Cristina Odone admits she's a moneyphobe

Sweaty palms, dizziness, shallow breath: don't panic, you've just got moneyphobia

The envelope lies on the floor, among your other post (the invitation to your best friend's birthday party, the appeal from some children's charity, the freebie neighbourhood newsletter). White, with your name and address in black print, this envelope has officialdom stamped all over it. In fact, experience tells you that this is a bill, or a bank statement or a credit card statement. Do you a) open it immediately, and promptly write a cheque; b) open it and file it under matters pending; or c) keep it safely sealed and add it to the leaning Tower of Pisa you have collected in a corner of your desk?

If you've answered c), there's a name for you: "moneyphobe". And worry not: your condition is common - one in five Britons suffers from it, according to a new study from Cambridge University.

As a lifelong moneyphobe, I feel nothing but relief that those familiar symptoms I feel when confronted by financial matters - sweaty palms, a slight dizziness, shallow breathing - are part of a syndrome, rather than merely proof of my feckless nature.

How did it come about, this nightmare condition? Blame it on your debit card. When the Paris break you need or the Prada dress you crave are yours with a mere flick of a plastic card, who links sordid notes and boring bank accounts with your object of desire? Suddenly everything seems yours without anything so crass as money changing hands. The debit card is not half as sinister as its relation, the credit card, which also divorces the object of desire from any immediate pain. In the hands of a moneyphobe, these cards are nothing but passports to the bankruptcy court, costing you a small fortune in interest charges.

Moneyphobia means we do not connect the stock market to our pensions, or interest rates to our monthly mortgage payments: so moneyphobes blithely stumble about, never asking pertinent questions of their pension fund managers, or their banks, or their life insurers. Worst of all, we persevere in our belief that instant gratification is possible, echoing Scarlett O'Hara's motto: "Tomorrow is another day."

But wait. Financial gurus have just announced that shares have plunged to their 1995 level. Anyone who has bought shares since 1995 has made not a jot - despite their assiduous reading of the Financial Times and their articulate patter about stocks and bonds. Maybe moneyphobes are not such fools, after all.

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