PTSD For Money?

Caught a fascinating email this morning on financial stress just released by

In a nutshell, their research finds that nearly 1 in 4 Americans, and 1 in 3 millennials, suffer from PTSD-like symptoms caused from financially-induced stress.

Something they’re labeling as “Acute Financial Stress” or “AFS“.

Here’s what that means in the real world (taken from their press release):

People suffering from this condition have behavior grounded in denial and avoidance that isn’t rational or by choice, and results in an increased inability to plan, organize and manage one’s financial life, while simultaneously experiencing a full range of symptoms associated with PTSD. These include agitation, irritability, hypervigilance, self-destructive behavior and isolation that can lead to an inability to have loving feelings towards others.

Now none of this sounds all that surprising unfortunately (how many people do we know in such situations? Maybe even ourselves?), but what I find to be the fascinating part is that these scientific studies are being done by a financial institution! One that’s actually gone out and hired an entire in-house team of clinical and research psychologists, neuroscientists, psychometricians and data scientists. Who does that in our industry??

You probably heard of Payoff before when we did that Financial Personality quiz last year (check it out, if not – I’m The Storyteller*, you?), and it all ties together in their mission to fully understand how, and why, we deal with our finances the way we do. Because at the end of the day the more we can understand how we relate to our money, the more we can improve our relationship with it and become healthier, wealthier and wiser in the process. “Financial Wellness” as they call it.

And I love that their team is led by eHarmony’s lead scientist who helped invest the “Love” patent, haha… Who’s now apparently responsible for 4% of marriages in the United States! :)

Now obviously I’m not a doctor or scientist in the least so I can’t tell you whether this is PTSD-like or AFS or what, but I can say that us financial bloggers get deluged by emails from people desperately seeking help all day every day, and the ruining of lives is certainly real – whether our own faults or not. And debt bloggers see the worst of it. My friend Melanie from literally gets emails every other week from people considering taking their own life, and unfortunately there are thousands (millions?) more out there doing so behind closed doors. It’s horrible :(

The internet’s making it easier to seek out help and support, especially with the explosion of blogs, but we’ve still got a ways to go. And I actually gotta stop for a sec and give Melanie some love here for not only talking these guys off the ledge every month, but for also deciding to divert a portion of her blog income to helping people pay off some of their debts too! How amazing is that? Words and encouragement are nice, but some straight up cash money to help ease the burden is quite impactful too. So good on ya, Mel!

So yeah – labels or not, the struggle is real. And I give Payoff respect for jumping in and trying to do something about it – even though yeah, at the end of the day they’re a business and the marketing certainly helps (I do genuinely think they care though fwiw, or else I wouldn’t be writing about this). We need as much help as we can get, so I hope other institutions follow their lead!

To learn more about their findings, as well as to assess your own financial stress levels, check out: And PLEASE, no matter what, know you’re not alone with this stuff! There’s light at the end of the tunnel if you keep on pushing!

PS: Here’s a list of some of the best debt bloggers around too – hit ’em up.

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  1. Brian @DebtDiscipline April 20, 2016 at 6:17 AM

    Interesting stuff. Didn’t realize it was being labeled. The good news is that there is plenty of help available. I think it just proves the fact that we need to educate more at younger ages on financial literacy for better money awareness. That doesn’t always mean everyone will get the sh!$ together, but at least they will have the building blocks.

  2. Chris @ Flipping A Dollar April 20, 2016 at 6:28 AM

    Totally sounds about right. Think about how many marriages are caused by money stress. All I know is that you can break out of the cycle. My parents were dirt poor as teenagers with a young child but now are very successful. I like to think of my family as successful too. I guess that doesn’t help someone in the thick of it now though.

    1. J. Money April 20, 2016 at 7:17 AM

      I think people need to be encouraged as much as possible for sure :) Always harder to see the bigger picture when you’re in the thick of things, but after you escape it and look back?? Man… gotta be the best feeling ever.

