Wherever you fall on the money-avoidance spectrum, it’s time to face your financial fears once and for all.
Just about every person procrastinates on dealing with some aspect of their finances. Many people have a tremendous amount of anxiety about money that contributes to this avoidance. Either they don’t budget responsibly, or they’re not saving as much as they should, or in some cases, they’re being outright self-destructive by not paying their bills on time, or at all. It all adds up to trouble that could be avoided.
Money procrastination manifests in many different ways. Answer these questions to identify areas of your financial life where you may be procrastinating.
• Are you financially disorganized and prone to clutter? Because avoiders dislike dealing with money and related issues, they don’t spend their free time keeping documents organized and easy to find.
• Do you pay your bills and taxes late? Money avoiders often incur late fees and interest charges on various household bills. Those who are self-employed, and thus responsible for quarterly income tax filings, are at additional risk for falling behind with tax payments, which can have huge negative financial consequences.
• Do you have unopened financial account statements? A classic symptom of money avoidance is having piles of unopened account statements, even during periods when your investments are doing fine.
• Do you feel unease and shame about letting your money sit in a low-interest account? Even those who are able to save money may have a tendency to allow it to accumulate in bank accounts that pay little, if any, interest. While they may know that they could and should do better with investing the money, they can’t overcome the inertia.
• Do you feel enormous stress and anxiety over money issues and decisions? Whether you were raised in a home where money was an ongoing source of unhappiness and conflicts, or you believe you lack the skills and knowledge to take control of your current finances, making financial decisions makes some people feel uncomfortable and stressed.
• Do you have a low level of interest regarding money issues and decisions? While some avoiders shun financial decisions and responsibilities due to anxiety, others are imitating behavior learned from their parents or are rebelling against a parent who was financially or emotionally overbearing.
• Do you have an absence of long-term financial planning and thinking? Many money avoiders don’t think much about their personal and financial goals for the years and decades ahead.
• Do you have marriage problems relating to money? Money procrastinators typically have conflicts over money with their spouses, and their avoidance may stem from or be exacerbated by that.
If any of these scenarios sound like you, know that you can still get in control of your finances with some time and patience. Here are some tips to help you stop procrastinating and start addressing your financial issues.
1). Recognize and admit that you procrastinate. Until you recognize that you have a problem, you can’t work on a solution. This is why recognizing your tendency to procrastinate is the first and most important step to changing the way you handle your money management.
2). Figure out why you avoid dealing with money (and prepare to work on those issues). There are numerous reasons you might procrastinate on money issues. Maybe you feel incompetent to wisely handle your finances after several attempts to be financially responsible. Or perhaps you are disorganized in many areas of your life, and struggle just to deal with your work and family commitments alone. Other sources of procrastination may include marital friction, perfectionism that prevents you from ever getting started, or flat-out avoidance of difficult situations. Many people are money avoiders because they are able to get along sufficiently through either good fortune or by being surrounded by those who enable the avoiding behavior. Whatever the reasons you procrastinate where money is concerned, take steps to address those issues head-on and start changing your behavior today.
3). Work on one or two tasks at a time. If you try to tackle your laundry list of financial to-dos all at once, it can be so overwhelming that you’re tempted to give up. So focus on a few high-priority tasks to begin with, and once you’ve completed those, you can move on to the next few. Remember, if you’ve got a long list of goals, it might take six months to a year to work through those. Pace yourself so you won’t give up.
4). Automate your bill payments. Financially disorganized individuals are often late paying their bills. But late payments, particularly when it comes to paying taxes, are a problem that can lead to substantial late fees, interest, and penalties. One of the best things you can do to avoid those late payments is to set up automatic payment on your various bills.
With just a little upfront work with each creditor or billing company you can rid yourself of unnecessary fees and interest and save a little time each month. Many companies accept and actually prefer payment through an electronic transfer from your bank account. Some loan holders (including student-loan holders) may even lessen your interest rate slightly in return for what amounts to a guarantee of an on-time payment every month.
5). Develop a regular investment program. All money procrastinators should make their investing automatic, advises Tyson. If you work for an employer, let them know you want to sign up for their payroll deduction savings account program. Not only will your money grow faster inside a tax-deferred account, but your employer may also offer free matching money.
If you are self-employed, you’ll need to establish your own retirement account. Find out about the different retirement account options and choose the one that best meets your needs. SEP-IRAs enable you to sock away large amounts — a self-employed person may contribute up to 20 percent of his business’s net income up to a maximum of $54,000 for tax year 2017 ($55,000 for 2018). These plans may be established through major mutual fund companies like Vanguard, Fidelity, and T. Rowe Price. You can generally set up these accounts so a regular monthly amount is sent electronically from your local bank account to your mutual fund investment account.
6). Hire financial help. Financial advisors are best suited for those who want to quantify how much they should be saving for specific goals and determining where to invest it. However, there’s no getting around it: You do have to do a lot of digging to find a competent and ethical advisor who has reasonable fees. With that information in hand, you can confidently and strategically evaluate potential service providers who can help you overcome your inertia and get you on track with managing your money.
Chances are, you’ll never love dealing with money issues and that’s okay. But if you can accomplish foundational goals, you won’t suffer the ill effects of someone who completely neglects their finances. It’s not too late to change your relationship to money, and when you do, you will feel far more motivated and in control of your life.
Eric Tyson, MBA, is an internationally acclaimed and best-selling personal finance author, counselor, and writer. He is the author of five national best-selling financial books including Investing For Dummies, Personal Finance For Dummies, and Home Buying Kit For Dummies. He has appeared on NBCs Today show, ABC, CNBC, FOX News, PBS, and CNN, and has been interviewed on hundreds of radio shows and print publications.