How do you really feel about your money? Six toxic and unhealthy mindsets to avoid

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Money troubles are a fact of life, but Aussies seem more troubled than ever between rising living costs, interest rates, and unemployment. While creating a budget and watching our spending can be great ways to check in, something often gets overlooked in financial discussions: how we feel about our money.

So let’s break down money values, why they’re important, and how they can help you cultivate a healthy money management mindset – or sour into a bad one.

Money values: the secret motivation behind how you spend and save

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Money values are how we think and feel about our money. For example, some people appreciate money for the security, empowerment, or freedom it gives them, while others prioritise nurturing others or having flexibility in their lifestyle. All are important and valid.

How we relate to money affects how we use it. Someone who values security might be a more frugal saver, while someone who wants to nurture others might prioritise spending on their kids or donating to charity. 

Understanding what you want to do with your money can help you align your spending habits and savings goals with what matters most. It can also help you see why you might not feel great about your financial situation.

Unhealthy and toxic ways to think about money

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If you don’t live up to your money values, it can leave you stressed, confused, and frustrated – and you may not even know why. Left unchecked, this inauthenticity can quietly fester into unhealthy or toxic mindsets that don’t serve you or your goals.

These mindsets are usually driven by fear, shame, or unawareness, and often come from childhood. Maybe our families didn’t have enough money, or had so much we took it for granted. Maybe we were never taught money management skills. How we were raised affects how we think as adults – even about our finances. 

But if you get stuck in a poor money mentality, go easy on yourself. Not everyone is the same, and not everyone grows up with the same access to wealth, privilege, or security. Recognising a ‘bad’ money mindset doesn’t mean you’re bad: instead, it empowers you to grow. 

Let’s break down some common but unhealthy ways to think about money – and how you can start to heal them.

#1. Money is scarce, so spend it now!

Collage of a woman holding a shopping bag then checking her bank balance.
  • Unlived money values: security, lifestyle

There’s panic behind this mindset. In a mad dash to make hay while the sun shines, you forget to make your money count for more. Ironically, spending too much because you worry it’ll disappear makes you run out of money faster. 

Classic symptoms include compulsively shopping, spoiling yourself, friends, or loved ones, or immediately splurging whenever you get paid. 

While living large can be fun, nurturing yourself consistently is important. You might have trouble visualising how much you’re spending, or restrictive spending may make you feel ‘poor’ or ‘cheap’. On the contrary: restricted spending keeps more money in your hand for longer. 

Solution to try: Instead of unleashing your paycheck like a firehose, drip-feed your finances with this savings trick.

#2. Money is scarce, so never, ever spend it.

Collage of a person clutching a piggy bank.
  • Unlived money values: lifestyle, nurturing, freedom

Again, this mindset is one of fear. When you operate in permanent saving mode, even the potential of making a mistake or wasteful purchase fills you with such anxiety that you never, ever spend – and neglect yourself. 

Classic symptoms of this mindset include declining invitations, missing out on things you want, and avoiding any treats or ‘silly’ purchases. 

While it’s great to be frugal and sometimes necessary to cut back, remember to be kind to yourself. Mistakes happen, money gets spent on pointless things. Don’t let fear hold you back from enjoying life, and remember that money can be a tool to nurture yourself and others. After all, if you never spend it, what are you saving for? 

Solution to try: Set some goals for how you want to use your savings, both small (like the cute souvenir you’ve been eying) and large (like a dream trip abroad).

#3. Money means nothing, so who even cares?

Collage of someone cutting a pizza with their credit card.
  • Unlived money values: empowerment, security

“Money doesn’t matter: it won’t care for you when you’re sick. It doesn’t define who you are. And it’ll never make you truly happy. So who cares? There are other important things in life.”

While all of this is true, devaluing money overlooks its usefulness as a tool. It can also sometimes quietly signal privilege: people who constantly say money can’t make you happy have never been poor. 

Classic symptoms include reckless spending, never checking or comparing your accounts/providers, and financial complacency. You let things just ‘run themselves’. 

But you’re not lazy: you’re demotivated. While it’s true money doesn’t define you and can’t bring you fulfilment, it can help keep you comfortable and secure. And unfortunately, not paying attention to your finances makes you a perfect customer to banks and lenders who’d like to overcharge or underpay you. 

Solution to try: Start small by looking at where you park your money: your savings account. What’s the interest rate? Any fees? Then compare it with others out there to see if you can get a better deal.

#4. Money means everything, so I’m only worth what I save.

A man runs up a series of clouds into the sky.
  • Unlived money values: nurturing, security

This money mindset is everywhere: the media, our friends and families, and ourselves. We’re taught to always want more, to be born financial experts with high salaries and considerable savings. The subtext is clear but brutal: “Wealthy people are inherently better”.

This mindset is also a seductively beautiful lie: no dollar value will satisfy us if we want more. 

Classic symptoms of this mindset include your mood going up and down with your savings balance, never checking your accounts out of fear, and never feeling financially ‘safe’. 

Shame lies at the heart of this mindset, and the only antidote is empathy. You’re human, which means you’re good enough already. Overvaluing money conflates your self-worth with your net worth, which gives it way too much power over you. 

Solution to try: Write down your money values. What actually matters to you? Consider how money can help you honour these values, then go from there.

#5. Money is simple. Why doesn’t everyone just do what I do?

Collage of a man pointing out how he knows everything about money.
  • Unlived money values: nurturing, flexibility

You’ve got it all figured out, and the solutions seem obvious. Heck, you’re basically a free financial advisor. Your motto may as well be: if my method ain’t broke, it’s rich!

Classic symptoms of this mindset include recommending the same products, brands, and strategies to everyone, feeling frustrated by other people’s financial shortcomings, and inflexibility with your own money habits. 

Even if you work in finance or have a degree in economics, this poor money mindset is less about ‘what you know’ and more about ‘making sure other people know you know it’. You might feel shame about not being good enough, or maybe you’re seeking praise or inclusion. You may not even be aware you have this attitude towards other people.

But not everyone is the same. People have different backgrounds, levels of experience, and money values – and no one trick works for everyone. This mindset can also make you inflexible with your own finances. After all, when was the last time you checked in with your money, or asked for advice or help?

Solution to try: Put your skills to the test with a top-down financial review. This isn’t about ‘catching you out’ but checking in with your money values. Talk to a financial planner to get insight into your situation, and download a smart budget app to review your spending habits. You may surprise yourself!

#6. Money is confusing. I’ll never understand it.

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  • Unlived money values: empowerment, security, freedom

Money can sometimes be scary. After all, finance has big words, numbers, and real-life stakes. So why bother trying when you might fail, or worse, or feel ‘stupid’?

Conversations about money may send you spiralling or make you feel excluded and confused. Maybe no one taught you money habits and jargon at a young age, so you worry you’ll never understand. 

Classic symptoms include giving up, never reading the terms and conditions, and shutting down money talks with loved ones (or letting them manage everything for you). Either way, you give up control. 

Don’t let shame take away your agency. You can learn money skills at every stage in life: it is never too late. And who knows, you may surprise yourself! It’s also essential to ask for help. A good financial planner can help you get a new perspective on your finances – what you earn, save, and spend – and empower you to make decisions that work for you. 

Solutions to try: Laughter can take the scariness out of anything. Insurance can be weird, and no mobile question is too silly. You can also browse Mozo’s jargon buster for finance buzzwords in plain English.

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