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A real fright: Tips for tackling financial fears

  • Article by: ALEX VEIGA
  • Associated Press
  • October 30, 2013 - 10:30 AM

Zombies can be terrifying, but many of us have a greater fear of the "walking debt." In most cases, financial fears can be conquered, however.

"It's like getting up the nerve to go into the haunted house," says Justin Sinnott, a financial consultant for Charles Schwab in Seattle. "Once you've gone through it and come out the other side, it's like, 'Hey, now that I've been through that, I guess it wasn't so bad.' "

Here are six tips to help you exorcise some common financial fears:

1. CLIMBING A MOUNTAIN OF BILLS

Fear can be paralyzing, causing some people to put off looking at their bank statements or bills for weeks or months.

Soon the overdue bills, late fees and perhaps unnoticed, erroneous charges follow.

What to do? Open the mail or check your financial accounts online and make a list of how much money you have and how much you owe. This will give you a clearer snapshot of your financial health and help you move toward an essential step in correcting your course: making a budget.

"You have to know how much your life is costing you and clearly you need to match that up with your income," Sinnott says.

A great way to squelch anxiety over debt is to begin paying it down.

Try the credit card payoff calculator on Schwabmoneywise.com: http://apne.ws/19QPsI2 .

2. SURVIVING A FINANCIAL SHOCK

At the heart of many financial frights are unforeseen crises, such as losing your job or receiving a mammoth medical bill. How best to deal with that? Save up. That means putting away three- to six-months' worth of living expenses as an emergency fund.

Even if you have credit card debt, it pays to funnel some of your paycheck every month toward building an emergency fund.

Here's one strategy, if you're in a two-income household: Do your best to live on a single salary for a few months, funneling the other person's pay toward the emergency fund. You'll build a cushion faster and feel less anxious about your financial security.

3. STICKING TO A BUDGET

At the heart of financial stability is keeping up with how much you spend, save and owe. That's also integral to carrying out a long-term financial plan, such as saving for college, retirement or to buy a home. How to get there? Make and stick to a budget.

Start by calculating your fixed household expenses, such as your mortgage or rent, utilities, car loan, insurance, and so on. Carve out a realistic amount of money for variable costs, such as gas, groceries and entertainment.

Once you figure out a monthly plan that enables you to gradually move toward your financial goals, stick with it.

Many apps can make monitoring your finances easier, among them Mint.com and Check.me.

4. OUTLIVING YOUR SAVINGS

Concerned you may not have enough money for a comfortable retirement?

Start by using an online retirement income calculator to estimate how much you'll need.

AARP offers one at: http://apne.ws/198bSoR .

Fear you're not on pace to having a big enough nest egg? Don't fret, says Eleanor Blayney, consumer advocate for the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards based in Washington D.C. "It's never too late," she says. "We're realizing now that retirement is a quilt of solutions, as opposed to a rifle shot. It's not just a number you have to have, it's a way of living."

5. PLANNING YOUR ESTATE

If there's anything that people tend to fear wading into it's thinking about the financial implications of their death.

"It involves stuff, again, that they just don't want to think about," Blayney says.

Why you should get over this fear: Your estate could end up not going to your intended beneficiaries. And if you have young kids, you'll want to ensure that they receive the benefit of your inheritance and that you've named a guardian for your child.

Once you draw up a will, make sure to review it annually, in case it needs updating. Consider hiring a financial planner to assist. The Certified Financial Board of Standards offers some questions to ask when you're ready to hire a planner: www.Letsmakeaplan.org/working-with-a-financial-planner/what-to-ask .

6. COPING WITH FINANCIAL STRESS

A good way to potentially eliminate a fear of finances is to break any of your financial tasks into periodic, small moves, say making a point of reviewing your accounts every Sunday night, for example.

"Make it a routine," Blayney says. "And then it becomes kind of a task, rather than a monster."

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