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Understanding and Overcoming Bag Lady Syndrome in 10 Important Steps

By Editorial Team | Updated on July 16, 2023

The term “Bag Lady Syndrome” might not be commonly recognized, but it represents a prevalent fear that many individuals, particularly women, face. The syndrome denotes the anxiety of running out of money, losing financial security, and ending up homeless. Rooted in societal expectations and financial challenges, this fear can lead to undue stress, inadequate risk-taking, and an unhealthy relationship with money.

Recognizing the Origins of Bag Lady Syndrome

Bag Lady Syndrome, an anxiety disorder linked to financial instability, is largely propelled by societal narratives that continue to depict women as financially dependent. Although significant strides have been made towards women’s financial independence, the deeply ingrained notion of dependency still prevails, inciting concerns about financial security.

Recent surveys show that money is a significant stressor for most Americans, but women bear the brunt of this worry.

Over 46 percent of women admit that financial issues have negatively impacted their mental health, leading to anxiety, depression, sleeplessness, and stress. Understanding this societal context and its impact on women’s financial stress is critical in acknowledging the legitimacy of Bag Lady Syndrome and in crafting effective strategies to alleviate the fear and stress associated with it.

The Impact of Bag Lady Syndrome on Financial Behavior

The fear associated with Bag Lady Syndrome often translates into overly conservative financial behavior. Those suffering might shy away from investments, stick to safe but low-yield savings, or constantly worry about potential financial disasters. This anxiety-driven approach can hamper long-term financial growth and independence.

Confronting the Bag Lady Syndrome: Financial Literacy and Empowerment

The antidote to the Bag Lady Syndrome lies in financial literacy and empowerment. Knowledge is power; understanding financial concepts, market trends, and investment strategies can dispel fear.

Developing a comprehensive financial plan, setting realistic financial goals, and learning about income-generating assets can lead to a sense of control and diminish anxiety around money.

Professional Guidance: A Tool to Overcome Bag Lady Syndrome

Consulting with financial advisors or professionals can also help alleviate the Bag Lady Syndrome. These professionals can provide tailored advice, helping individuals understand their financial status, plan for the future, and make informed decisions. Moreover, their guidance can demystify complex financial concepts and cultivate confidence in money management.

The Role of Communities in Mitigating Bag Lady Syndrome

Communities play a crucial role in challenging the Bag Lady Syndrome. Discussion groups, financial literacy workshops, and mentorship programs can provide supportive spaces for sharing experiences, knowledge, and fears. In these communities, individuals can gain reassurance, understanding, and strategies to manage their financial anxieties.

Harnessing Technology to Combat Bag Lady Syndrome

Technological advancements have brought financial planning tools and resources to our fingertips. Apps and online platforms offering budgeting tools, financial literacy resources, and investment guides can help individuals gain financial knowledge and confidence. Harnessing these tools can be a significant step in overcoming the Bag Lady Syndrome.

Building a Healthier Relationship with Money

A critical aspect of overcoming Bag Lady Syndrome is fostering a healthier relationship with money. Recognizing money as a tool rather than a source of security can reduce anxiety. Practices such as mindful spending, regular financial check-ins, and celebrating financial successes, however small, can contribute to building this healthier perspective.

The Future Outlook: Shifting Perceptions about Women and Wealth

The societal narrative around women and wealth is gradually shifting. Women are increasingly taking charge of their finances, breaking down stereotypes, and paving the way for a more inclusive financial future. This progress bodes well for mitigating the Bag Lady Syndrome and fostering financial confidence among women.

10 Essential Tips to Avoid the Bag Lady Syndrome: A Guide to Financial Confidence

1. Educate Yourself About Finances

Arm yourself with knowledge. Understand basic financial concepts such as budgeting, investing, taxation, and retirement planning. Use resources like books, online courses, and workshops to improve your financial literacy.

