Has the pandemic made you anxious and afraid for your financial future? Some fears are more real than others. Some come from valid concerns—your past and family experiences—and some from sources that might not be so valid—the media and other influencers. What can you do about your fears? How can you squelch those uneasy feelings?
The first thing to do is to face your financial fears. Put them on the table—what are your fears? Any of these?
- You will end up living on the street
- You won’t have enough to put food on the table
- You won’t have enough to pay the rent/mortgage
- Your utilities will be cut off
- You can’t afford a medical emergency
- You will drown in loans: school, credit card, etc.
Maybe you have enough to cover your basic living needs and for emergencies, but your worries are some of these:
- You can’t afford a vacation/car/home
- You won’t have enough to send your kids to college
- You won’t have enough to retire
- Your parent/child may call on you for financial support
Rest assured; you are not alone. Almost everyone faces at least one of these, or others not listed, at some point in her/his lifetime often many fears at once. In fact, I bet right now you fear at least one of the above. You say you are not fearful, just concerned. Isn’t that the same feeling just a matter of degree?
As much as we try to keep them hidden, the pandemic brought our fears to light. They can no longer be ignored and that is scary!
A Dose of Realism
Look at the list of fears again (or your list) and cross off those that are not based on reality. For example, if you have close family (related or not), will they allow you to live on the street or go hungry? Not likely in most cases and assistance can come from surprising sources. At one point in the past, my parents said that church potlucks stretched their food budget, for example.
Your financial resources may have been drawn down drastically or even disappeared during the pandemic. Don’t panic. You may have to move in with someone temporarily, seek public assistance to cover the basics, forego the new car or vacation, or rearrange your priorities until you get back on your feet. Now is the time to take a good hard look at how you spend money and make changes if needed.
Often, the biggest obstacles to overcome are your internal messages. They can sabotage you and cause financial paralysis just at the time it is critical to act. What messages sabotage you? Do any of these sound familiar?
- I have no money
- I have no time
- I have other priorities
- I am not interested
- It will take too long
- I don’t know what to do
- I’m scared that I will make a mistake
- I’m afraid that I will look dumb if I ask a question
- I’m embarrassed to ask for help
Let’s look at each of these.
No Time/Other Priorities
Everything you do is a choice. Think about that for a minute. Maybe your choices have become so ingrained they are now habits. Maybe your career demands your attention, or your children, or the care of an elderly parent. You have responsibilities. But how can you take care of anyone or anything else if you are not strong and healthy, and that includes financial health? Isn’t your first responsibility to take care of yourself so you can meet your commitments?
Dealing with finances takes time and a certain level of knowledge but you can do it if you want to put forth the effort. To be successful, no matter your focus, takes a commitment of time and resources. If you want to play the violin in an orchestra or make the basketball team, it takes practice, practice, practice, plus basic equipment—a violin and music, or a basketball and hoop. But if your desire is strong, you will find the resources and make room in your day to practice. Sometimes practice might feel like torture, but you will do it anyway.
Not Interested/Take Too Long
You’re right! It will take some of your time and you may rather be doing something else. But if you do not make saving and investing a priority, you will never be debt-free, or cover emergencies, or send your kids to college, or retire comfortably. Have you ever dreaded going to a party only to have the time of your life? It is what you tell yourself, your expectations, that often get in the way. If you tell yourself that finances are boring, guess what? They will be. But if you are determined to give your financial life the time and attention that is necessary, you may be surprised. Keep an open mind. (See my blog: Beginnings… New and Old)
Don’t Know What to Do/Scared to Make a Mistake
Along the way, and especially as you start, instruction is helpful. When my sons wanted to learn to play a band instrument, I was excited. From my experience, individual or small group instruction was provided in the public school system and that was what I expected. Wrong! The first to give band a try was my oldest. I found out too late that the only instruction provided in his school system was in a large group setting. As you can imagine, he lost interest quickly because he didn’t improve fast enough. I did not make the same mistake with my second son who thrived with private instruction.
If you need help, ask. Want to get out of debt or set a budget that will be manageable for you and your household? Start with usa.gov/debt which contains links to credit counseling services, as well as information on debt collection and personal bankruptcy. Active-duty military have additional options which are also noted on the website.
When you have your living expenses covered, debt under control, and have money set aside for emergencies (See my blog: The First Financial Step), then you might decide to begin to invest. Where can you go for instruction? If your employer offers a company retirement plan, the company or the plan representatives may offer classes or one-on-one sessions to explain the basics and answer questions. The websites of the regulators of the investment industry offer helpful information for investors: the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), investor.gov; the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), finra.org: and the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA), nasaa.org.
If you are a beginning investor, or if you have started investing but want to know if you are on the right track, look for my book: How to Dress a Naked Portfolio: A Tailored Introduction to Investing for Women. The book is full of understandable financial information to get you started, and it is packed with helpful resources.
Afraid to Look Dumb/Embarrassed to Ask Questions
Your money and financial health are important! This is not the time to let your ego get in the way of progress. The right advisor will not make you feel uncomfortable or stupid. He or she will encourage your questions and answer them in language that you understand. If they don’t, walk away and find someone else. And don’t run to cousin Vinnie or Aunt Bea or even your boss or coworker. Even if you think they are smart and know what they are doing, no one is exactly like you—your age, family status, income, expenses, goals, comfort with risk, etc. You are unique, and a professional will assess those factors and more. Plus, an advisor has a better perspective than someone who is emotionally attached to you. And, if you want to make sure that the advisor has a mandate, both legal and ethical, to act in your best interest, seek a fiduciary.
This is the elephant in the room—no money! The first question to answer is “Why?” Have you depleted your financial resources during the pandemic? Many are in that situation, and it may be a year or more before you can think about saving and investing, and only after you replenish your emergency fund. Don’t beat yourself up! Take one day at a time. If you can stash a dollar away every now and then, it is a start. Are you overspending? If you don’t know the answer to that question, then it’s time to look at what comes into your household—all sources of income—as well as what goes out—your expenses.
My parents raised five girls, put us all through college with no loans (we all worked and had scholarships), and lived comfortably, not extravagantly, but comfortably, on a teacher’s salary. My mother and father often put other needs aside because education for their girls and paying off the mortgage on their house were their primary goals. My father kept track of every penny of income and expense for our household. It was a time-consuming task, and I can still picture him sitting at his desk making manual entries in a journal.
Perhaps a rebellion against that precision, I admit that I did not always keep good financial records until mid-life. I wish I had started earlier. There are unnecessary expenses I found I could easily cut, and my records made it clear where I overspend and, to this day, need to watch.
There is another fear that may keep you from investing and that is fear of the investment markets. It is important to address and will be covered in its own blog.
Now is the time to make your financial goals a priority. You can overcome your fears and, with attention, gain the knowledge to reach financial freedom.
~Beverly J Bowers, CFP®