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"Money Dysmorphia" Is Heavily Impacting People In Their 20s, 30s, And 40s. Here's What To Know

A person holds several U.S. dollar bills while sitting on a couch, wearing a casual, long-sleeve top, and looking to the side
blackCAT via Getty Images

Loud budgeting. Slow shopping. Girl math. These days, there are endless quippy terms to describe the trends and phenomena in the realm of personal finance.

One of the more insidious realities impacting people’s financial health has a name as well: money dysmorphia.

To help keep the negative impacts at bay, HuffPost asked experts to break down this phenomenon and share their advice for dealing with it.

What is ‘money dysmorphia’?

Person counting a stack of US dollar bills with a focused expression, highlighting a financial concept
Riska / Getty Images

“Money dysmorphia is when you have a warped or distorted view of your finances,” said Danielle Desir Corbett, a personal finance expert and host of “The Thought Card” podcast. “You see your financial situation much differently from your reality. Money dysmorphia can be caused by a variety of reasons, including past money trauma, societal pressures, economic crisis, or could be deeply rooted in childhood upbringing.”

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A recent Credit Karma survey found that 29% of Americans experience money dysmorphia.

“Money dysmorphia is a play on keeping up with the Joneses, except the inability to ‘keep up’ is causing some people to experience feelings of inadequacy,” said Courtney Alev, a consumer financial advocate at Credit Karma.

The survey data reveals that the issue is particularly prevalent in younger generations, as 43% of Gen Zers and 41% of millennials reported experiencing money dysmorphia, compared to 25% of Gen Xers and 14% of those aged 59 or above.

“While the term is new, the feelings aren’t,” said Dasha Kennedy, the creator of The Broke Black Girl and a financial wellness board member at National Debt Relief. “Many people have felt financially insecure for a long time without having a specific name for it. Now, by giving it a name, it’s easier to understand and address these feelings.”

People have long worried about money and felt that they don’t have enough ― even when they do. The problem seems to have worsened, however, in the online age.

Elizabeth Ayoola, a personal finance expert and writer at NerdWallet, told HuffPost she believes people’s skewed view of their finances is “often shaped by comparisons to others they see on social media or by soaking up economic news that creates worry.”

“When people have money dysmorphia, they’re likely looking at their finances more subjectively than objectively,” she added.

What are the signs of money dysmorphia?

A woman in casual attire is smiling while using a smartphone and holding a credit card, suggesting online shopping or mobile banking activities
d3sign via Getty Images

“Money dysmorphia can often make people believe they’re doing financially worse or better than they actually are,” Ayoola said. “This can manifest as saving excessively because you feel you’re behind in comparison to your peers. Likewise, it can show up as overspending because you feel you’re financially secure when that’s not the case.”

If you have money dysmorphia, you might feel strong emotions about your finances when you see friends reach financial milestones, she added. Feelings like sadness, anxiety, stress, frustration, unworthiness or overconfidence may lead to behaviors that harm your financial health ― like overspending on a vacation.

“People may find themselves living lifestyles they can’t afford,” Ayoola explained. “In the reverse, people who are financially secure may not be living full and abundant lives because they believe they don’t have enough, even though their financial reality may say otherwise. Ultimately, money dysmorphia can hinder people from achieving their financial goals or enjoying their achievements.”

By excessively saving, people with money dysmorphia can miss out on opportunities to invest and actually grow their wealth.

“Some people might be scared to spend money, even on the things they actually need,” Kennedy said. “Others might constantly worry about their finances, regardless of what their actual situation is. They may feel anxious or guilty when making purchases, including necessary ones.”

She noted that common signs of money dysmorphia include obsessively checking bank balances, avoiding financial discussions, comparison to others, having a distorted perception of wealth, fear of financial ruin, being overly critical of your financial decisions, and stressing over future finances.

For younger generations in particular, there’s also a temptation to tie their feelings about their financial situation to what they see and present on social media, even if it’s not reality. Many avoid addressing or seeking help for their debt, which fosters a cycle of financial instability.

“The impact goes beyond money,” Kennedy noted. “It can strain relationships and affect overall well-being. People can also end up depriving themselves of basic needs and joys, which can be detrimental to both mental and physical health.”

How can you deal with money dysmorphia?

Person wearing glasses and a sweater looks stressed while reviewing financial documents next to a laptop in a kitchen
Urbazon / Getty Images

“A few ways to overcome money dysmorphia are to take an honest look at your finances, set clear goals, make a plan, and, most importantly, keep your eyes on your own paper,” Alev said. “If your goal is to build up your savings, start by doing an audit of your finances to see where in your budget you can make room for savings. From there, you can schedule automatic payments from each paycheck to help hold you accountable and incrementally increase your savings.”

Set realistic financial goals and find useful resources for personal finance education. Consider seeking professional guidance from a financial planner or therapist, or simply reaching out to your support system as you pursue your goals.

“Connect with an accountability buddy who you can brainstorm, vent and cheer you on,” Desir-Corbett said. “Observe your day-to-day thoughts around money. Identify and avoid triggers and distractions. Unfollow social media accounts which stir up financial insecurities. Devote time to listening to personal finance podcasts or reading books to close any knowledge gaps, especially around vulnerable areas.”

Another helpful approach for those experiencing financial dysmorphia is to try to assess their personal finances with an objective lens before making judgements about how they’re doing.

“That means looking at their income and expenses to see whether their cash flow is on the positive or negative side,” Ayoola said. “Another strategy is to focus on measuring their achievements based on their progress toward financial milestones and not that of their peers. While comparison can be healthy in some cases, everyone is on a different financial journey, so sometimes it can do more harm than good.”

As you pursue a healthier relationship with money, Kennedy advised practicing self-compassion

“Understand it’s OK to spend on necessities and things that bring joy,” she said. “Financial caution is good, but not when it harms your well-being. Financial caution should not put you in a constant state of inaction. You have to recognize when financial worries become excessive. Finding a balance is key.” This article originally appeared on HuffPost.