What stops us from sorting our finances? How to stop being a financial phobe and take control

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By writer and broadcaster Christine Webber

All financial experts agree on one thing: we need to know what we owe and own if we’re to plan for the future. Unfortunately, life can get in the way. So, what stops us from sorting out finances? Here’s my guide to how to stop being a financial phobe and take control.

Why don’t you sort out your finances?

Our spare time is precious. By the time we’ve tackled important jobs like networking, cleaning the bath, helping the kids with their homework and trying to find the perfect pair of black trousers, we rarely have the energy or inclination to sort our finances. Why is it that though we’re bright, sassy women, we’re not always savvy about money?

What do you know?

On the plus side, we do understand houses. We tend to know what our home is worth. And if we’re into buy-to-let property, we’ve generally got an idea of its current value. But do you know how much you’ve got in the bank? In savings? What you owe on your credit cards? What your company/private pensions are worth? What year you’ll get your state pension? How your ISA is doing? What an ISA is? No? Well, join the club!

The history lesson

Historically, the female gender had no say in financial matters, and often couldn’t even inherit money or property (if you’ve been watching Downtown Abbey on the TV you’ll know all about that). So that’s probably left us with an inferiority complex where finance is concerned.

Also, let’s face it – till recently — financial advice was invariably offered by stuffy men in pinstriped suits spouting incomprehensible jargon. Fortunately, that’s changing — as this website demonstrates.

Taking the first steps

Suppose you had a crippling phobia of spiders. And suppose you decided that you’d solve the problem by ensuring that you never, ever saw another spider again. Would this work for you? No. Because there would be no way of guaranteeing a total absence of spiders from your life — so you’d always have an underlying fear that one might be lurking round the next corner. Here are my tips:

Money is like that spider. You might hope that if you avoid thinking about it everything will be fine. But actually, the longer you ignore your financial situation, the more you’re likely to have a niggling, underlying anxiety about it.

Think differently!

One of the most popular types of psychotherapy today is called Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. As its name suggests, it helps people to solve their problems by altering both their thoughts (cognitions) and their behaviour. And we can face up to our finances by altering our thoughts and behaviour too.

Let’s look at thoughts first — and how we could change them.

Do you think “I shouldn’t have to deal with money”?
You may well be thinking this way if you’ve recently been dumped and/or divorced. Maybe you’re feeling emotionally bruised and financially battered. That’s tough. But you may be making things tougher by not accepting the truth of what’s happened to you.

TIP: You need to change your inner commentary to something more helpful like: I didn’t ask to be in this situation, and I’d prefer for it not to have happened. But it has. I’m in charge of my own money now, and I’ll feel better when I understand it better.

Do you think: “I’m too busy to sort my finances out”?
Is this true? What it often means is that all sorts of other activities appeal to you more. So, try thinking this way instead: Sorting out my finances is time-consuming. But once I’ve done it, it’ll be a weight off my mind and I can then enjoy spending time doing stuff I like.

Do you think: “Sorting out money is boring”?
Yes, it can be. But is there a law in the universe that says we must never be bored? No! Boredom is uncomfortable — but not nearly as uncomfortable as being badly in debt or chaotically disorganised.

Do you think: “I’m too thick to sort out my money problems”?
No you’re not! Write a list of 50 things you’re good at. I bet there are loads of things on that list that lots of us would find difficult. You’re not thick, you’ve just labelled yourself that way. Stop it! It’s not helpful.

Change your behaviour

Once you’ve got yourself thinking more rationally, you’ll find it easier to tackle your behaviour. So:

1. Gather together all your documents: bank statements, credit card statements, pension documents, etc.

2. Look at all the information and tips on this website. Use it to help you sort out your current financial state and plan for the future.

3. Tackle your finances a step at a time. If you’ve never done an appraisal of your money situation, it’s going to take a while, and might feel totally overwhelming. So, break it down into manageable chunks. Initially, aim to spend just 10 minutes at a time working on your money situation. The chances are that you’ll do more, but even if you don’t, you’ll have made a start. And that’s the hard bit.

4. Swap a skill. Hopefully, you’ve got a trustworthy friend, brother/sister or colleague who really understands figures. Ask for help and in exchange offer to do something for him or her that you’re good at.

The feel-good factor

We all cope better with what we know rather than what we don’t. And when you fully understand your financial situation, you can start taking measures to deal with it.

Knowledge is power. Once you’ve taken control of your finances — you’ll feel huge relief. You’ll also feel proud of yourself. And so you should be!

Christine Webber is a psychotherapist, health writer and broadcaster – and the author of an inspirational guide for female baby boomers called Too Young to Get Old.

Related articles:

Getting to grips with a budget

Are you affected by financial abuse?

Using a spending diary; how to spend less.

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