Life experiences can have a profoundly positive or negative impact on the way we think about money. When good things happen we view the world through rose colored glasses. When bad things occur we squint through shards of glass.
How does your past impact your feelings about money? Do you face financial matters from a place of serenity and calmness or do you struggle to overcome financial fears, stress and anxiety?
I hadn’t thought much about my own financial experiences until I listened to the Paula Pant interview of Suze Orman. Did you listen to that podcast? Many people in the personal finance community were up in arms about Suze’s ranting. They say she was too adamant in her declarations and undisputedly misinformed about the FIRE movement.
The FIRE community rallied after those podcasts were aired. There were many voices shouting against Suze, but I was not one of them.
As time wore on I began to wonder why. After a bit of contemplation I figured out the answer. Like Suze, I approach money from a place of fear.
To overcome my financial fears I feel the need to build an enormous nest egg. Am I alone? It sure feels like I am. I feel like I’m standing on the edge of a cliff. As I tremble with intrepidation everyone around me leaps with joy. Down below are shark infested waters yet the jumpers take the plunge without an ounce of fear.
Q&A From the FIRE Community
Name a fear and you will find members of the FIRE community calling back with calm, cool and collected answers.
- What if you run out of money?
- “I’ll get a job.”
- What if the cost of medical insurance continues to rise?
- “I’ll move to another country.”
- What if you require an expensive surgery
- “I’ll fly down to Mexico and pay half the price.”
- What if you need long term care?
- “Who knows if I’ll even live that long.”
I see a world without fear. A place where people are free to abandon their 9-to-5 jobs and confidently proclaim “everything will work out.” From this viewpoint money is infinite and easy to come by.
I live in this same world, so why can’t I view money in the same way? The answer is simple: my own life experience gets in the way.
If you’ve never been sick it’s easy to imagine a life without illness. You simply don’t think bad things will happen to you. If you do get sick it will be something minor, right? Your medical insurance or cost sharing program will cover your expenses. In the worse case scenario you will fly yourself overseas for an operation.
I don’t have the luxury of living without medical fears. Thanks to a combination of health issues and incompetent doctors I nearly died at the age of twenty-seven. Being so young doctors incorrectly diagnosed the cause of my health scare.
Over the course of six months I visited over thirty doctors searching for the proper diagnosis and cure. Thirty doctors! Can you imagine what it felt like to experience constant weakness, pain and fear? Just picture yourself scheduling appointments, sitting in exam rooms and waiting for test results day after day. Wondering the entire time if someone will diagnose you before you die.
It’s easy to imagine how you will handle a medical crisis when you aren’t actually stuck in the middle of one. Sure you think you can confidently arrange airfare to another country or call fifteen doctors to find the best care and price, but in reality you don’t have the energy for all that. Your focus is keenly tuned to survival.
Eventually I found a doctor who solved my medical mystery and shortly thereafter I found a surgeon who saved my life. But a decade later I still experience pain. Conventional medicine wants to provide me with pain pills, but I don’t want to take them for the rest of my life. Instead I seek costly alternative treatments that insurance doesn’t cover.
I never want to forgo medical treatment because I can’t afford it. I want to search for the best treatments available no matter the cost. Money is powerful when you are sick.
I wish I knew a life without illness. If you are healthy its easy to remain brave and fearless.
If you’ve spent your entire life gainfully employed you probably have no reason to fear unemployment. On the other hand, if you’ve ever been laid off from a job or had trouble finding one you may feel differently.
I was laid off weeks after announcing the pregnancy of my first child. Despite working as a top performer for over twelve years I was released in a massive round of layoffs. Those cuts had more to do with the political and financial climate then the work I completed for more than a decade.
I pictured myself giving birth, taking twelve weeks of maternity leave and returning to my job. Instead I found myself interviewing for a new job while pregnant.
Hundreds of fellow coworkers were laid off during that round of cuts. Some of them were forty to fifty years old. They were paying down mortgages and college tuition for their teenage children. I saw the fear in their eyes as they packed their boxes and walked out the front door of our office building.
