Fear of spending money and OCD
A person who struggles with “Just Right” (Perfectionism) OCD or Scrupulosity OCD may experience a persistent fear of spending money. Spending money for this person may bring fears that they are a bad person, irresponsible with their money, or that they will spend money and not have enough for something else. This person could become obsessed with counting money, double checking accounts, and seeking reassurance about their financial state from friends and loved ones. This fear, like many other OCD fears, can become debilitating and significantly impact a person’s quality of life.
Fear of spending money or excessive frugality is sometimes known as Chrometophobia, a Specific Phobia related to money. Fears about spending money may also be involved in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). A person with OCD focused on a fear of spending money will have unwanted intrusive thoughts, urges, or worries abouts spending money and any outcomes they may associate with it. They will feel the need to engage in compulsions (repetitive behaviors or mental acts) to eliminate their anxiety around spending money or prevent financial stress in general.
It is important to note that OCD with a focus on spending money is different from the financial impacts some people with OCD experience as a result of their compulsions. Some people with OCD spend excessive amounts in order to engage in their compulsions (e.g., buying excess toilet paper or bars of soap because of contamination fears). An individual experiencing these financial impacts of OCD might have concern about their financial difficulties, but this is different from an OCD sufferer whose obsessions, fears, and compulsions are focused on a fear of spending money.
Another important distinction is the difference between a fear of spending money in OCD and excessive frugality in OCPD (Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder). Many people with OCPD view money as something to be hoarded for future catastrophes and insist upon extremely frugal spending habits for themselves and others. However, OCPD is very different from OCD. OCPD is not characterized by obsessions or compulsions. Rather, it’s a personality disorder characterized by a maladaptive pattern of rigidity, excessive perfectionism, and control that is stable, persistent, and enduring. Some people struggle with both OCD and OCPD.
Let’s look at an example to better understand people’s experiences with these fears:
Ryan has struggled with OCD since he was a little boy. When he was younger, he would lie in bed at night and worry about his parents dying, compulsively praying and checking on them every day. As he grew, his OCD themes changed. In highschool he struggled with Harm OCD and would need to engage in repetitive behaviors to prevent others from dying or to keep himself from hurting someone.
In adulthood, Ryan’s most recent fear is that he will run out of money. Ryan works as an electrical engineer for a prominent firm in the city and makes a secure living. He has more than enough money to pay bills, afford his rent, keep a savings account, and has plenty left over for his own discretionary spending.
Despite the financial security of his career and lifestyle, Ryan has become so afraid of running out of money that he has developed persistent fears about spending money. He pays all of his bills on time, but his weekly bill paying ritual now takes several hours. He will sit at his dining room table and look over the amount he needs to pay, check his bank account, pay the bill online, and then will go back and forth between his bank account and the utility account. He will check to see if the money came out of his bank account and if it has been applied to his balance. If he doesn’t see the balance move on the bill, he will often call the provider to seek reassurance that the bill has been paid. He has been told over and over that it often takes 24 hours for it to post to his account, but his fears and uncertainties persist each time he has to pay a bill.
Ryan also has intrusive thoughts and worries that there will be a catastrophe with his parents that he will need to cover financially. He worries that they will run out of money or will need extensive care that he won’t be able to afford. He seeks reassurance from his parents, asking them if their life insurance is up to date and if they have recently been to the doctor for a checkup on their health status. Ryan has started to limit the amount he spends on groceries, even restricting his diet in an effort to save money. He also avoids socializing and going out in any environment where he could need to spend money.
Common obsessions experienced by people with a fear of spending money in OCD include
- What if I run out of money?
- If I buy this, I won’t have enough money for something I need later
- I should not spend money on food when people are starving
- I can’t buy clothes, because homeless people don’t have clothes to keep them warm
- Someone could hack into my account and steal my money
- I may lose my job and not have money
- I don’t have enough money in my savings account
- What if I get sick and rack up hospital bills?
People with OCD focused on a fear of spending money may be triggered by any situations involving money or finances. A person with OCD who has this fear may go to great lengths to avoid these triggers.
Triggers for people with a fear of spending money include:
- Looking at their bank account online
- Receiving bills in the mail
- Holidays with gift-giving traditions
- Loss of work
- Workplace stress
- Medical concerns
- Seeing other people who are financially struggling
- Hearing, reading, or seeing stories about economic struggles
- Intrusive thoughts about being a bad person if money is spent on something unnecessary
- Fear of being robbed of money
How can I tell if I’m experiencing OCD focused on a fear of spending money, and not anxiety, stress, OCPD, or a specific phobia like Chrometophobia?
To get a better sense of whether you’re struggling with OCD, you can ask yourself some questions that relate to the diagnostic criteria for OCD:
- Are you experiencing repeated, unwanted, intrusive thoughts, fears, or urges about spending money?
- How persistent are the thoughts and fears around the topic of fear of spending money? Are the thoughts about this fear distressing or disturbing?
- Are you trying to ignore the thoughts? Do you try to push the thoughts away?
- Do you perform behaviors, mentally or physically, to reduce those thoughts or fears or prevent your fear from happening, such as seeking reassurance, avoidance, checking, or counting?
- Do these thoughts and behaviors take up a significant amount of time?
- Does this worry or behavior interfere with or impair other important areas of your life?
If the answer to some or all of these questions is yes, you may be suffering from OCD. Having an assessment with a trained OCD specialist can confirm whether you are experiencing OCD.
When people with OCD involving a fear of spending money experience intrusive thoughts, images, feelings, or urges that cause distress, they may engage in compulsions for relief from fear or anxiety, or to prevent a feared outcome. Compulsions are often excessive and can often become rigid and ritualistic.
Compulsions performed mentally or physically by people with OCD focused on a fear of spending money may include:
- Counting money/cash repetitively
- Checking wallet repetitively to ensure money is still there.
- Checking bank account over and over
- Avoiding looking at bank account
- Avoiding opening bills
- Calling companies to be sure that finances or bills are correct
- Avoiding spending money on fun, leisure, or vacation activities
- Restricting diet to reduce grocery bills
- Restricting usage of utilities/not using lights when needed/taking less showers
- Avoidance of spending money on necessities (home repairs, health needs, car repairs, bills)
- Seeking reassurance from others about one’s financial stability
- Money hoarding
How to overcome fear of spending money
OCD with a focus on fear of spending money can be debilitating, but it is highly treatable. Doing exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy with a trained ERP therapist is the best course of treatment—it has been empirically validated by decades of clinical research, and has been found to be effective for the majority of patients with OCD.
Through ERP, people can break the cycle of OCD and find relief from their OCD symptoms. People who struggle with OCD involving the fear of spending money will work with their therapist to build an exposure hierarchy and begin working on one trigger at a time. Usually an ERP therapist will start with an exposure that is predicted to bring, working up to harder exposures as confidence is built. Over time, it is likely that one will develop more tolerance for anxiety and discomfort when exposed to their triggers and increasingly be able to enjoy a healthier relationship with their finances.
Examples of possible exposures done to treat OCD focused on a fear of spending money include:
- Paying bills on time, rather than delaying or paying ahead of time
- Only checking bank accounts every other day
- Donating money to a homeless person or another worthy cause
- Spending money on something frivolous or fun
- Setting up automatic payment for bills
- Taking an unpaid day off from work
If you’re struggling with OCD, you can schedule a free 15-minute call today with the NOCD care team to learn how a licensed therapist can help. At NOCD, all therapists specialize in OCD and receive ERP-specific training. ERP is most effective when the therapist conducting the treatment has experience with OCD and training in ERP.