We’ve all heard the saying, “Out of sight, out of mind.” I am reminded of a woman who came to see me a few years ago for help with financial planning. She had rescheduled the initial meeting several times. When she finally came in, I could tell that she was upset. After she had talked for awhile I asked her, “How was this process for you, gathering your information for our meeting?” She admitted that she felt embarrassed about being disorganized and not having saved as much as she “should” have at her age. “I think I’ve been afraid to face my finances,” she said.
There are many reasons that people avoid dealing with their finances. Fear, shame, and embarrassment are a few. Excessive debt is particularly discouraging. Some people tell me, “I just don’t look that often. I keep my financial life separate from the rest of my life.” Classic compartmentalization! Sticking one’s head in the sand – it just doesn’t work!
The bottom line with all of these reasons may really be that we view the state of our finances as a report card on how we’re doing in life. We feel we are not doing well, or well enough, or “should” be doing better (as was the case with the client I described at the beginning of this article.)
Not Looking Equals Less Satisfaction
People who come into my office for the first time take a financial satisfaction survey. The results are revealing. Those who avoid looking at the details of their finances tend to be less satisfied with regard to their spending habits, sense of being prepared to retire, and their feelings generally about their money. Not looking actually leads to greater anxiety about your finances. Out of sight is not out of mind.
Facing our finances can certainly trigger powerful emotions, among them feelings of lack, insufficiency, and “not enough.” We all have our stories about money, usually the result of how we were raised. Recognizing this is the first step to taking action. Here are some further steps.
What To Do
Acknowledge that sitting down to begin organizing your financial information is going to feel uncomfortable. Remember to breathe. You might want to make a list of your reasons for having avoided doing this previously. Chances are most of the reasons will arise from some emotion that you don’t want to feel. For instance, one of my reasons has been that I don’t like to be told “no.”
Start with short time limits – say, 15 minutes. Plan an easy task. Visit your bank website to review balances in your checking, savings, and credit card accounts. Set up a free expense-tracking app such as Mint or Yodlee. These work well on desktops and smartphones. Link your major credit cards and bank accounts to the app so that each time you open the app it updates your information automatically.
Categorize your spending. Many credit card companies now place your expenditures into categories. Check those transactions to make sure they are consistent with how you like to see your expenses. Customize where needed.
Taking the first step is crucial! It is the step we least want to take.
- Acknowledge that you may feel uncomfortable, and do it anyway.
- Start with easy and well-defined tasks and short time limits.
- Set up ways to track your spending, review and categorize your transactions.
You will feel better after taking these steps! I guarantee it (something I rarely say.) As we move through whatever emotions have been holding us back, we begin to feel better, knowing we are doing the right thing in caring for ourselves. Keep it up and those positive feelings about your money can last for years!