy place.


Being focused on a task helps you get it done, and get it done well. Someone with a healthy relationship with money has a positive focus and drive toward achieving their financial goals without getting too fixated. Focus can turn to obsession, but a healthy mindset can help balance that line and give you the determination to reach your financial goals.


Every relationship requires boundaries. They help maintain your personal happiness. If you are able to set clearly defined boundaries on your spending habits such as where you spend your money and how much you spend, then you are able to have a healthy relationship with your money. Creating a budget is a great way to help you set your financial boundaries.

Tool for Achievement

As we discussed earlier, money does not have an assigned emotional value -- emotion is something we apply. Using money as a tool for achieving your goals is a great mindset to have. As a tool, money can also be used to help gain fulfilment in your life and also for your family.  

It is important to remember that our relationship with money is one that needs to be given time and care to flourish. By taking a critical look at the way we handle and interact with money, we can better situate ourselves to steer toward a positive relationship as opposed to an abusive one.

Wood Smith Advisors, a woman-owned Registered Investment Advisor (RIA), is a fee-only financial services firm that partners with its clients to simplify their financial lives. We focus on women, entrepreneurs and individuals with complex financial situations, providing objective and competent advice, education and services to help them develop and build their businesses and reach their financial goals. We can be reached by clicking here.

"Finance Made Simple" blog posts are intended for educational purposes and not for specific advice. Each person’s situation is different. Consult your financial advisor for advice relating to topics discussed.

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