  3. The Green Swan April 20, 2016 at 7:16 AM

    I wouldn’t argue with the label. People going through financial struggles, struggling to stay afloat, relying on short term institutional loan programs (payday, installment, or otherwise) is real and can be a hard cycle to crack. The psychological and emotional toll would be very exhausting and I empathize with anyone in this situation. There are a lot of resources available and that is great. Folks just need to stay optimistic with an eye toward a brighter future.

    Thanks for the post, J.

    The Green Swan

  4. Roy Largo @ Band of Savers April 20, 2016 at 7:33 AM

    I can definitely see how this PTSD-like diagnosis can be real. Having to deal with severe money stresses are one of the reasons that I took the time to learn so much about finances. I lived in Zimbabwe as a missionary for two years (from 19 to 21 years old) and most of that time was forced to live off of very very little while dealing with one of the worst periods of hyperinflation that the modern world has ever seen. It’s amazing to have billions of dollars in your wallet and not be able to buy bread. When I came home I noticed that I had developed a severe fear of not having enough money to support myself. And still, several years later, I can see that it is still debilitating to a degree. My wife has to remind me regularly that we are going to be alright financially because, after having that experience, financial insecurity is one of my biggest fears. #Spendaphobia

    1. superbien April 20, 2016 at 8:17 AM

      Oh my gosh. I had read about post war Germany being like that, wheelbarrows of cash to buy a loaf of bread, but you actually lived that in modern day! Wow. What terrible uncertainty Zimbabweans had to live with. Did people mostly turn to barter?

      And I can imagine how stressful that would be, and what an indelible impression it would make. It’s like Depression era people, they know viscerally that the invisible systems that govern life can fall apart completely.

      I think missionary work is already super stressful, financially. My sister in law was a missionary for ?6-8? years, and there was such pressure not to buy even the tiniest luxury (because of poverty, but also because people donate money and you want to use their money for their intended goal), but that’s really hard, especially in a foreign country and doing a really hard job with its own set of pressures and expectations. I had never thought about any of this, but blog articles (by other missionaries) she has posted on Facebook over the years have opened my eyes to how tough it is.

    2. J. Money April 20, 2016 at 11:21 AM

      Wowwwww – I’m familiar with the hyperinflation there mainly out of coin/currency collecting and seeing all the collectors scoop them out just because it was “cool” to have (not so cool to be a part of it, of course) but man.. you lived there through that period! That’s incredible! Tell me you’ve blogged about it or have plans to? Not many people can share that experience – and what you’ve learned from it all – so you definitely should… I can’t even imagine what that’s like!

      1. Roy Largo @ Band of Savers April 20, 2016 at 4:38 PM

        I thought you might find this interesting as a collector. I have Zimbabwe currency notes that range from 1 cent to $100 Billion. Then they issued a new line of currency where they cut off ten 0’s and I have notes ranging from $1 to $1,000,000 in that currency. Within 6 months of me leaving they were printing $100 Trillion dollar notes, then they cut off 12 more 0’s for a new line of currency but shortly thereafter stopped printing their own currency and started relying solely on foreign currencies (mainly USD, Pula and Rand).

        1. J. Money April 21, 2016 at 4:12 PM

          Oh my goodness…. sounds terrifying.

          I haven’t looked at my stash of these bills in a while, but I think I have the largest of all the bills up to the point of stoppage – got them as a gift from someone. What a mess.

  5. kalie @ Pretend to Be Poor April 20, 2016 at 7:43 AM

    What a sad truth, but your take on it is so encouraging. And what Melanie is doing to help people out with debt payoff is awesome! Unfortunately I think this avoidance and denial behavior is evident in any serious area where the stakes are high. People try to avoid their health problems, drug problems, parenting problems, etc. because it is painful and scary to deal with these head on. I’ve done my share of this in areas that I’m scary of (medical) and have compassion, but actually addressing things leads to so much less anxiety in the end!

    1. J. Money April 20, 2016 at 11:52 AM

      I know :( Horrible situation to be in regardless of the area!

  6. Apathy Ends April 20, 2016 at 7:50 AM

    It was stressful living paycheck to paycheck, even knowing that my family would help out if something happened.

    can only imagine how much more stressful it would be if you had people depending on you (kids, family).