2. Create a Financial Plan

A well-structured financial plan can be your roadmap to financial stability. Identify your financial goals, calculate your income and expenses, and create a budget. Plan for emergencies, and consider your long-term goals such as retirement or property ownership.

3. Build an Emergency Fund

Having an emergency fund can provide a sense of security. Aim to save at least three to six months’ worth of living expenses. This safety net can help alleviate anxiety about unexpected financial burdens.

4. Invest Wisely

Don’t shy away from investments. While they come with risks, they are key to growing wealth over time. Understand your risk tolerance, diversify your investment portfolio, and consider seeking advice from financial advisors.

5. Seek Professional Guidance

Professional financial advisors can provide personalized advice based on your financial situation and goals. They can help demystify complex financial topics and guide you in making informed decisions.

6. Use Financial Tools and Apps

Leverage technology to manage your finances. Budgeting apps, expense trackers, and investment platforms can make financial management more accessible and less intimidating.

7. Join Financially Focused Communities

Being part of a community can offer support, shared knowledge, and reassurance. Join clubs, online forums, or groups focused on financial literacy and investment discussions.

8. Practice Mindful Spending

Being mindful of your spending habits can lead to better financial control. Understand the difference between needs and wants. Make intentional purchases and avoid impulsive spending.

9. Regularly Review Your Financial Health

Set aside time to regularly review and adjust your financial plan. This can help you stay on top of your financial situation and proactively address any issues that arise.

10. Cultivate a Positive Mindset Around Money

View money as a tool, not a source of happiness or security. Celebrate your financial successes, maintain a positive outlook, and remember that financial stability is a journey, not a destination.

Check out other articles by best-selling authors:

Dawn Rasmussen – Top Five Questions About Resumes Answered

Sunny Lurie – Eight Proven Strategies to Open the Door to a Vibrant New Career

Stacia Pierce – How to Search for a Job During the Holidays

Dawn Quesnel- Helpful Hints for Job Seekers

Stacia Pierce – Conceit vs. Confidence


  1. Dorothy Manning

    Dear Tory, Yes, I certainly have feared that. Thankfully, I can put it in the past tense, and I so would have loved it to have the support groups that you create and that are so prevalent now. When I was living in fear of becoming a bag lady, guess what I created. Since then, because of the marvelous company (NSEnterprises) with which I have affiliated, I am in constant contact with loving, successful people who focus on the solution, not on the problem. I have taked personal development seminars, read and listened to all the “positive think” I can find. Believe in myself, and in what I can accomplish. Come from contribution: what can I do for you? And, look at the things in my life of which I have been most proud, meditate on that, and in that “space”, go forth to do good things in the world. Don’t worry about the mistakes; they are learning experiences, and everybody makes them. Be glad for them, so then you know not to go there again. Create S.M.A.R.T. goals, and then set about to achieve them. Have a mentor(s) and a best buddy in what you are doing. Have faith and belief. It is all very simple; we have a tendency to complicate it. Take time out for fun, for exercise and good health, for loving relationships with people of all ages. Have faith in something bigger than yourself, in God. Never try to do anything all alone; creaate your team. Be symbiotic; do for each other. Build. Grow. Rejoice. Dorothy Manning, Boston

  2. chdh

    Tory, I am close to homeless…not all the way to the street and will not be due only to my large circle of wonderful family and friends. I have a Master’s degree, was working as a therapist, then got sick…Parkinson’s Disease and cancer and started on disability. I could go on but the future scares me when I let it. I stay very involved, teach Yoga, walk. I know there are women in my age group (60’s)who are in the same situation. Shame continues to haunt me but I have skills to work with that, most of the time. I don’t entertain regret for very long, it drains the precious energy I have.

  3. K.Mayer

    I write for moms (most ex-professional, highly educated) who have stayed home for some time and are reentering the workforce in drips and drabs. The fear is palpable — especially in the economic climate where the primary breadwinner’s income is tenuous at best. Most plan to get their feet wet, but the reality changes drastically when the $ of partner eliminated.

