Money Worrier or Money Warrior?

“Worry is the misuse of the imagination,” said Dan Zadra. Much of my life I spent misusing my imagination, attempting to prepare for crises that never happened, only to be blindsided by the ones that did. I am a classic money worrier. 

The first financial crisis of my career was the October 1987 stockmarket crash. I was 21 years old, and had a small savings account and a 401K. A friend who worked at Smith Barney in my building came to my office looking like Chicken Little: eyes bulging, sweating, arms flailing, yelling, and grabbing his hair. Although I rarely become that animated, I could identify with how he felt. Worry set in about my tiny little nest egg, my future, and the collapse of world order. Thanks to him, my imagination had a field day.

Retiring to Worry-land

When it comes to retirement, there is ample soil for worries to root. Retirement transitions are fraught with change – no more salary, going on pensions or Social Security, navigating the health care market, facing the facts of aging, not to mention finding friends, purpose and meaning in a whole new chapter of life.

“What will I wake up and do every day?”

“How will my partner/spouse and I adjust?”

“What if I screw up this investing stuff?” 

“What if I don’t have enough?”  

“What if there’s an economic catastrophe?”  

“What if I end up old and poor?”

Worriers imagine the worst. (We don’t want to be caught unprepared.) Yet it’s not possible to prepare for everything a worrying imagination can create. 

Think, Warrior

Instead, it’s important to understand what can be prepared for, and what can’t. Warriors, vs. worriers, are strong in mind and body. They know that physical strength and mental energy are finite, so both must be used resourcefully. Wise warriors ask:

– Is this worry about something within my control? 

If not, I am wasting energy.

– If I can do something about it, is it clear what that something is? 

If yes, then resolve to use strength and energy to get it done.

– What if I imagine the opposite of the worry – a positive outcome, even beyond my wildest dreams? What would that look like? 

Warriors use reverse psychology on their worrier imaginations!

Controlling What We Can

Alecia’s (not her real name) worry was that she may not have “enough.” At first glance, it wasn’t obvious whether or not she was right. So we talked about what she would like to do, at 58 years old, in her life’s next chapter. 

Her burning desire was to leave the corporate world and teach yoga full-time. She had assumed that would be out of the question. We talked about what sacrifices in her lifestyle – line item by line item – she would be willing to make, and not make, to achieve her dream. After running several scenarios through the financial planning software, she was able to craft her own version of “enough” that could fit with a new happier, simpler lifestyle.

Through focusing on what she could control – her lifestyle and spending decisions – she gained warrior-like confidence. Her personal economic problems didn’t seem so big anymore.

Letting Go

When I put as much energy into possible positive outcomes as I used to put into negative ones, it’s easier to let go of worries. To a habitual worrier, letting go of worry – that illusion of control – can feel like jumping off a cliff. 

But therein lies the warrior’s strength.

For more on dealing with money worries and the psychology of money, check out Chapters 2 and 7 in The Mindful Money Mentality: How to Find Balance in Your Financial Future.

Or, if retirement readiness is a major worry for you, check out a short online course on it at:

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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