The first time I discovered the power of panic paralysis, my husband and I were on the verge of moving out of a one-bedroom apartment and buying our first home. We had been aggressively saving to buy our freedom from our landlord.
I liked stock-pile mode: we controlled it; and it was relatively simple – we put aside as much money as we could and we were able to go at our own pace. We were building something, together.
But the prospects of turning all that money over made me feel beholden to the bank and more out of control.
“What if the oil burner blows, the transmission on the car gives out, the roof springs a leak and I find out I’m pregnant – all in the same week?” I would ask my husband at 11 pm on a work night, just as his head was hitting the pillow.
To his credit, he didn’t run away; but he didn’t indulge me, either.
“We’re not having this conversation before bed,” he would sigh. One night he had had enough and said, “Fine. We don’t have to buy a house. We will stay in this crappy, one-bedroom apartment the rest of our lives.”
His words had a sobering effect on me, like a splash of ice water to the face: What I wanted versus what I needed – how could I ever bridge the gap?
I wanted to have a home and have our money go toward building equity for us and not our landlord. Ah, but what I needed were assurances. I needed control. With so many variables, how could I have control?
Once we sat down and did the math, and saw how much we could continue to put aside toward savings/investing every month, I felt I could breathe a little easier. Keeping our emergency cash reserve intact (and increasing it) also gave me a degree of comfort.
People often feel that way about investing. Who knows what the market will do? Who knows what the economy will be like; where interest rates will be; and what inflation will like in a year, etc.? The list of worries goes on and on.
That cacophony can drown out rational thought and kill any forward momentum. And, while standing might feel like control, it’s really a case of the tail wagging the dog.
Recently, I was interviewed by Anora Mahnudova of MarketWatch for “How investors can learn to stop worrying and love a stock-market correction.” Clearly the writing is on the wall: investors are already worried that the market is climbing higher and they need reassurance for the inevitable market volatility — whenever that might be.
I told Anora that investors need to be thoughtful planners; considering what they want, what they need, and articulating their goals. This obvious first step is one that many avoid.
Without getting a handle on where you are and outlining where you want to be, you have no control and no direction.
Procrastination sets in followed by the equally unproductive hand-wringing.
As I tell clients: Sit and do this exercise with me; gather what you need and swallow your fear. Once we lay everything out and get a sense of what you have; what you will need and how long you have to get there, we can then make a viable plan.
Even when the news is sobering, they breathe easier because now they are able to face and address every nagging issue. Doing something about their situation gives them forward momentum.
They see they have control over many things, such as the amount of money they will invest; the level of risk they are willing to take; and when they will actually retire.
The conversation shifts from worrying about random things they can’t control (like market returns) to something constructive, like how can they move the needle for their own financial well-being. They no longer ask if they are buying in at market highs; they no longer talk about timing when they invest. They see market corrections as a time to add to their investments.
If you are ready to climb into the driver seat, start by writing down your financial goals.
- What age do you want to retire?
- How much will you need?
- Take inventory of the money you live off of every month.
- Find out what income you will have in retirement (pension, social security, etc.).
- Write down all the investments/cash you currently have in all accounts (retirement and taxable accounts).
Then stay tuned. My next post will address more steps to take to kill the panic paralysis and seize control. I speak from experience: it is much better to put your energy in to creating the future you want than worrying while you sit on your hands. That’s what I call a great investment of your time.
Thanks for the great article Dina. It is very helpful to put everything in context to reduce the fear of the unknown.
Thanks, Dan. This doesn’t have to be complicated! Just trying to keep things simple and realistic.
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