    Great post, thank you for highlighting their research

  7. Money Beagle April 20, 2016 at 8:29 AM

    I can totally believe it. Your money situation is something that is always there and given how money is such an important piece of our lives, the stress factor is big.

  8. Steve @ Think Save Retire April 20, 2016 at 8:46 AM

    Regardless of what you call it, money is definitely the source of a LOT of angst, especially here in the United States where the cheap availability of credit has saddled financially irresponsible Americans with mountains of debt. It’s one of those snowball effects that can build incredibly rapidly once you get that debt-ball rolling, unfortunately.

    1. J. Money April 20, 2016 at 11:54 AM

      All from banks trying to make more $$$ back in the day! Credit cards are only like 50 years old or something like that – a short period in the grand scheme of things but what destruction it’s helped done so far, it’s insane.

  9. PhysicianOnFIRE April 20, 2016 at 9:01 AM

    Interesting… I get that the struggle is real. Financial issues are usually the #1 thing couples fight about, so the stress is obviously real, too.

    But to compare financial stress to the PTSD experienced by rape victims or veterans of war who were forced to kill, seems unjust to those experiencing the real deal PTSD.

    1. J. Money April 20, 2016 at 12:01 PM

      It’s definitely walking a fine line for sure… probably why they put “PTSD-like” everywhere and that they’re still researching and comparing/etc/etc…

      I think what’s important here is how to prevent the *result* of what any of these horrible situations can do for you – both in terms of a spiraling out life, and worst – the taking of it. Regardless of how horrible the events were to get you to this point, the more people/companies trying to dish out hope and solutions the better!

  10. Mr. SSC April 20, 2016 at 9:08 AM

    I would definitely agree, and this was one of my big worries early on in our FIRE quest. Mainly, why would we want to leave two good, steady paychecks and live like we’re in college again?

    This stemmed from the fact of growing up so poor and freaking out about where are we going to get money for food, which bill has to get paid this week, why are the lights turned off again? Even though it was out of my control as a kid, I still present day get a knot in my stomach and feel my blood pressure go up, and get frantic thoughts, when I “relive” those days. Even now just typing this, ugh… and I’m 38 for goodness sakes.

    It’s taken a while to realize that 1. I’m not in the same boat at all, heck not even the same ocean as back then, 2. We are way better off from a savings, and investment standpoint, and 3. we know how to make good financial decisions to not end up in that situation – budgeting and discipline is not that hard…

    1. J. Money April 20, 2016 at 11:58 AM

      And 4. You can probably (hopefully) go back and get another job again in a worst case scenario :) So if the $hit does hit the fan once you reach FIRE you still have options… And it’s not like you’ll never work on projects/hobbies that couldn’t turn into $$ producing income on their own either. Heck – maybe your blog takes off and starts bringing an income stream!

  11. Ann April 20, 2016 at 9:48 AM

    Out of curiosity, I wonder what their family life was like. If their parents experienced issues with managing money, if that would somehow affect this condition. Or if it’s more prevalent in college grads due to student loans.

    There’s also talk of helicopter parents. If a person had helicopter parents that did everything for them, would that have any affect? Suddenly, as an adult, they have to make financial decisions on their own. Interesting.

    1. J. Money April 20, 2016 at 12:03 PM

      Yup! Sooooo many variables that go into this stuff. How you were raised, where you were raised, who you hung out with, educational background, events that transpire in your life, DNA and on and on and on… I don’t think you could ever pinpoint it exactly, at least not across the masses.

  12. Stefan @Mllnnlbudget April 20, 2016 at 9:50 AM

    Financially stability is often a major stress point for individuals and couples. I think a show on Netflix called “Living on One Dollar” definitely relates to this post. Seeing the struggle and worry people in extreme poverty have to endure is heartbreaking. Hopefully studies like this can lead people to supporting those in need. Thanks for sharing the research.

