No one is born with a fear of or attitude towards money. Fears and attitudes–be they good, bad, or ugly–develop over time. No doubt, your upbringing is a major contributing factor. Past experiences–successes and failures–also play a critical role. Then there’s society–whether it comes through the media, common practices, your friends, family, or even the government.
In spite of a myriad of influences, however, let’s face it: you are the steward of your money–you are in charge of its destiny. So what are your fears? Being poor? Making mistakes? In my book, 10 Smart Money Moves for Women, I identify 10 financial fears, 5 of which I describe below. See where you fit in and read my next article which covers the other 5 fears.
The Fear of Being Poor
In 1985, one of USA Today‘s headlines read, “Bag Lady Fears Drive Women to Stash Cash.” Not a lot has changed for many women since I clipped that gem for my “nudge” file. The #1 fear that women shared over the past year in my “$mart Money” workshops is becoming destitute when they are older.Is being poor really a concern for today’s woman? You bet. Government statistics show that for every 100 women and men who reach 65, only two are financially independent.
How do the rest survive? By relying on relatives, the government, friends, or working until they die. What an unfortunate and seemingly unnecessary prospect for a modern society in the midst of a booming economy.
Women live longer than men. A fact that means that women are more likely to spend far more years just barely getting by than men if they don’t step into the money maze and learn how to navigate on their own. Forget about being rescued by a white knight. It’s nothing more than a media-driven myth.
The reality is that whether you are rich, poor, or in-between, the person that you are going to have to rely on the most to keep you from the poorhouse is you–your creativity, imagination, intuition, and smarts.
The Fear of Losing Money
At some point, everyone loses money–from a bad investment, inflation erosion, or a failure to act or make a decision.
Losing money is scary for anyone, but women are more fearful of losing money than men. Why? First, men typically earn more money than women do and therefore feel as if they have more to invest. Moreover, if men lose money in a bad investment, their reaction–that it can be replaced–differs from many women who may exaggerate the loss’ significance in their overall financial situation. Women are also less likely to take the more aggressive and riskier financial positions that men do. Risk-taking, in part, has to do with a man’s familiarity with money. Men, in contrast to women, are generally exposed to the subject of money early on and by the time they reach adulthood, the topic is no longer unfamiliar or intimidating.
Working with and investing money does not have to be a giant leap into the unknown. In fact, it’s wiser to start with small steps. Whether it’s putting money in a mutual fund (many funds allow you to start with as little as $100 if you commit to contributing a minimal amount on a monthly basis) or a fund for your children’s education, small amounts can build into fortunes.
The Fear of Looking Stupid
No one wants to appear or feel foolish. Yet, when it comes to money strategies and decisions, many women fear that the wrong move or outcome will serve to broadcast that they blew it and don’t know what they’re doing. Of course that doesn’t happen, but the fear can be inhibiting.
The good news about money mistakes is that they can be valuable learning opportunities after the crisis has passed. Once you become more confident in your decisions and accept that you will stumble once in a while, you will be able to assess your financial situation quickly and rationally and focus on finding solutions rather than dwelling on the mistakes.
The Fear of Talking About Money
Your upbringing will most likely play the largest role in shaping your money practices. It’s a broad generalization, but it’s also true: most women grew up in homes in which money discussions were avoided or restricted to parents only. Money may have been mentioned but rarely discussed in a positive and productive manner. As a result, women never received the necessary training and guidance about money and investing. And the practice that started within the family is then perpetuated by the woman herself: “If I don’t talk about money or acknowledge it, it won’t be a problem in my life.”
By talking about money and sharing your experiences and outcomes with other women and men, you will discover how much there is to learn and how much you have to contribute to the conversation.
The Fear of Making Mistakes and Failing
I wish I had $10 for every mistake I’ve made over the past 50 years. Although most women believe they’ve had their fair share in the mistake and failure departments, it doesn’t erase the stigma that mistakes and failures can bring.
The unsurprising truth is that mistakes happen. What you do about them is up to you: will they cripple and paralyze you? Or will you look on them as facts of life that provide learning and growth opportunities? Making money mistakes and experiencing failures won’t destroy you, but allowing yourself to get stuck mentally could cause more lasting damage. The key is to determine:
- What happened?
- What factors could you control, influence, or alter?
- What factors were out of your control?
- What did you learn from the experience, both bad and good?
For most of us, financial fears are both powerful and deep-seated. By recognizing your own fears and how they operate on you, you can begin to cut them down to size and use their force for something much more worthwhile–taking charge of your financial well-being.