How to Face Your Greatest Financial Fears

When Eleanor Roosevelt famously said “Do one thing every day that scares you,” she probably wasn’t talking about checking your bank balance. Here's why you should anyway.

Regardless of what they earn, millions of Americans dread looking at their bank balance. As reported in the Atlantic, nearly half of Americans – including those earning over $75,000 – would have trouble finding $400 to pay for an emergency.

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2. Excessive self-criticism is counterproductive.

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“What’s gone and what’s past help — Should be past grief.” – Shakespeare

It’s easy to say that money is just a social construct. In reality, it’s a very potent, very powerful construct that can shape self-perception.  A low bank balance can spin up a tornado of self-loathing.

Self-criticism is only helpful in small doses. A little goes a very long way. Self-criticism in excess is crippling. It makes us freeze and prevents us from taking necessary action.

Hating on yourself won’t solve problems – financial or otherwise.

Reframe self-criticism by reminding yourself that you can’t change the past, but only learn from it. Remind yourself that you are learning from setbacks by taking action today. Today is what matters.

As a practical matter, be honest yet gentle with yourself. Don’t waste time with self-criticism. Note your regrets – write them down, like you did with your fears above – then forgive yourself and move on.

You’ll already be far ahead of where you were yesterday simply by facing your fears and logging into your accounts today.

3. Your friends and neighbors are in the same boat.

The average U.S. household credit card debt balance totals $16,748. The average household with any kind of debt owes $134,643, according to a 2016 Nerdwallet study.

According to Pew Research, seven out of 10 Americans are strained by financial issues ranging from crushing debt loads, insufficient savings, or income that’s too low to cover their expenses.

The point is, you can take a form of comfort knowing that you’re not alone in your money mistakes, struggles, or fear. The stigma or isolation you feel is false. Very few Americans are where they want to be financially. Many are facing dire trouble.

4. Talking about it helps.

In a study from Umpqua Bank, 77 percent of respondents said they didn’t talk about personal financial stress because they were embarrassed about it.  For the 23 percent of people who did talk about it, 70 percent felt better after doing so.

Research consistently finds that talking about stress and traumatic events alleviates distress, leading to better outcomes.

While talking about money is considered taboo, this NBC News article outlines several ways that having a frank discussion about finances is “a seriously good idea for just about, well, everyone.

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You don’t necessarily need to confide in family or friends. There are dozens of online forums where you can ask questions, get advice, and vent about your money stress. Personal Finance on Reddit is helpful. Wisebread has a roundup of 9 Online Forums That’ll Help You Reach Your Financial Goals.

5. Even the simplest financial plan will make you feel much better.

“A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.” George S. Patto

As Carl Richards recently noted in the New York Times, “Worry is a terrible business strategy.” It’s also a terrible strategy for our financial lives. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen, it’s the default setting for how most people confront money issues.

When a problem feels too big, it’s almost impossible to confront. But you don’t need to confront all your financial fears at once. And you don’t need to spend months developing a flawless financial plan to start making positive change.

In this blog post, Peter Polson, Tiller’s founder, notes the path to better financial fitness begins with “one goal that transcends individual circumstances and is universally relevant.”

“It’s a goal I want to practice more in my family life. It’s transformative for anyone who wants to improve their finances (and shape the world around us). This goal is the driving force behind our work at Tiller. Simply put: become more aware of your spending.”

Another way to say it comes from “The #1 Rule for Achieving Financial Success,” where Peter notes “Being engaged doesn’t mean having the answers, but it does mean asking questions, paying attention, and digging into the numbers.”

Being engaged, paying attention, asking questions, becoming aware of spending: these simple guidelines are everything you need to get started with a long-term plan to financial relief.

Starting even a very simple plan can make you feel better. It may not solve all problems, but it does solve the biggest problem: fear of engagement with your financial future.

“Always do what you are afraid to do.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

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