    1. J. Money April 20, 2016 at 12:04 PM

      Woahhh what? That’s crazy! Gonna search for that tonight instead of my TED Talks… been looking for something good to watch, thx for the tip :)

      1. Stefan @Mllnnlbudget April 20, 2016 at 1:44 PM

        Let me know what you think! It spoke a lot about microfinancing which was very interesting to learn about.

  13. The Jolly Ledger April 20, 2016 at 11:38 AM

    I found it interesting when they said AFS leads to an inability to have loving feelings towards others. Maybe that is why those of us getting our financial lives in order have cultivated such a loving and supportive blog community. I love seeing others try and succeed!

    1. J. Money April 20, 2016 at 12:09 PM

      I don’t know, but I do like how positive/caring everyone here is for sure! Such a refreshing place to be in daily especially compared to all the hate/jealousy/and just downright meanness members of other communities are. I can’t even read comments in the larger media sites as I leave so depressed! And doesn’t matter what the articles are even on – people always find a way to tear it apart, ugh…

      So A+ to the personal finance community all around :)

  14. Harmony April 20, 2016 at 11:41 AM

    You’re right – it’s really not too surprising. I know all too well how the limitations of debt can cause stress and depression (*. However, I’m optimistic that things are changing and coming to terms with your financial issues no longer has to be done in private. There is so much support available for anyone trying to fix their money mistakes. They just need to realize that they need help and be brave enough to ask for it.

    Melanie is awesome for what she’s doing to help out some pretty desperate-sounding individuals.

    *As featured on Rockstar Finance :)

    1. J. Money April 20, 2016 at 12:10 PM

      That was one of my favorite posts you’ve ever written :) Highly recommend everyone checking it out!!

      1. Harmony April 21, 2016 at 11:09 AM

        Thank you for your support. I just hope that my post reaches at least one person who needs some encouragement to keep trying.

  15. Mel April 20, 2016 at 3:41 PM

    We have been down this road before and somehow we found our way back after 7 years of being credit card/medical debt free. As with anything, we jumped into it full force and are worse than when we started. My kids are growing up and getting involved in things and I hate hearing “We can’t afford that,” come out of my mouth. I want our financial choices to be a decision based on our values – not a consequence of our poor decisions.

    All that to say this: My name is Mel, and I have AFS.
    BUT – I went through the profile and answered the questions honestly. I was most impressed by the fact that, not only did Payoff tell me how I compare to the rest of my demographic, but it wasn’t a total jerk about it. It said “You’re overspending here, but hang in there and let’s look at ways to help you be successful.”

    I needed that today. Thank you!

    1. J. Money April 21, 2016 at 4:16 PM

      Awww – love that. I’m glad it made you feel better today :) And at least you know you can dig out again since you already did it once! That’s gotta help keep you going, yeah?

  16. Jayson @ Monster Piggy Bank April 20, 2016 at 5:06 PM

    PTSD. This is real. So for others who are dealing with it, it’s hard I know but I think if goals are just realized in fullest potential, this disorder can be easily overcome. And, support group is one that can help speed up recovery.

  17. Amanda April 20, 2016 at 5:15 PM

    Took the quiz and found my financial stress levels are low, which I pretty well knew. I feel fortunate that this is the case today, as it hasn’t always been that way. I remember 14 years ago when we were sued due to a very minor fender bender (think 5 mph). My financial stress level went through the roof, and my husband reminded me not to worry because we didn’t have any money for them to take anyway (we had a negative net worth at the time). Not good. Thankfully it all worked out.

    I feel for those experiencing those high stress levels – one of the main reasons I started a blog. Kudos to Melanie for her part in helping so many people with this issue!

    1. J. Money April 21, 2016 at 4:19 PM

      Oh man, I hate how nasty people can get with stuff! People need more empathy up in here…

  18. Carrie April 20, 2016 at 7:35 PM

    I remember when I was first married and money was so tight, like not enough to eat, tight. At the time I remember laying awake nights, worrying. You just don’t get over that. This has coloured all our financial decisions since then. It has been good in some ways, we have become savers and we live a modest lifestyle that we can maintain on one income (in case one of our incomes was lost). In has been detrimental is other ways, we have become very cautious investors, we have missed opportunities for investments because we were scared. Even though we are financially secure now, with solid savings, I still worry that we may not have saved enough. It doesn’t keep me up at night anymore but I do check and re-check the numbers just to reassure myself that things will be OK.

