5 Financial Confidence Killers—and How to Quash Them

5 Financial Confidence Killers—and How to Quash Them

In most areas of your life, you probably feel pretty confident.

Perhaps you’re a pro at giving presentations in front of a boardroom. Karaoke in front of coworkers? You were the baritone in your college a cappella group.

But there may be one part of your life that leaves you feeling a little unsure: your finances.


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And you wouldn’t be the only one. Seventy percent of respondents to a national poll revealed that they are currently worried about their finances, which just goes to show that it doesn’t matter how much you make: Money is an equal-opportunity confidence breaker.

And there may be certain parts of your money life, like saving for retirement or dealing with debt, that make you feel all the more unsure—even if you have a financial plan in place.

So to help you tackle some of the most common insecurities, we rounded up top behavior-change pros to explain the key ways that finances can strike fear in our hearts—and then culled tips from them for regaining your confidence.

Think of it as putting your mind over your money.

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Financial Insecurity #1: Feeling Deprived by Budgeting

How It Saps Your Confidence While budgeting is meant to help give structure to your spending so you can live within your means and meet your financial goals, it can also make you feel like you’re on a money diet.

One bad month of overspending, and you start to feel as guilty as the dieter who regrets those few extra slices of greasy pizza after stepping on the scale.

“Budgeting can lead to a lot of guilt, and it’s [often because it’s] a backward-looking process,” says Atlanta–based financial adviser Russ Thornton, explaining that a lot of people start out confident and with the best of intentions—but start the self-blaming when they realize they've failed to meet their own standards.

“That leads to a lot of guilt and [asking yourself], ‘Why did I do that?’ ” he says.

RELATED: The One-Number Strategy: A New Approach to Budgeting

How to Give Yourself a Confidence Boost It’s all about remembering to accentuate the positives. “It’s not about what you can’t have, but what you can spend,” says Susan Bross, a financial counselor based in Eugene, Oregon and San Rafael, California, who specializes in spending management.

Maybe you’ve cut back on your weekday takeout, but you’ve allowed yourself a Friday night dinner out with your significant other that caps off a hard week—a weekly expense that carries more personal significance.

It’s also important to bake fun spending into your budget, whether it’s allotting yourself a few dollars a week for a small, no-strings-attached indulgence, or diverting a small monthly amount into a “fun” savings account for a bigger splurge—like season tickets for your favorite hockey team.

“Build [fun money] into your plan, because it is a necessary part of budgeting,” Bross says. “When people work [so hard] to not spend money on things they don’t consider a ‘need,’ they run the risk of reacting to a sense of deprivation—and spend a larger amount than usual because the pressure has built up from feeling deprived.”

“I tell clients to picture debt as a boulder they have to drag around. Would they choose to make it bigger?”

Financial Insecurity #2: Feeling Crunched by Credit

How It Saps Your Confidence Credit card debt can invoke anxiety when it starts to feel like you’re never going to crawl out from under your past money mea culpas, like impulse purchases from your less fiscally responsible years that are compounded by a sky-high APR.

“The fear is that [debt from credit cards] can snowball and get out of control,” says Brookfield, Connecticut–based psychotherapist Judith Barr, who specializes in financial counseling. “Some people won’t even have them because … once they’ve made a mistake and gotten into [a lot of] debt, they’re afraid they’re going to do it again.”

That may be why many people proactively try to put the kibosh on credit cards: A Fidelity Investments survey on 2015 financial resolutions found that more than one-third of people with a short-term savings goal planned to put that money toward paying down credit card debt.

How to Give Yourself a Confidence Boost If you’re a consistent overspender who finds it much too easy to swipe now and pay later, you've got to get over your perception of plastic as “free money.”

Bross often uses this exercise to illustrate the burden of credit card debt to clients: “I tell them to picture the debt as a big boulder that they have to drag around. Would they choose to make it bigger?” For most of us, that answer would probably be a resounding “No!”

Then, when they’re getting ready to hit the register, Bross asks them to “consider the purchase as though it were coming directly from their savings account—is it still worth it?” Once you mentally tie the plastic purchase to your hard-earned dollars, it can make it easier to walk away from unplanned credit card spending.

Of course, sticking to a thoughtful repayment plan will be the most direct way to feel in control of your debt. So once you’ve calculated a target monthly amount that works within your budget—even when you can throw more at it—be sure to stick to the plan. Otherwise, you run the risk of throwing your budget out-of-whack and restarting the whole debt cycle.

“The illusion is that by throwing large amounts of money at the debt you’ll pay it off faster, but without careful calculation, you might very well have to use the credit cards for expenses later—and that feels really crummy,” Bross says.

RELATED: Want to Get Out of Debt Faster? 4 Things to Ask Your Credit Card Company Right Now

Financial Insecurity #3: Feeling Saddled With Student Loans

How It Saps Your Confidence Your student loans can make you feel like you’re reliving your college years over and over again—and not in a good way.

Even if you loved your alma mater, you may not be so happy about graduating with $28,973 in loans (the national average for a graduate in 2015), or if you have an advanced degree, owing upwards of $57,600.

Debt like that can make it feel as if you're putting the brakes on your entire financial future. “A lot of the worries I hear are, ‘I’ll never pay these off,’ and ‘I’ll never be able to have a house or children,’ ” Bross says.

