Some people think we’ve turned the corner and the American economy is on its way back up. Some don’t.
But whether it has or hasn’t, there’s one piece of money advice I’d like to share that will help each of us take control of our finances for the future.
In writing my book that gives money advice for women, particularly those of us who get into our fifties and suddenly realize that we’re unprepared financially for our later years, I’ve discovered one of the major culprits: the Ostrich Syndrome.
The Ostrich Syndrome is a pattern many women (and men) get into that is so destructive to healthy money habits. You’ve got your head in the sand when it comes to finances. It means you don’t really know how much money you have at any one time, how much money you owe or how much money you’ll need in the future.
Bank statements lie unopened in a pile on the counter next to the back door, along with all the other bills. Credit card statements, when finally opened, aren’t even examined for mistakes; the only important figure is in the Minimum Payment Due box at the bottom. And the deductions to your bank account from your debit card purchases … the ones that appear as an alphabet soup of letters and numbers that make it hard to remember how you spent the money … are never checked.
So far you’ve managed to stay ahead of the credit card companies, juggling things at the end of the month. And, by robbing from Peter to pay Paul, somehow you’ve gotten past every emergency that’s popped up.
But the last two years have made this harder and harder, or near impossible. And if you’ve managed to hold onto to your job, the stress of possibly losing it is pretty paralyzing.
I know because I’ve been there. But I got myself out a few years ago. And here’s what I learned:
There is one step that you have to take before you can start getting things under control: you have to get honest with your money. Strip away the emotions related to it. Those are just numbers, not a judgment of how good or bad a person you are.
My book will give you step-by-step instructions of how go from financial panic to financial peace of mind. But until it’s published, let me give them to you through this blog.
Step #1: Repeat after me: “All the figures related to my finances are just numbers. They are not a judgment of how good or bad a person I am.” Say that as often as you need to keep yourself out of that queasy zone where your stomach starts feeling weird.
Step #2: Now go get every envelope sitting on the counter and open it. (Don’t forget the ones tucked in your briefcase, in your car or at the bottom of your gym bag.) Throw away all the ads and junk mail. Now get a piece of paper and make three columns. At the top, head the columns with “How Much I Need to Pay This Month,” “How Much I Owe Them in Total” and “Amounts To Pay This Month on Periodic Payments.” (That last one is for things like quarterly insurance payments.) Write in the name of each company and the amount owed: (1) Electric company $187.54. (2) Master Card: This Month: $235.40. Total: $5,885.00. (3) GEICO: $435.18 (quarterly).
Once that’s done, you’ve taken the first step in taking control of your finances and getting rid of the Ostrich Syndrome. You’ve written the numbers down, in black and white.
This may be a bumpy ride but, if you’ll take one little step with me every few days, you’ll wake up someday soon and realize you’ve taken back the reins and are on the path to feeling empowered, in control of your future. (Trust me, it feels pretty darn good.)