    1. J. Money April 21, 2016 at 4:20 PM

      I’m sorry to hear :( But very glad you’re paying so close attention to it! I feel like it’s better than the opposite if you had to choose?

      1. Carrie April 21, 2016 at 4:42 PM

        It’s much better now. I sleep great at night :-) That experience did turn us into savers. If we had not experienced that we may have went through life completely oblivious and never saved for a rainy day. I would not call it PTSD, but it does change your way of thinking.

        1. J. Money April 22, 2016 at 7:05 AM

          I’m glad to hear :) And thank you for sharing as you never know who could be helped by reading this!

  19. NDQ April 20, 2016 at 7:53 PM

    This is so sad. Money stress is a terrible way to live. Once I turned to saving and investing, I started sleeping better. Money invested in sound assets along with an emergency fund really makes me sleep well and feel great. Life is good when you know you can pay the bills today and in the future.


  20. Mr. PIE April 20, 2016 at 10:11 PM

    Credit cards – helping people get into debt since 1966…..!!

    That was when the ancestor of MasterCard was born.

    Regarding stresses of path to FI, a lot of us get so focused it becomes all consuming. Finding the balance is hard. It has to be better though than slaving to 65….

    1. J. Money April 21, 2016 at 4:23 PM

      For sure… good to have a pulse and actively grow your wealth, but not be so consumed that it takes over life & thoughts & “purpose”.

  21. Eric Bowlin April 21, 2016 at 12:32 AM

    I feel like this is not a good path… If being poor causes ‘ptsd’, then it’s just a matter of time until being poor in and of itself is a reason to get disability payments.

  22. Mrs. PIE April 21, 2016 at 2:36 PM

    This is powerful stuff and very real too. We all have an emotional reaction when dealing with money – it just varies in it’s magnitude. This is a huge disconnect when you think that money is just math and numbers – that should be dealt with by logic not emotion, right?! It’s obviously not that simple – and a very good reason many people get in a mess or simply don’t engage with finance related decisions

    1. J. Money April 21, 2016 at 4:24 PM

      Did you both just leave a comment here? Mr and Mrs??

      That is awesome :)

      The couple who blogs together, stays together! Haha…

      1. Mrs. Pie April 21, 2016 at 10:40 PM

        Yes we did! It’s team Pie loving your blog!

        1. J. Money April 22, 2016 at 7:06 AM

          haha… awesome. And thank you :)

  23. Melanie @ Dear Debt April 21, 2016 at 4:28 PM

    Thanks for the love, J! It breaks my heart, but so many people are stressed/depressed/suicidal about money. It’s hard to cope. I hope we can do something bigger and better to help people :)

    1. J. Money April 21, 2016 at 4:37 PM

      You’re already doing something bigger and better! :)

      But yes, I’m devising a plan…

    2. Mr. PIE April 23, 2016 at 10:23 AM

      We are fortunate to be in a good position money wise and we recognize the challenges that thinking about money brings to so many. I wrote a piece over on our blog which is a start. Only a start. Yes, we need to be vey cognizant about the topic and considerate about those who are really struggling.

  24. Dividend Diplomats April 23, 2016 at 7:51 PM

    Thanks for writing about the topic. Sadly, the results of the survey don’t surprise me one bit, especially the stat about the millennials. Growing student loans have been placing a burden on new graduates and my generation. It is hard to escape and it is on everyone’s mind all the time since the payments take up such a significant chunk of your income.

    Bert, One of the Dividend Diplomats

  25. Dr. J @ Medschool financial May 7, 2016 at 12:20 AM

    Great post J$, health and finances are closely linked and a while back I wrote an article on why not saving is bad for your health, highlighting some of the negative effects induced by financial stress. I also commend Melanie and the dear debt letters, it’s great to see effort and interest like this.