So it should come as no surprise that many of us feel a tinge of regret when it comes to higher education—47% of recent grads say they might not have gone to college if they’d known about the impact student loans would have on other areas of their lives.

RELATED: Money Mic: Student Loans Dashed My Dreams of Buying a Home

How to Give Yourself a Confidence Boost There’s no sugar coating that it may take years, even decades, to pay off your loans.

But unlike credit card debt, you can view this debt as an investment—which can make the burden easier to bear.

“It would be a good exercise to list all of the positives that the student loans made possible,” Bross says. “Hopefully [it includes things like] a better job, or a career path, rather than just a job-to-job future. Or the ability to do analytical thinking.”

Still not convinced? Here’s some more earnings-power proof: A college graduate earns over $500,000 more than someone with just a high-school diploma over a lifetime of working, according to a study from the Brookings Institution.

The researchers also calculated that the average annual return-on-investment for a professional or bachelor’s degree was more than 15%—that's far higher than the historical returns of stocks, bonds, gold and housing investments.

RELATED: Calculating College ROI: How to Tell if You’re Getting the Best Bang for Your College Buck

So think about those numbers the next time you feel overwhelmed after getting your monthly student loan statement. Bross sums it up this way: “Look not at the debt—but at what that debt has purchased for you.”

Think of retirement as a second act, where you have the freedom and time to pursue other opportunities—some of them paying.

Financial Insecurity #4: Feeling Stressed About Retirement

How It Saps Your Confidence On the surface, our anxieties around retirement revolve around whether we’ll actually have enough money to retire at all.

And the majority of us don’t think we will: 60% of Americans are worried they won’t have enough saved for retirement, and 46% don’t think they will be able to maintain their standard of living in their golden years.

That, in turn, can make saving for retirement feel futile. “You think, ‘I can’t possibly save as much as they say [I need], so why start?’ ” Bross says.

Women can feel especially stressed because they have to plan for typically longer lifespans, prompting fears of “bag lady syndrome." In fact, one study found that 49% of women end up worrying about becoming broke and homeless in their later years.

“What retirement starts doing is bringing us closer to [the reality that we’re] aging—to a time when we will be dependent [on others] again,” Barr says.

RELATED: The Other Big Gender Gap?

How to Give Yourself a Confidence Boost For starters, rethink how you view retirement. The stress you feel about not having enough money is likely rooted in the traditional notion that we have a cutoff point to our working lives.

“Retirement is a changing horizon,” Bross says. “It isn’t about putting money aside because you won’t be working for 30 years. Rather, it’s a retooling of what you’re doing, and how often.”

In other words, think of retirement as a second act, where you have the freedom and time to pursue other opportunities—some of them paying.

So write down all of the hobbies and interests you’ve had limited time to pursue, and think about how you can parlay them into a paying gig. Maybe you’re an amateur musician who can start giving music lessons. Or perhaps you’re known for your cakes, and you can start selling them made-to-order for special occasions.

“The quality of your retirement will improve if you're being paid for something you enjoy doing,” Bross says. "Be creative about how you approach the transition. It may not look like a chair on the beach, but you can have a great life, anyway.”

And if you’re still feeling unsure about your nest egg balance, focus first on the small moves you can make now to get there, rather than the daunting figure you're hoping to reach.

“Decide to put a percentage or two into your 401(k) this year, and then up it every six months,” Bross suggests. “Surprisingly, you won’t notice the small changes.”

RELATED: 6 Small Moves That Could Boost Your Retirement Savings

Financial Insecurity #5: Feeling Overwhelmed by Estate Planning

How It Saps Your Confidence In spite of its importance, estate planning often gets pushed to the wayside because it’s just downright unpleasant to think about leaving loved ones behind—not to mention the complexities and paperwork involved.

“It’s the elephant in the room for a lot of folks,” Thornton says. “Who wants to talk about their death? No one wants to confront potential [bad] scenarios. No one wants to name potential guardians.”

RELATED: Covering Your Assets: 7 Common Estate Planning Mistakes People Make

How to Give Yourself a Confidence Boost The avoidance that surrounds estate planning is, in part, a reflection of our fear of the unknown.

“People spend a lot of time worrying about things that are beyond their control,” Thornton says. “What I tell people is that it builds much more confidence to focus on the things you can control.”

At its core, estate planning is about just that—setting up your future so that the wishes you have for your health, your money and your family are fulfilled.

Putting your estate plan—or any financial to-do—in list form helps lessen the fear surrounding the task.

“I try to make people think of it as less of an item you have to suck up and handle, and more of an item you have to be strategic about and really think through,” Thornton adds.

To avoid feeling overwhelmed, don’t focus on the paperwork just yet. Instead, start with a simple list of all the questions you want to tackle through your estate plan.

“Think about the 'who’s' of it all: Who will take care of my kids? Who will pay my bills if I’m unable? Who will make decisions about my health? Who will administer my estate?” Bross says.

Doing this first means you end up tackling about 80% of the decisions you’d have to make in an estate plan anyway, Bross adds. Plus, putting this—or any financial to-do for that matter—in list form helps lessen the fear surrounding the task.

“Making a list removes the fear from the reptile portion of the brain”—the part of the brain that acts on instinct—“and moves it to the frontal lobe, where solutions are developed,” Bross adds. “The list gives the writer a sense of manageability. What we see, we can fix. What we keep in vagueness just haunts us.”

RELATED: A Family Affair: 6 Tips for Having the Estate Planning Talk


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