This is a guest post from Rya Hristova. Rya had her reader story featured at Get Rich Slowly last year. She writes a Bulgarian personal-finance blog called kadebg.com.

Did you grow up in a modest family? Walking to school or taking the bus instead of having your own car? Wearing clothes your siblings have grown out of, instead of getting designer clothes? Always trying to make do or do without?

And now in your adult life, have you found reasons to pass on high-paying jobs? Saying, “Oh that job would have been boring” or “that job is not quite me”? Are you afraid to ask for a raise? Do you feel uncomfortable getting paid for fixing a computer when the owner is someone you know? Do you think that charging money for something you do somehow makes you selfish?

If so, you may have the “I’m afraid to earn more money” syndrome.

Saving versus earning
There are usually two main camps in personal finance: spend less and earn more.

You may think that the majority of people lean to the “spend less” camp. You might also think that while not everyone can earn more, “spend less” is universal advice. Anyone can spend less, right?

Actually, no.

People who are good earners like to indulge themselves. They just plain hate words like “cutting back”, “save”, or “budget”. For earners, learning to cut back is like making an emotional eater cut back on food. It’s scary.

But what’s even more interesting is that savers are often afraid to earn more money.

Okay, they are not afraid to take more money if offered it by their boss. But they are afraid to make more money by starting a side income or a side business. (I should know, I’ve been there.)

One theory has it that saving and earning more require different skill sets. Another theory says it’s not the skill set but the mindset. Savers love security and stability while earners have a taste for risk, trying new things and rocking the boat. To earners, rocking the boat is fun! (While, as you can imagine, savers are mortified.)

So we have two very good theories here to explain why savers are actually afraid of earning more money. Oh, but wait…

…It goes deeper than that
While there are many reasons for why savers are afraid of earning, that’s not the whole story. Because savers are not only afraid of earning. They could also be afraid of just having a lot of money.

I’ll bet you $50 that if you take a saver to the mall and tell them they can have anything they want for free, they won’t choose the most expensive item. I’ll raise the bet: they won’t choose anything expensive. They’ll just pick a regular item within their usual, affordable price range.

That’s because most savers just don’t know how to be extravagant. Lifestyles of the rich feel foreign to them. This scares them.

Take an Eskimo and offer them to live anywhere in the world. You’d think they’d choose to go some place much warmer, like near the equator. Or at least South Italy. But no, they are so used to the cold and ice that they probably find it beautiful. It’s what they know.

Savers are no different than Eskimos
The point is that, as psychologist Barbara de Angelis says, “how we see the world — and money in particular — is a product of our psychological programming.” That is, if you grow up in a home which struggled with money and in which the most frequent guest was scarcity, you are programmed to love it.

You don’t believe that, do you?

Of course you don’t. Instead, you’re saying “Are you crazy, Raya? No one wants to be poor” or “Of course I want to be rich — who doesn’t?!”

But what you say you want and what you really want deep down are not the same thing. If you’ve lived in a poor or middle-class home, you are bound to love it just like the Eskimo is bound to love their North Pole. It’s just how nature works. You are meant to love the things that are familiar to you, and not necessarily the things that are better for you or that you think you want.

Mom and Dad in the spotlight
You know how we say kids learn by example and not by words? You can nag your kid all day about the importance of fitness, but if you just lay in front of the TV eating fast food, your example and deeds will sink in, not your words.

So if you grew up in a poor or middle-class home, you are very likely to try and duplicate that atmosphere as an adult.

And what about your mom and dad? Maybe their attitude towards money was that money is the root of all evil, or that rich people are bad, bad people.

Or maybe your parents, while living tight, talked to you about how important money is and how it probably feels great to be rich? Well, again, those are only words. You hear one thing but you see another. You see a humble home. You see a rusty car. You see paint peeling off the walls. But you associate all that with mom and dad, family, security, good times, and happiness. And then the peeling paint and rusty car seem sweet and romantic. The picture now has its own charm.

A solution?
So does this mean that you’re future is set in stone? That your fate is to say you want to be rich, but act like you’re running away from riches? That you will spend your life being scared of the big bucks?

Well the first step in healing your mentality is to realize all of that. Take a look back at your childhood and early years in your family. Look for “triggers” that may have set off your programming, like any occasions on which money was discussed. Do you remember any warm, bonding moments that you subtly associate with not having money, for example you and mom patching worn-out clothes while she tells you a family story or you and dad fixing the rusty car and having a laugh?

Note: I do not mean to say that you can’t grow up in a modest family and be happy. I grew up like that and I was very happy. But there’s no point in letting old strings keep you away from a financially secure life and abundance. You need to accept that you can have money and live rich and still keep your sweet childhood memories. In fact, they’ll probably feel even sweeter — when you get rich, you can look back and smile, thinking about the long journey you’ve walked.

Your life is a choice, not a destiny
Finally, get up and do something about earning more money. It’s really not that hard. You may not get it right the first time, but the beautiful thing is there’s no limit as to how many times you can try.

After all, what’s the worst that can happen? Even if you fail you will be right back at where you are now, but more experienced. And if you succeed, you will end up bringing more money in. Then more. And more.

It’s ridiculous to be afraid of earning more money just because you were programmed that way when you were young. You’re not a computer. You have free will.

Don’t waste it.

GRS is committed to helping our readers save and achieve their financial goals. Savings interest rates may be low, but that is all the more reason to shop for the best rate. Find the highest savings interest rates and CD rates from Synchrony Bank, Ally Bank, GE Capital Bank, and more.

137 Comments