5 common financial fears and how to overcome them
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If Frankenstein and Freddy Krueger haven’t frightened you enough this Halloween season, try confronting something more tangible — those financial concerns keeping you up at night.
It’s normal to be worried about your money: 69 percent of Americans admit to losing sleep because of something they’re worried about, according to a recent Bankrate survey, and 36 percent said they’re losing sleep over money concerns.
Money matters don’t have to be nightmare-inducing, though. Here are five common financial phobias and ways you can overcome your fears.
1. Unexpected medical costs
As any horror aficionado can attest, our deepest fears are driven by the unknown.
According to a Gallup survey conducted earlier this year, 58 percent of Americans said they were at least moderately worried about not being able to pay unforeseen medical costs if they were involved in an accident or diagnosed with a serious illness.
Even with a solid health insurance plan, pricey out-of-network visits and increasing deductibles can be frightening. A Bankrate survey in August found that 22 percent of Americans said they or a close family member avoided a doctor visit in the past year because of the cost.
It’s important to not only have a solid health insurance plan that will cover you in your worst-case scenario but also to familiarize yourself with the terms.
“Let’s start with, if this happened tomorrow, what should you have that would protect you?” says Amy Irvine, CFP, EA, MPAS of Irvine Wealth Planning Strategies in Corning, New York. If you know exactly what you’ll be expected to pay in the case of a medical emergency and where to expect coverage, you can better prepare, both financially and mentally.
2. Money-draining emergencies
Medical emergencies aren’t the only surprises that can put a strain on finances. A Northwestern Mutual study from 2016 found that 55 percent of Americans’ financial anxieties stem from general unexpected expenses.
These can include medical costs and job layoffs, but also smaller costs like car maintenance or a broken hard drive.
For unplanned financial emergencies, it’s important to have an emergency fund in place. Ideally, your emergency fund will cover at least six months’ worth of expenses, including everything from insurance premiums and mortgage payments to groceries and utility bills.
If unexpected financial burdens are still giving you nightmares, direct more savings toward your emergency account as an added safeguard even after you’ve reached the six month threshold.
“The fear of something happening, if it’s not planned for, will keep you up at night,” Irvine says. “Knowing that you’ve planned for that situation to happen and just need to pull it off the shelf if it does brings a lot of people enormous peace.”
3. Losing a job
A Northwestern Mutual study from 2018 found that 28 percent of respondents cited fear of losing their jobs as a source of their financial anxiety. And while we may not expect “The Terminator”- level takeovers, much of that fear is related to technology.
A report released last year by Udemy found that 43 percent of Americans who are stressed at work attribute their stress to a fear of losing their jobs because of artificial intelligence.
Like other financial fears that stem from an inability to anticipate the unknown, some of the uncertainty can be mitigated by establishing an emergency fund. It’s also helpful to have a backup plan.
“Think about what you could do with your knowledge and experience. What’s the backup plan if that were to happen?” Irvine asks. “Could you teach? What would be a side hustle if you lost your job?”
Think big picture, Irvine says, especially if you work in tech or industrial sectors that are susceptible to layoffs. Ask yourself exactly how you would meet your financial obligations and establish a game plan.
4. Lack of retirement savings
According to Gallup’s survey, not having enough money saved for retirement was the No. 1 fear (accounting for 63 percent of respondents) among non-retirees. And it’s not unfounded.
A recent Bankrate survey found 61 percent of Americans don’t know how much they’ll need to be able to retire.
It’s never too late to begin saving for retirement, though, even if your contributions start small. Evaluate your financial plan and make room in your budget for retirement savings. Take advantage of employer plans and catch-up contributions if you’re eligible, and set up direct deposits so you don’t even have the chance to miss the money before it goes into your retirement account.
To get a full portrait of her clients’ financial health, including retirement savings, Irvine conducts a yearly progress evaluation. “We sit down and we say, this is where you’re at and this is where you were last year. So look at your progression, look at any gaps that might exist,” she says.
Start to fill the gaps in your overall financial plan, and you can stay ahead of any fear holding you back.
5. Dragging debt to the grave
Finding yourself buried under mountains of debt can feel like a horror movie come to life. And it affects nearly half of Americans: 42 percent of respondents to Northwestern Mutual’s 2018 study attribute their economic anxiety to debt.
Between student loan debt, credit card debt and auto and home loans, we are increasingly living beyond our means. According to the latest Federal Reserve data, Americans hold a total of $13.29 trillion in debt.
It’s often inevitable to carry some amount of debt. But fear can creep in when there’s no end in sight to mounting interest rates and monthly payments.
So what can you do?
One single solution to getting out of debt doesn’t exist, but there are steps you can take to ease your worries. Create a budget and stop taking on additional debt. Start with your highest interest rates and work your way down. Consider options like consolidation and balance-transfer credit cards.
Make sure you don’t let your debt fears overshadow your savings progress, though. It’s important to keep everything in balance.
You can use Bankrate’s debt paydown calculator and talk to a credit counselor to help figure out your most effective repayment plan.
Knowledge as a weapon
If you still find your financial fears getting the best of you, Irvine suggests a methodical approach.
“You have to admit what’s keeping you up at night; that’s step one,” she says. “Let’s face those fears, let’s write them down and let’s see how scary they could actually be. Is it ‘Friday the 13th’ scary or is it ‘It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown’ scary? Become a sponge around those particular topics that are ‘Friday the 13th’ scary.”
Use online resources, read books on the topic, listen to podcasts. Seek out a financial adviser. Like the would-be victim who defeats the monster in any good Halloween tale, confronting your fear head-on is the best way to defeat it.