Do you feel that everyone else has their financial plan in order while you are always unsure about your own picture? I find this is a common perception: many people experience anxiety over their financial experience and understanding.
We may judge others’ success by external factors (house, car) or by their confident pronouncements about their great stock picks. But I believe that most people share a level of uncertainty about finances. These feelings generally come from three sources:
- We are embarrassed about past financial mistakes or missed opportunities
- We lack confidence in our financial knowledge and experience
- We lack organization and structure to our financial life
Embarrassment about past financial mistakes or missed opportunities
It is easy to look back and find mistakes. I have often looked back and thought about financial misses from my own past.
My first “real” job was as a worker’s compensation claims adjuster. I had no plans to stay in the insurance industry and was certain this would be a temporary stop. Using my own short sighted perspective (as opposed to how few resumes I sent out) I chose not to contribute to the retirement plan. Five years and one promotion later I finally left. Unfortunately, I never got started with the retirement plan. I gave up about 20 years of gains from that time. Real money, squandered.
I tell this story to highlight that while I have expertise in this area, I know how it feels to make financial missteps. It happens to plenty of people. The important point is to minimize any stumbles in the future.
Lack of confidence and experience in our financial knowledge and experience
Many people have a lack of confidence when it comes to money and investing. Building that confidence requires developing a general understanding of financial planning topics and having a clear grasp of one’s own financial situation.
For those who do their own financial planning, I believe the path to that understanding comes from looking at different financial planning resources and finding those that resonate with your situation. This process takes work and demands exploring different viewpoints from investment companies, bloggers, newsletters and magazines.
If you look to others for help, you must ensure that your relationship is built on a solid foundation of mutual respect. A dedicated financial professional should always strive to help you understand your specific financial picture in terms you can understand. If you don’t feel that way when you leave your financial meetings, it is time to look for help elsewhere. Some people choose to turn to a non-professional or financial mentor. For those folks, it’s important to be careful that the advice is appropriate for their situation. A friend or relative may have the best intentions but their situation is not comparable to your own.
Lack of organization and structure with our financial lives
Financial planning is a discipline that requires process to be most effective. There are so many different moments during any given year, phase of life or lifetime. Having a financial plan to guide us through can protect us from feeling financially rudderless. Along the way, the decisions we make in these moments become small victories that truly add up over time.
Going back to that first job I had, I was clearly very naïve. Ironically I actually gave my notice after being there for 4 years and 51 weeks. When I walked out the door two weeks later I had worked 5 years and 1 week. A year later I received a surprising letter from my old company: an option for a check or pension. It turns out that after 5 years of employment, I had vested in the pension benefit at the company. (Of course I took the cash and paid the penalty!)
Luck like that clearly doesn’t hurt - but knowing I might have missed free money made a huge impact on me. Now as a financial planner, I use these past experiences to help my clients in assessing their own opportunities and ensuring that together we cover as many bases as we can.
To reduce your own financial stress, start with the understanding that everyone makes mistakes and has regrets when it comes to finances. Learn about financial planning and then put that knowledge to work to create a plan that is unique to your goals. This may not eliminate all of your concerns - but it is a good start.