Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Getting Your Second Wind

Sometimes it is hard to keep doing the right thing day after day, week after week when you know the deck is stacked against you. You waited too long to start saving for retirement. You found yourself with too much debt and not enough job. You’re a single mom working two jobs. One day you woke up with a major medical problem and no insurance. How do you keep on keeping on, when the future looks bleak?

First, accept the fact that you have a problem. Without self judgment, without guilt, shame, or regret look deeply into your problem as though you were a dispassionate expert advisor. Accept yourself. It will take some time and effort to sort through all of the emotions associated with your financial problems. When you find yourself involved in any kind of self loathing extend loving kindness and forgiveness to yourself. Ask for God’s hand of favor. His promise is that if you acknowledge him, He will direct your path.

When you are ready, begin to develop a plan. It won’t be perfect, but as you begin to implement your plan, you will find ways to improve it. If you delayed preparation for retirement, double down on your 401K. If you are strangled by debt pay them off as rapidly as humanly possible. The debt snowball (starting with the smallest debt first) or the debt avalanche (starting with the highest interest rate first) both work. Choose one and implement it. If you need a better job or a temporary second job, go find it. I won’t tell you it is going to be easy. Do it because it needs to be done. If you need more support because you are at the limits of your time and energy, seek out a good church or an appropriate support group. Begin to build a network of relationships that can help when you find yourself at wits end.

Be realistic. If you haven’t started preparing for retirement and you are now 55, you won’t be retiring at 62. If you really drop just about all discretionary spending and really buckle down you might just make it when you reach Social Security Full Retirement Age at 66 years and 8 months. Take advantage of anything that is tax sheltered. That would include your 401K. Go ahead and add the “catch up” percentage to the max. By all means contribute as much as possible to a Roth IRA.

If you have to get rid of 30 years of accumulated debt, it probably won’t happen in a year. Become aware of your debts. Know the balances. Especially with hospital bills make certain you are not paying for the same service twice. If you have insurance, ask both insurance company and medical provider why it wasn’t covered. If you don’t like the answer ask again. If you don’t understand, ask.

Make certain you are paying enough on all of your debts that none of them are continuing to grow if you only make minimum payments. Don’t expect to find a silver bullet. Stay away from anyone calling themselves a debt counselor who is asking you for cash up front fee or a large fee. Don’t rely on family or debt consolidation loans to undo years of bad practice. Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate. You can get a better rate. You can even get some of your debt forgiven (this is also true for medical debt). There are debt settlement companies who can help with this process. Be careful. Not all of them are ethical.

There is good news. If you just put one foot in front of the other foot, you are one step closer to your destination. The hardest work is starting the journey. Tell yourself that when it seems like you just can’t take another step. Experts tell us that the phenomenon runners describe as your second wind is real. At some point you will experience a sense of increased confidence. It will be easier to breathe and you will find that you are less fatigued. Like a runner, as you learn how to pace yourself, as you learn the limits of your body, as you put sound training principles into practice, at some point your body will tell your mind, “I can do this.”

Sir Winston Churchill, Speech, 1941, Harrow School

“Never give in--never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

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