Is it easy to find work after being out of the workforce? Not for most people. If it was more parents would stay home when their kids were young and more established professionals would seek lengthy sabbaticals.
A lot of companies are looking for young, eager employees, because simply put, older employees cost more. Also, the older you get the harder it can be to find interesting, high-paying work.
So I’m skeptical when I hear people say “I’ll just get a job if I need to.” Depending on your profession it might be hard to find a job as soon as you need one. This is especially true in the midst of a recession.
Worse yet, imagine searching for a job a decade or two after retiring! Your knowledge may be irrelevant. Your technical skills most likely outdated.
If you’ve never been out of work, or lost your job you may not suffer from this fear either.
Long Term Care Fears
My grandmother was always worried that she would outlive her money. It turns out she had reason to be afraid.
At ninety she hired a professional to complete an in-depth, financial analysis of her money. She wanted to move to a retirement community, but she was told her money would only last five years there. She was worth half a million dollars at the time.
How could she know how long she would live and what would she do if she outlived her money?
In the end she gave up on the idea of moving to a long term care facility. Instead she chose to remain alone in her residence. Thankfully she was well enough to take care of her immediate needs, but that decision impacted her quality of life and shortened her overall life span. As she aged she was too tired to prepare meals and her nutrition declined rapidly. My parents brought her meals and visited frequently, but she grew lonely.
In a retirement community she could have enjoyed the company of others, been fed three meals a day and had nurses and assistants available to help her. Perhaps this would have allowed her to live an even longer, more fulfilling life.
Maybe you’ve never witnessed your own parent or grandparent making these types of life decisions. Maybe you don’t think you’l live to be that old in the first place. It’s easy to be brave in the face of something you’ve never encountered. It’s much harder to watch an elderly loved one struggle with finances and not worry that your fate may be the same.
Stock Market Fears
I worked for a large corporation during the financial crisis that brought down Lehman Brothers and Bear Sterns. My company’s stock dropped like a rock during that time. The price fell from over $90 per share to less than $1. One particular retirement fund, which included mandated company stock, fell $70,000 and never recovered.
Thankfully I was young with plenty of time to watch the markets rebuild. I was still working a high-paying job and able to replenish the funds that disappeared. But what happens when the markets fall after you’ve retired?
Some people can weather the turmoil better than others. I find it hard to watch the markets plunge. It’s easy to watch those net worth numbers rise and very difficult to see them crumble.
Of course, the sting is less powerful if you are still saving. Everyone knows it’s great to buy low, but what happens when you aren’t employed and saving anymore?
If you’ve never witnessed a major decline in the markets its easy to think, “I’ll be just fine.” It’s another thing to watch your net worth disappear right before your eyes.
Overcoming Financial Fears
I don’t live with financial anxiety, but my past experiences do alter my point of view on spending and saving. I love the optimism of those who want to ditch their careers with small nest eggs, but my plan includes a much larger number.
For now my husband and I focus on earning more, saving a lot and spending carefully. We also focus on keeping our bodies healthy by exercising and eating well. These are the keys to overcoming financial fears, stress and anxiety. As my net worth builds I worry less about medical expenses, long term care issues and financial downturns. If we save enough we won’t be forced to return to work when we are sick and older. Once my husband and I walk away from corporate work I don’t want a lack of money to drag us back to it.
Now is also the time to diversify our income sources. We’ve considered purchasing additional real estate, consulting gigs and freelance writing. It is unlikely we will earn as much as we do now, but there is value in supplementing an already large nest egg.
I’m not as extreme as Suze Orman. I don’t believe we all require $10 million dollars before we retire, but I do want to feel financially secure when our path in life gets bumpy. I’ve experienced plenty of turbulence in this life already.
I focus on weathering the storms and confronting the low points of life without the additional burden of worrying about money.
I want to save while my husband and I are young, capable and healthy enough to do so. According to the numbers we have reached financial independence, but we are still aiming for a higher number.
There are many people who feel confident enough to retire without a giant nest egg. Given my life experiences I’m just not one of them.