What is the first thing that pops into your mind when you think about your finances? Did anyone choose fear? Or another word for fear?
Before sitting down to write, I was reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book Big Magic, and ran into this sentence: “Fear is boring.”
She was writing about her own adolescence, a time when it seemed to her like she was afraid of everything, and she would defend those fears, insisting on her own limitations. She was talking about creative living, but I couldn’t help applying some of her thoughts to women and finance as well.
Another one of Gilbert’s points that caught my attention is that if you fight hard enough for your own limitations, you get to keep them. What fears do you have about your finances? I’ll list a few to get you started, so pick out any that apply to you and add any more that apply to your life:
- Afraid of looking foolish.
- Afraid of running out of money this month.
- Afraid of running out of money in old age.
- Afraid of not being able to pay medical bills.
- Afraid of not being able to pay rent.
- Afraid of not being able to pay taxes.
- Afraid of losing the business.
- Afraid of the stock market tanking.
- Afraid of admitting debt to parents.
- Afraid of admitting to a spouse how much debt there is.
- Afraid of not being able to send kids to college.
- Afraid of dying and who will take care of the kids.
- Afraid of not being able to take care of aging parents.
- Afraid of failure.
- Afraid of losing everything.
I’m sure that we can keep going if we want to. But that is probably enough for now. Pick out your top three fears from this list (or your own list if you have entirely different money fears), and write them down.
Let’s do an absolute worst-case scenario analysis of each of your three worst fears and figure out what actions to take to alleviate much of that fear. As an example, here are my top three money fears:
- Afraid of dying and what will happen to my kids.
- Afraid of not being able to provide everything my kids need for their lifespan.
- Afraid of the economy tanking and losing our investments.
Let’s start with No. 1. This is a pretty big one for me. With my first child, I had a difficult pregnancy with some medical complications and experienced some depression both during and after the pregnancy. Every now and then, my thoughts traveled to some downer places, like mulling over what would happen to her if we both were to die suddenly and unexpectedly. So, worst-case scenario: My husband and I die and have no control over what happens to and for our daughter after we are gone. What do I think would actually happen? I have family members living nearby; surely she would end up living with one of our family members. Hopefully, all of our worldly goods would go directly to her, but we wouldn’t have any say at all in how they were used as she grew up or who would have control over them.
Action: My response to that fear was to go with my husband to our lawyer to get a will drawn up, and then buying a 20-year term life insurance policy for my husband and for me. I felt less fearful and a little more certain about things once we had done that, but when our oldest daughter was diagnosed with disabilities two-and-a-half years later, and her little sister followed about a year after that, we realized that we needed to get some more protections in place.
Which brings me to No. 2. In the midst of learning the ropes of special needs parenting, I also had to start learning the ropes of special needs finance. I soon realized that our will and our life insurance policies were not nearly enough. We needed to redo our wills, open special needs trusts, and reset our retirement goals to make sure that the money we accumulate during our lives not only sustains us through old age, but also can last to help our kids out through their lives. So now not only do I not want to outlive my savings, but I also don’t want my kids to outlive it either. This drastically moves the goalposts in terms of retirement planning.
Action: Based on this fear, I hired a specialist in special needs planning and establishing special needs trusts. There were a lot more decisions to make in this process than in the usual process of drawing up a will, and it took us a lot longer to finish this than it did the first time around. But, we did it. Once all of the paperwork was signed and notarized, it felt like a heavy weight had been taken off my shoulders.
My third top fear is that the economy will tank and we will lose our investments. For anyone who had money invested in 2007 and saw the value of that money cut in half when the recession hit, this is a very real and serious fear. Even if you weren’t investing yet but saw the effect this had on your parents, grandparents, friends, and everyone around you, it can still be really scary to imagine putting any of your own money in after everything that happened. But if you know anything about rising costs of living and inflation, you also know that if you just leave your money in the bank at the current interest rates, you are losing buying power at something around 3 percent per year. So the only real option to keep ahead of inflation, much less make your money work for you, is to invest it in some way.
Action: We found resources to help us educate ourselves about about investment options, asset allocation, and diversification that helped us keep ahead of inflation without overstretching our personal tolerance for risk. In other words, we found strategies to invest in ways that keep our money as safe as possible while also growing a bit every year.
What I noticed about my fears is that they were so much worse in the abstract than when I filled in all the details and took action. And that’s why I want you to fill in all of the details. How bad would it really be? What could you do right now to make sure that won’t happen in the future? If you can’t eliminate the worst as a possible outcome, what can you at least do to make it less likely to happen? If you are afraid of outliving your savings, can you start saving a little bit more each month? Can you start doing some work on the side to bring in extra income to put toward savings each month? If you are afraid that you won’t be able to pay your taxes, how about meeting with your CPA now to find out how much they will be? Then, you can figure out how much you can save between now and then, and talk about a payment plan option right now if you can’t pay in full.
Your finances should help you create the life you want and fulfill your dreams for you and your family. Don’t let money fears hold you back. No one really wants to keep her fears and limitations, so stop arguing about why you can’t and take action on what you can. If you treat your fears as boring possibilities rather that paralyzing eventualities, you can more effectively find a plan to get back to living your life to the fullest.