  4. 2gether We Build

    The irony or “synchronicity” as Julia Cameron put it in her book “The Artist Way”.
    I was just contemplating the “Bag Lady” situation. After I bumped into a neighbor on the street.
    She is about 20 years my senior.
    While I was chatting with her the thought crossed my mind “God, is this my future to be? What am I to learn from this situation?”
    She was looking pretty raggedy.
    So, I prayed for her to help her and pay myself forward.

  5. Joanna

    I do not fear becoming a bag lady. I am 52 and have worked my entire life. I also have the “Depression mentality” of living within my means and having a solid retirement nest egg. It isn’t easy. I drive a 11 year old car, I don’t buy expensive shoes and suits (anymore, Once upon a time I thought nothing of paying $600 for a suit… not anymore.)
    I think your advice is wise Tory and if this worry is keeping you in a job you hate I say break free! You will be so much happier! Get your financial house in order and plan your escape carefully but definitely escape that job that you are keeping “so you don’t become a bag lady.”

  6. Motivator

    When I see a bag-lady, as I did yesterday, I tell her I care and give her a little money. This woman did not solicit me. She wheeled her shopping cart, filled with her treasures, near an outside library bench, and then sat her tired self upon the bench. Her swollen legs were covered by thick elastic stockings, secured at the top with several rubberbands, her complexion was red, ruddy, soiled. Layers of tattered, soiled, stench-laden clothing. Her gray hair was bound by a hairclip, and stuffed under a cap. I hope I see her again, to offer assistance and this time, to offer to put her in touch with an agency. Have you ever looked into the eyes of a struggling bag-lady? It will scare you, my friends. It did me. This could easily be one of us, or someone we love. My heart and mind were gripped. I was stunned. I did not, could not think fast enough to offer anything but money, which she graciously accepted. Can you imagine being a Senior Citizen living on the streets, in the alleys, under the viaducts, in the sewage and train tunnels and/or in the depths of public parks in Chicago? I cannot. But I met a woman who does this everyday and from the looks of it, has for quite a while.

  7. Marcia Brixey

    It’s amazing that you touched on the bag lady syndrome because I just finished writing the November Money Wise Women newsletter on the same topic. A survey taken a couple of years ago found about half of the women interviewed were afraid they’ll be a bag lady and that included women earning more than $100,000. I can’t tell you how many women I’ve met who share this fear. It’s really about taking action and developing an investment plan to live financially independent later in life. My passion is to educate and empower women to live financially healthy now and in the future.

    Marcia Brixey, author of The Money Therapist
    Founder of Money Wise Women Educational Services

  8. Donna

    Ok, I share this fear although keep it tamped down with faith in the God who has ALWAYS provided for me one way or another. I am 59 yrs old, worked since I was old enough to and am currently unemployed, have been for over a year now.
    Enough about me. What can we do as a group of women to help our sisters who are out there? One of us can do little, as I have in the past. Offering money, a ride, clothing, etc. But we are many, together we can come up with solutions so that we and our mothers,daughters, cousins,nieces,grandaughters and friends/neighbors do not have to experience this as a reality now or in the future.
    Think ladies, we CAN do something more.

  9. l

    I’ve lost it all and been there. Have a bachelor’s, did not find good work, had no family support, to in a car, to on the streets, long time, then ran into a manager who offered a discount hotel space but I have to work for minimun wage there–still unhappy and without a real residence and wanting full-time competitive work with esteemed coworkers… help

  10. Laurie Wiley

    The fear of “Bag Lady Syndrome” has become a focus for me in helping women. As a Financial Planner and Advisor, I have a strong desire to help women fight and win against this fear. In an industry saturated by men, I see not only the need for advice and planning to women, but that the advice come from a woman. I still meet older ladies, who do not understand personal finances; Young, successful female business owners, who haven’t planned wisely of their financial success; And many single moms, who never thought they would be in a position that required them to have their own retirement plan. While the fear of “Bag Lady Syndrome” seems unbelievable and can be paralyzing to a woman, it can be overcome regardless of status in life. The cure takes action. Find a female Advisor, share your fears, your hopes, and your dreams, and commit to financial planning. It will help to give peace to you, and make you immune to catching “Bag Lady Syndrome”.

