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Bouncing back from adversity
At some point, almost everyone has experienced an unexpected financial disaster. Some arise from unanticipated misfortune: Our stocks tank, we lose our jobs, a medical emergency saddles us with huge bills, or we have uninsured losses.
In other cases, a financial setback could stem from dreams that never materialized.
For instance, a couple of years ago, an agent shopped Alisa Bowman’s book, “Project Happily Ever After,” to enthusiastic publishers. When it sold for much less than envisioned, Bowman vowed to turn it into a bestseller.
Months later, after working herself ragged and spending her own money to publicize it, sales lagged, and Bowman had to face facts: She was thousands in debt. She sank into a depression.
“I just felt like the biggest loser on the planet,” Bowman says.
As difficult as it can be to bounce back from adversity, the alternative is to let adversity take you down. Bankrate spoke to several experts on strategies for retaking control of your life and finances. Here’s what they had to say.
Adjust your attitude
Putting your financial disaster into proper perspective is the first step toward overcoming it. Brad Klontz, an associate research professor in personal financial planning at Kansas State University, says to frame it as an opportunity for growth.
“We can learn much more from our failures than from our successes,” Klontz says. He urges victims of financial setbacks to examine their personal roles in helping create the outcome and says we should own our failures the way we do our successes.
“If our focus is entirely outward, we doom ourselves to repeated failures,” he says.
Klontz recommends seeking professional help if money-related depression lingers. For those without the resources to pay for counseling, some charitable, religious and community-based organizations offer programs with reduced fees.
Avoid making it worse
Peggy Palms, an attorney and real estate broker, says better understanding of your finances will help you recover and avoid future problems, but don’t fall for promises of credit repair or quick fixes.
“Most of them are scams, and they collect a lot of money from people who absolutely cannot afford it,” she says.
Palms says the majority of credit counseling companies, including nonprofits subsidized by credit card companies, do little to help their clients. Instead of falling into that trap, get help from financial institutions that offer counseling as a member service or from religious and service organizations, which often also have personal finance programs, she says.
Create a budget
Brighter futures hinge on what we do today. One important strategy for avoiding financial disaster is to have money put aside for those proverbial rainy days; but how to save when you’re still struggling? Lauren Lyons Cole, a CFP, says a financial disaster can have the positive side effect of jump-starting your budget.
“The hardest part about being on a budget is being realistic,” Cole says.
When budgeting, Cole advises building in savings in order to create a financial cushion. “Saving even $50 a month in a high-yield savings account can go a long way toward keeping you on track the next time something unexpected comes up,” she says.
For help, she suggests online account aggregators such as Mint.com and LearnVest.com.
Get to work
Employment can be key to recovering both financial health and self-esteem. Whether you’ve lost your job, need a better one or are considering taking on a second job, finding work when unemployment is so high can be daunting, but it also can be done. Reid Lennertz, director of Career Development Services at Florida Gulf Coast University, says circumstances often dictate our choices.
“Sometimes taking a lower-paying job is simply a means to an end, such as ensuring the bills are paid,” Lennertz says.
Less prestige and lower pay don’t have to last forever. Future employers will understand brutal times often call for difficult decisions. Lennertz says job hunting can be challenging, but people are getting hired. If possible, seek out continuing education to make landing a good job more feasible. For the present, he recommends sites such as Indeed.com as job-hunting starting points.
Whip your mortgage into shape
If you’re in danger of losing your home or the burden of carrying your mortgage is overwhelming, that should be one of your first considerations when working your way out of a financial black hole. Palms says keeping a roof over your head while finding a way to manage the debt can be tricky but not impossible. The solution is very much dependent on the circumstances.
“It’s very important to deal with people who have experience in the field and understand (your situation),” she says.
Palms says the key is to find a real estate agent or an attorney specializing in working with troubled homeowners. This is not the time to rely on your brother-in-law’s advice.
Yes, you can
Remember Bowman, the writer who was so sure her book would be successful that she plunged deep into debt to publicize it? Although still paying for that mistake, the former ghostwriter discovered she enjoys working as a co-author and has written a new book, “Dangerous Instincts.” Bowman is also cheerfully attacking her debt. Klontz says she’s doing exactly what she should.
“If we take a critical look at our methods, we can learn from our failure and increase our likelihood of future success,” he says.