Millennials and Gen Z: Here’s How You Can Overcome Money Dysmorphia

African-American worrying about money. Confused black man holding credit card and smartphone with disappointed face, shrugging stock photo
Vadym Pastukh /

Perhaps you have heard of body dysmorphia, a mental health disorder that may cause you to fixate on a minor or nonexistent “flaw” in your physique. Interestingly, there is also such a thing as “money dysmorphia.” This is a psychological condition that has similar effects, but around one’s financial standing, causing you to have a distorted view about your money situation.

Often, people with money dysmorphia think they don’t have enough money — when they actually are doing just fine. This distorted view can cause stress that simply isn’t warranted and may trigger obsessive behavior around all things money. Living with money dysmorphia can be detrimental, not only to your mental health, but possibly to your financial health, because you just can’t perceive your situation with accuracy.  

Money Dysmorphia Is Hitting Millennials and Gen Z Hard

Anyone can get money dysmorphia, but it appears to be trending, if you will, among younger generations. Why?

“Younger generations may express the greatest symptoms of money dysmorphia, as they inherit their parents’ trauma around scarcity and survival,” said Ali Katz, an author, lawyer and founder and CEO of a suite of companies that provide support for new paradigm legal, insurance, financial and tax decisions.

“For example, sometimes we see it arise when parents don’t want to talk to their kids about their inheritance due to various fears that will actually perpetuate generational money trauma,” Katz said. “And, 67% of millennials haven’t done any of their own estate planning, thinking they don’t have enough to need it, which could lead to costly and unnecessary court processes and even conflict.”

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The Symptoms of Money Dysmorphia

Before we can address how to overcome money dysmorphia, we must first lay out the key symptoms, according to Katz.

A Feeling of ‘Rock Bottom’

“Money dysmorphia can feel like a recurring financial rock bottom,” Katz said. “You may feel stuck without a plan, like life is happening to you instead of for you. But many people don’t realize that rock bottom is an opportunity, not a trap. It can be a time to reflect, grow, evolve and, most importantly, learn to self-trust. It’s an opportunity to face your financial mistakes head-on and address all that you’ve been most afraid of, which can be a powerful tool going forward.”

The False Sense That You’re Barely Getting By

Another symptom of money dysmorphia is the feeling that though money isn’t the main driver of your life, it always lurks anxiously in the back of your mind.

“Your financial habits include spending everything you have, pinching pennies, clipping coupons and dedicating a large amount of your time and energy into things that might have a higher return on investment,” Katz said. “You chase the feeling of having ‘enough’ — whatever that may be — but you feel like you never do. It may be difficult to recognize or ask for your wants and needs, as you may not even know yourself. This can lead to rock bottom, where you lack the empowerment to recognize opportunities and speak up for what you need.”

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You Need More, More, More Money

With money dysmorphia, you may actually have wealth, but you feel like you never have enough of it.

“Every decision you make is governed by money, and you’re honest about it — but, in reality, you are not truly fulfilled,” Katz said. “You find yourself compromising relationships in service to money and may sometimes inadvertently take advantage of people or sell more than you can deliver. Because of the constant drive for more, you are never able to truly relax.”

You’re Misaligned With Your Relationships (Possibly Not Only to Money)

With money dysmorphia, your relationship with money may feel totally misaligned in all ways, which can extend to other relationships, outside of money.

“You have far more than what you need, and you fear that you may be financially taken advantage of as a result,” Katz said. “Your relationships with others feel uneven, and if you fail to make changes, you feel you may dig yourself into a financial hole. You are unsure of how to approach these conversations or how to realign these relationships.”

How To Overcome Money Dysmorphia

If you suffer from money dysmorphia, it’s wise to enlist the help of a mental health therapist and/or the services of a financial therapist. But there are additional steps you can take to fight it.

Recognize You Have It

Recognizing a problem is always key to overcoming or managing the problem; understanding if and when you have money dysmorphia is an incredibly important step. From there, you can assess what contributes to your misaligned relationship with money.

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“This financial fear often stems from not understanding money, having bad money experiences in the past or trying too hard to be financially independent too soon,” said Jeff Rose, CFP and founder of Good Financial Cents. “These things can distort how we see our financial situation, leading to over-saving and cutting into our joy.”

Aim To Achieve Balance

Overcoming money dysmorphia requires strong balance.

“It means setting financial goals that make sense for you, budgeting for some fun or maybe getting help from a financial therapist to work through these feelings,” Rose said. “Remember, your self-worth isn’t about how much money you have, and you deserve to enjoy life regardless of your balance.”

Stay Off (or Limit) Social Media

So much of what we scroll through on social media, we may absorb in an unconscious way that can harm us. If you’re dealing with money dysmorphia, or any kind of comparative behavior when it comes to your finances, it’s a good idea to dial down the screen time.

“Social media and celebrity culture can exacerbate money dysmorphia, because we’re seeing images of people living glamorous lives spending money,” said Scott Lieberman, founder of Touchdown Money. “But then again, we don’t know the truth as to how they got that money and how much debt they’ve accumulated. What helped me was learning the famous maxim, ‘Comparison is the thief of joy.’

“Trying to live up to a carefully presented image of wealth or body or lifestyle from others is a surefire way to feel miserable,” Lieberman said. “Instead of seeking validation from external — and often false! — sources, look inside yourself. Ask, ‘What really makes me happy?’ Then, live with faith, gratitude and purpose. Money is simply a tool to serve your purpose. It’s not a measure of your worth.”

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