“How can I feel fine?”
That’s what Julie Elman, from Ohio, wants to know. Julie is 57, retirementis right around the corner, and she’s worried. Despite doing “all the right things,” whenever she spends time reviewing her financial situation, Julie never, ever feels fine about the finance part.
Julie, there is one thing I want you to know. You. Are. Not. Alone.
I’ve traveled all over the world talking about personal finance, and if I had to use one word to describe people’s feelings about money it would be “anxious.”
If you, like Julie, find yourself struggling to feel fine, despite doing all the right things, may I gently suggest two things to consider.
1. There is no spreadsheet that can guarantee you will be fine.
I know people in the finance industry love to talk about retirement projections as if they can tell you what the future holds, and there is definitely value in having a plan.
But the value is not that it gives you certainty. Just like any plan, financial ones are just guesses about the future. They can tell us the general direction we’re headed, but they lack precision when it comes to our exact destination.
2. More money does not solve feelings of financial insecurity.
I’ve met with people who have more money than they could ever spend, and they’re absolutely convinced that tomorrow will be the day it all disappears. In fact, in my experience there is very little correlation between net worth and a personal sense of financial security. To be clear, I am not talking about actual security. I’m talking about one’s sense of security. Those are two different things.
The truth, as I’ve written before, is that uncertainty equals reality. As Julie noted in her message to me, one major medical emergency, not to mention a million other things, can throw a wrench in the whole plan.
So let’s stop hoping to find the magic certainty button. It doesn’t exist. At some level, we must learn to be O.K. with the inevitable risk of simply being alive.
It’s worth giving a nod here to the Serenity Prayer by the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
Here’s an idea I have seen work. Think of it as Serenity Prayer training. Make a list of all the things that matter that you do control: saving something for your retirement, evaluating the way you invest, spending less, finding side hustles to make a bit more, etc.
Now, look at that list and put a big, fat check mark next to everything you’ve addressed to the best of your ability. Whatever you didn’t check off, take some time and effort to work on it.
Any time you start to feel fear or discomfort creep up again, just go back to that list, take a deep breath and remind yourself that you have done everything you can. Then, repeat after me: “I need to let go of the rest. I need to let go of the rest. I need to let go of the rest.” And that becomes the touchstone for what can help you feel a little more fine.