Melt Away Worry About Money

Why worry about money? Actually, why worry about anything? As an expert worrier, I know the answer. Worry gives me a (false) sense that I will be prepared and in control. It’s my fallback when I feel out of my league.

Take this example. One of my biggest worrying times happens before I head to the airport. What am I so worried about? Unlike many, it’s not the actual flying.

Butterflies in my stomach.

Little waves of nausea.

Tight chest.

I have to tell myself things like, “Breathe.“ “Calm down.” “It’s going to be ok.” I even have a special spirit animal – a deer – that I think about to help me feel better.

What I worry about is… missing the plane. It feels silly to write this publicly. However, I have an irrational need to leave home at least two hours ahead, get to the gate an hour before the flight, and, when I get there, to sit where I can see the gate agent and the boarding door.

Once I can see the gate and hear the agent, the worry melts away.

The Costs of Worry

My worry is costly: up to three hours where I’m unable to focus on much else, not to mention life-shortening stress, all for a highly unlikely event.

It seems I am not the only one to worry about expected and routine things, like a plane leaving. It’s expected and routine, yet a source of great worry, that teenage children will soon start driving, and that 90-year-old parents should probably stop.

With money, it’s a source of great worry, yet expected and routine, that stockmarkets, interest rates, and gas prices will rise and fall repeatedly. Upcoming retirement is a big step into an unknown future that can especially bring out the jitters.

Adding to that are unexpected random events, like pandemics. Sudden market meltdowns, tsunamis, cancer, dementia, layoffs, election surprises, terrorists, hacker attacks are all things we know aren’t probable, but are possible.

How’s your heart rate now? Butterflies? Tight chest?

Although we might prepare as best we can, worry abounds. Worry helps us feel as though we are doing something about the problem, but what toll does it take? Does it help us to prepare that much better?

How To Melt the Worry Away

When I get to the gate and see the agent, I feel the worry melt away. Perhaps it’s because I can physically see myself as part of the boarding process, a process I know and trust.

But it’s strange – I don’t think too many airline employees worry about the same thing I worry about – missing their planes. There’s something about being a professional, about having systems and knowledge, that gives confidence.

In other words, having a specialized understanding makes it easier to distinguish what’s actually controllable, to accept what’s not, and feel confident about handling the unknowable randomness. Airlines have meticulous training and checklists, but accept there will be equipment failures, unruly passengers, weather delays, technological shutdowns, and other events we haven’t yet seen.

Similarly, what most people worry about with money and retirement isn’t what most financial professionals worry about for them.

Most financial professionals know what can be done to reduce risks, and what can’t. While we might make client-specific plans, we also know there will be client-specific random events. We help prepare for what we know, and accept the unknowable. For some people, that professional help and confidence melts much of the worry away.

It’s gratifying to hear a deep sigh, to see the eyebrows unwrinkle, and to watch the shoulders relax. All it takes is imparting a proven system coupled with a bit of new knowledge.

When have you felt the worry melt away? Who were you with? What seemed to be the key for you? Leave a comment for readers.

Holly Donaldson

Holly Donaldson, CFP® runs an hourly and fee-for-service financial planning practice virtually from her Tampa Bay, Florida office. She also works with clients throughout the U.S. (except Texas) interested in retirement and tax planning advice without product sales or investment management. Holly is the author of The Mindful Money Mentality: How to Find Balance in Your Financial Future (Porchview Publishing, 2013) and publisher of the award-winning monthly e-letter, "The View From the Porch."

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