An overwhelming majority of Americans (84%) feel anxious about money, according to a Tally survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults age 18 or older, conducted online by The Harris Poll in October 2019. This sentiment was notably higher among people with financial debt (90%) than those without financial debt (66%).
A person with financial anxiety is described as having “an uneasy and unhealthy attitude toward engaging with and administering their personal finances in an effective way.” This can manifest as feeling depressed or anxious about finances, overspending, being obsessively frugal, relying on others to handle your money, or being unable to change financial behaviors despite incentives to do so.
As for how often Americans feel this way, about 1 in 3 (30%) report feeling anxious about money at least once a day. Comparatively, a smaller proportion feel this way several times a week (16%), once a week (7%), several times a month (13%), or once a month or less often (19%). Only 16% say they never feel anxious about money.
So what are people so worried about? Paying off debt and not being able to save money are the top financial worries among Americans (55% each). This is followed by the rising cost of health care (37%), incurring unexpected expenses such as a health emergency or car repair (36%), not earning enough money to live the lifestyle one wants (36%), not earning enough money to cover one’s expenses (34%), and the rising cost of housing which includes rent and home prices (27%).
To dive deeper, we re-examined these sentiments by gender, marital status and parental status and found that women, unmarried adults, and parents of kids under 18 are more likely to experience financial anxiety.
Generally speaking, women are more likely to be anxious about money more often than men. When asked how often they feel anxious about money, 56% of women say at least once a week. By comparison, just 49% of men say they feel the same. The disparity in income between men and women is likely driving the difference in financial anxiety. Women, on average, make 82 cents for every $1 a man earns, according to US Census data on median earnings for full-time, year-round workers.
Saving money and paying off debt are the top financial worries for both men and women. However, women are more likely than men to worry about not being able to save any or more money (59% vs 51%) and paying off debt (58% vs 52%). Breaking down the savings concerns more, women are almost equally worried about not being able to save any money (40%) and saving more money (39%). However, a slightly larger proportion of men worry more about not being able to save more money (37%) over saving any money (33%).
After these top two financial worries, the pay disparity between men and women really comes through. Women are more likely to worry about not earning enough money to cover their expenses than men (39% vs 29%) and the rising cost of housing (31% vs 22%).
Both men and women are equally concerned about the rising cost of health care (37%). There was also no statistically-significant difference in worry about incurring unexpected expenses (38%, women vs 34%, men) or not earning enough to live the lifestyle one wants (38%, women vs 34%, men).
While weddings can be an expensive debt-inducing event, marriage today usually creates a two-income household that offers more financial stability to its participants. Unmarried adults (35%) are more likely to feel anxious about money at least once a day than married adults (24%).
Unmarried adults are more likely to worry about not being able to save more or any money (58%) than married adults (52%). Tellingly, a slightly larger proportion of unmarried adults worry about not being able to save any money (42%) than saving more money (39%). The opposite is true for married adults with a slightly higher share who worry more about not being able to save more money (37%) than saving any money (30%).
Paying off debt is a common concern for both married adults (57%) and unmarried adults (54%), though certain types of debt are more likely to be worrisome based on marital status. Specifically, married adults are more likely than unmarried adults to worry about paying off a mortgage loan (21% vs 12%) or a car loan (19% vs 14%). The debts that worried unmarried adults more than married adults were student loans (16% vs 11%). There was no statistically-significant difference in worry about credit card debt (34%, married vs 32%, unmarried) and payday loans (6%, married vs 8%, unmarried).
Additionally, unmarried adults are more likely than married adults to worry about not earning enough money to live the lifestyle they want (42% vs 29%), not earning enough money to cover their expenses (39% vs 29%) and the rising cost of housing (29% vs 23%). On the other hand, married adults are more likely than unmarried adults to worry about the rising cost of health care (40% vs 34%). Both married and unmarried adults were about equally worried about incurring unexpected expenses (37%, married vs 36%, unmarried).
Children, as wonderful as they can be, are often a big financial stressor. Today, the estimated cost of raising a single child from birth to their 18th birthday is $233,610 for a middle-income family, according to USDA, or approximately $13,000 a year. So it’s not surprising that 2 in 5 parents of children under 18 (40%) say they feel anxious about money at least once a day. By comparison, only 24% of adults who do not have children under 18, who we’ll refer to as “non-parents,” say the same.
Living kid-free may lessen financial stress, but non-parents also worry about money. They are just less likely to worry about kid-specific costs than those who are parents of children under 18: the rising cost of education (11% vs 24%) and the rising cost of childcare (3% vs 22%). The only non-kid specific financial concern that parents of children under 18 are more likely than non-parents to worry about is paying off debt (62% vs 52%).
Both are equally concerned about not making enough money to live the lifestyle they want (36% each). Likewise, there was no statistically-significant difference in worry about not being able to save more or any money (57%, parents vs 54%, non-parents), incurring unexpected expenses (38%, parents vs 36%, non-parents), not making enough money to cover their expenses (37%, parents vs 32%, non-parents), the rising cost of health care (34%, parents vs 38%, non-parents), and the rising cost of housing (29%, parents vs. 25%, non-parents).
If you think you might be suffering from financial anxiety, here are some helpful suggestions:
A financial therapist is a combination of a financial planner and mental health therapist. They can help people unpack the underlying reasons why money causes them anxiety while helping them manage their money. Since this is a new field, finding the right person near you to help may take some time, but the Financial Therapy Association is a good place to start.
Use technology to manage your money, thereby reducing the stress of handling it yourself. For example, use autopay for your bills, setup auto-deposits for your savings, and use budgeting tools to track your expenses for you.
Nearly 2 in 3 U.S. adults with credit card debt (60%) feel anxious about money at least once a week. By comparison, only 45% of those with no credit card debt feel the same. Use Tally to manage all your credit card payments and help you calculate the smartest way to pay down your debt.
This survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of Tally from October 8-10, 2019, among 2,027 U.S. adults age 18 and older. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables and subgroup sample sizes, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.