  11. M

    I deal with such fear by repressing it throughout most of the year. But it does poke it’s ugly head about 3 times per year, and I do believe it is a realistic fear. I’m far from earning a six figure salary. I am 37 years old and single. I have a Master’s degree from a private university, which of course I’m paying, and will be paying for during the remaining 17 years of the student loan. It feels like I live hand to mouth, but definitely not due to having or attempting to have a lavish lifestyle. I work as a Social Worker and there are times when I see female clients come in, who have no spouse or children, and are requiring durable medical equipment or long term homecare service that their retirement medical insurance does not cover. I must deliver the news that, in order for them to obtain what isn’t covered, they must pay for it out-of-pocket [from their low fixed income]. They say to me with visible disappointment, “This is what I had to look forward to in my senior years, after working all of those years to support myself.” And for a split second, I think to myself “And that’s going to be me”. It is a depressing thought. Then later I’ll think that I set myself up [for bag lady future], for choosing a career that for the past two years, at least [since I first read the Yahoo Jobs online article] has ranked the #1 career in the nation with the lowest salary, in spite of an individual having a Master’s degree in it. Subjecting myself to read such annually-published article is like having a guaranteed slap in the face. Painfully reaffirming my fears of having a bag lady future.

  12. AT

    I was really amazed to read the comments from so many women who feel this is something that can happen to you as you get older. I have met so many people despite their age and “accumulated savings” who lost it all. The economy is hitting everyone and to me the key is more then having a healthy nest-egg – it is having true to the heart family, friends and associates who would be able to connect you with your next move. AND- you will not come to realize who is your true friend or associate until that day comes. It is scary – because when you need them the most – is the time when you will see their position. Sometimes, it is for the good and sometimes they disappear. So my take, from my own personal experiences – yes save your money – but also truly look at your association for what it is worth. I heard so many “I love you” prior to loosing everything that I had. I never asked for money – just to connect. I will never forget the experiece. And then those who can help charge a fee and in my position – can I afford it? Try to have some who can open doors for you when you need them opened. Otherwise, you can end up confused and just living as a “homeless person” being displaced is just as bad – as it takes a toll on your self-worth and self-esteem.
    Family, Friends, Association, power players, strong connections and the like can keep you from becoming a bag lady. You can save ….but without the right pull will drain your bank account and have your worst nightmare come true!

  13. susan

    AT is right. I lost my job, my health, and my husband right around September 11th. If it wasn’t for a couple of good friends, I’d have lost my apartment and been living in a refrigerator box under the Brooklyn Bridge. Somehow, after several years of temp work, I got a real job and eventually a home of my own. But I don’t have a huge savings account,
    I had to quit an abusive job, and I worry that it could all happen again. I have a good network, but I don’t want to go back to the kind of work I was doing. For me, right now, it’s all about reinvention and a lot of backbone. But, yes, it worries me.

  14. Beth

    Tory I saw this the other morning on my phone about “bag lady syndrome” I worry so much about this. Right now I am going through some issues at work that has me worrying about the near future but I only worry about it cause of my kids. Knowing that they turn 18 in May helps take some of it as they will be going their seperate ways. My long term goal is to develop a forensic imaging lab, teach and lecture. I am already starting to lecture so I am making my way, its a hard road and I am full of determination. I know that I can make things better for myself and at the same time help others. This is the very reason that I can’t worry about the current troubles. I am really happy that I saw this email, it’s like they show up saying the right thing at the right time to let me know that I am not alone and that other women worry about the same things. I know I have a long road ahead and trying to piece together how to get grants and such but I will find it.

