Chrometophobia

My dark shadow, a fear of money

November 09, 2015 •

Chrometophobia is the Fear of Money. It’s not serious or life-threatening but, as far as phobias go, it’s a unique circumstance that governs my life to some degree.

In my situation, it’s not the fear of having money (for I am a capitalist at heart and enjoy collecting money), but the somewhat constant fear that I will spend my money unwisely or it will suddenly disappear. It manifests in different ways. Any retail purchase over $200 is accompanied by overwhelming stress and endless lamenting to my wife and friends. Even if I have the discretionary income (like birthday cash), I will make repeated visits to retail stores for even the simplest of purchases.

Advice in the form of “Just do X and Y, that’s what I do” falls flat on me and ends up being similar to telling a depressed person to “Just be happy.”

Haunted, I’ve spent hours researching and trying to understand my condition. Some information suggests a causality between a fear of money and homelessness; the solution to not being overwhelmed by money is simply to not have money. Why do I have it? I’m not sure. Maybe it was trigged by a serious event like my parents’ divorce? Or that time I actually was homeless on friends’ couches while being owed a month’s backpay? Or maybe it’s some weird religious guilt.

The Tax-man Cometh

As a self-employed business owner, every year I fear an innocent mistake on my taxes and the IRS will come and empty my life savings. To combat this, I did the responsible thing and hired an accountant, incorporated as a single member LLC, signed up for online accounting software, and began the process of piecing together my financial life.

However, this past year I experienced a catastrophic blowout. Around October 2014 I noticed that none of my quarterly business taxes had been paid. I emailed my accountant to see if I had perhaps done something wrong to prevent the auto-draft; no response. I called her office on numerous occasions; no response. That accountant had gone dark.

After a desperate search, I handed a new accountant my 2013 and 2014 taxes to piece together my fiscal outlook just as letters from the Social Security Administration and Texas Workforce Commission began rolling in. Here was his reply:

Wow Dave this is really messed up. There were so many things inconsistent and wrong between the financial statements and the tax returns… The oddest thing is that when they prepared your personal tax return… they reported [your income] as $5,000.

I owe… sigh… a lot more money. These are my worst fears come to life.

There’s a cascading effect too. Money I’ve been saving in my bank account (for just such a doomsday scenario) has disappeared. Money put away for retirement was based on wrong numbers, so it will have to be withdrawn, penalized, reinvested, and taxed. The numbers are still settling but I should have probably invested in a mattress to keep my money in instead.

Thousands of dollars are washing away as I untangle myself from this mess.

Overcoming and Reprogramming

Slowly but surely things are being squared away. Filings being amended. Quarterlies being paid. I wait on weekly phone calls like punches to the gut.

The solution to my phobia is to reprogram my brain. No simple task. I spend a lot of effort allowing my brain to spend frivolously when appropriate. In coordination with my wife, I set up imaginary parameters to suppress my inner miser; gifts, charity, and meals with friends all seem like worthy occasions to not care about money. It’s totally possible that a lack of budget in this department likely exacerbates my problem.

When I talk to people I admire and I feel manage their money well about whether to save/buy/invest/payoff/etc the answer is almost always boils down to “Do what makes you happy.” This is a bitter pill to swallow for someone wanting to be told what to do. If having a nice retirement nest egg makes you feel responsible and secure, do it. If buying property and being an AirBNB slumlord makes you happy, do it. If giving a large percentage of your money to charity makes you happy, do it. As hedonistic as that advice may be, that’s the advice I’m keeping in mind. For me, good meals with friends is what I want to remember about life.