  15. Lynn

    Tory and friends,

    I never thought I had nothing until for the third time in 2 years my husband threatened to leave. This occurs like a volcano humming along and then POW! I don’t think he will for many reasons, but being the third time, and knowing that people can be unpredictable, I started to look at my finances, what I have or rather what I don’t. I am making my list now of my assets, and I’m talking not only moneywise, but also in the way of my abilities and connections. I’ve always worked for the family’s benefit, but I am now also going to build an independent nest egg for me with my money just in case. I’m working to avoid the bag lady syndrome.

  16. Marnie Threapleton

    Dear Tory,
    I never associated my feelings and situation with a syndrome let alone a “Bag Lady” syndrome but thanks for that label!!!!
    Since reading about this and thinking about it, I realise that these behaviours have been present since childhood.
    However, ironically, the fear has manifested itself in an ever positive way as I have been able to push forward with anything I have wanted to do by being able to realise “the worst thing that can happen is……..”. Facing up to this has put things into perspective freeing me up to act on my desire to make a change or deal with adversity.
    Having spent nearly 20 years in corporate life – yes I have been fired during that time – I “retired” (not “dropped out! It’s all about perspective!)8 years ago to become a Scuba Diving Instructor, which led to becoming a commercially endorsed 200gt Boat Captain, and Resort Manager. I have lived the dream by working in an environment I never knew I was passionate about in locations usually reserved for the retirees at 65! This has taken me in directions that I never knew existed for a girl from Leeds! Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had very low points and I don’t have the typical financial security portfolio but I’ve asked the same question again and again and learnt to be resourceful. I know I’ll be OK somehow. My requirements and desires are changing again and so now I am coming around full circle and starting my own company raising awareness of the Aquatic environment through underwater images. Instead of feeling unemployed, I’m a business owner albeit, in the very early stages, which involves large amounts of time feeling like a “bag lady” not running around “feeling useful”.
    As I said, it’s all about perspective. If some people want to call me a bag lady then so be it – it’s working for me!

  17. As a consultant, I am always trying to ensure there is another gig around the corner. I have tried to save for the future, but do worry as I age, how the remaining years before retirement will pan out. I work to constantly reinvent myself and keep current with technology and new processes and have diversified into new fields. But after a certain age it does get harder and harder to keep employed, especially as those who used to hire you retire, and you need to build a new network. I recommend constantly grooming and building that network and reinventing oneself as needed. So yes, even with my mortgage paid off, as a single woman in her late 50’s, I constantly worry about keeping the roof over my head.

  18. Barb

    I came to this website as I was feeling that there still are remains of the “bag lady” in my life view and wanted to read what others were experiencing. I am currently writing an article “Giving and Receiving Are One in Truth.” Since retirement several years ago, I have been writing and doing workshops for people in the second half of life who want to see their life in new and different ways. Actually, I began doing this because I wanted to see my life expressing the power that I know that has been given me. I encourage all of us to leave behind those frightening views of being powerless single women and ask the Divine for realization that we are made in that Image and Likeness of our Creator. This can be a most enriching time. You are welcome to go to my website. I’d like to hear your thoughts. Barb

  19. Paul

    Can we please stop medicalizing perfectly rational human emotions. The fears are justified and whatever the male equivalent is, I “suffer” from it even though by any measure I’ve quietly become a millionaire.

    Why? Because everything about this culture is so obviously unsustainable. The social safety net is in tatters, the unfunded liabilities built into the future are too frightening to even contemplate and no one in any position to do something about it does anything but EXPAND the entitlements, making the problems worse.

    I came of age under Reagan and have seen the streets of my city become mean and have seen the growth of homelessness, so many of them apparently elderly. I contribute, I volunteer but it is a mere drop in the bucket toward what is necessary.

    Bag lady syndrome? I say it’s a healthy empathy, rational fear and there but for the grace of God go I.

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