Facing Your Financial Problems
After yet another night of tossing and turning,
John notices the first faint light of dawn streaking through the curtains.
It is nearly morning now, and yet another night has passed without deep sleep.
John crawls out of bed and stumbles to the shower. As usual, John is agonizing
over his financial problems. He wonders whether his mind, body and soul will
have the stamina to get him through yet another day.
John is a sole-practitioner and, at age 49, he
finds himself over his head in debt. Moreover, life goes on, and everyday
needs must be met. The reality of the situation is that John owes money that
he cannot pay, including (but not limited to) credit card bills, mortgage
payments, car payments, utilities, student loans, etc. In fact, John – normally
a professional's professional – is even parking his car a few blocks
away from home because he has missed a few car payments. Additionally, in
order to deal with the bill-collectors, John has made sure every single phone,
both at the office and at home, has Caller I.D. John cannot believe
his financial predicament. He describes himself as a frugal lawyer. However,
after a number of harsh life-events, John finds himself going deeper and
deeper into a red financial hole. "My bills are sticking to me like Velcro," as
he puts it. "The pawn shop is becoming my shop of choice!"
Accordingly, the additional pressure, anxiety and tension to an already-stressful
lifestyle are straining every aspect of John's life.
Money worries can create enormous stress,
particularly when they threaten the way you live, your home, your business
and even your family. Financial difficulties can be created by events beyond
our control, such as low income, low cash-flow, job loss, litigation, health,
overspending and even turbulent world affairs.
Asked which emotions they most often associated
with money, 71 percent of the 20,000 people responding to a survey conducted
by Psychology Today listed anxiety. Of the 20,000 respondents,
52 percent listed depression and another 51 percent listed anger. (The survey
allowed for more than one response.) Those most stressed by money – and
they were not necessarily jobless – complained of more fatigue, insomnia,
headaches and other stress-related complaints.
According to a new survey commissioned by Family
Credit Counseling Service of Rockford, Illinois, researchers are beginning
to calculate precisely how much damage is being done. The survey – performed
in November by Impulse Research Corporation of Los Angeles – queried
1,590 consumers with credit-card debts. Nearly 25 percent had debts exceeding
$10,000. The survey had a margin of error of 2.5 percentage points. More
than 75 percent of people with credit-card debt have experienced some type
of physical symptom that the attribute to the financial strain. Headaches,
inability to concentrate and nausea were the most common symptoms. Furthermore,
nearly 35 percent of debtors reported trouble concentrating at work, and
17 percent acknowledged spending time at work dealing with financial troubles.
Some credit-repair clients even threaten suicide.
Job loss, low salary, life-events – whatever
the cause, economic upheaval is impacting many, even within our own legal community.
However, digging out of debt is not an insurmountable challenge. The
solution begins with an attitude adjustment and a declaration of personal revolution.
Revolutions are transformations that are undertaken
in small steps, resulting in a dramatic change. Similarly, real personal
change requires a plan, along with persistence, focus, commitment and vision.
By dealing with financial problems head-on, your standing with creditors
will improve while you relieve the stress of worrying.
Some Tips for Working through the Stress
The way that you cope with financial
stress is as important as how you deal with the payment of creditors.
- Take responsibility. You are responsible
for your own thoughts, actions, feelings, decisions and their consequences.
Unless you take responsibility, you will not strive to change what can
be changed. Rather, you will remain in a cycle of blaming other people
or life-events for the way you think and feel. You are not a victim.
- Acceptance. Accept that you
cannot control every situation and learn to be flexible in your thinking.
We all have needs (even lawyers), and when these become too demanding,
we can burn-out.
- Manage worry. When it comes to managing
worry, the famous Serenity Prayer gets it right: "[A]ccept the things you
cannot change, the courage to change the things you can, and the wisdom
to know the difference."
- Don't wallow. Rather than feeling
sorry for yourself and focusing on what you don't have, focus on what you
- Turn it over. Spirituality
through prayer and/or meditation can soothe the mind and calm the soul.
- Eat well. Eat a well-balanced diet
and limit sugar.
- Get sufficient rest. Rest is
imperative to maintain health and stamina.
- Move a muscle; change a mood. Try
to incorporate moderate exercise into each day to boost your energy level
and improve your mood.
- Relax. Make time for relaxation. Listen
to soothing music, play with your pet; read a novel, watch a comedy and
- Avoid tobacco, alcohol and
- Ask for assistance. If you are having
trouble coping on your own, help is available from many sources. Professional
assistance from a counselor or lawyer assistance professional is often
necessary. This does not imply weakness. It simply indicates that the particular
situation is just too overwhelming to handle on your own and that you need
coaching to get through it!
Some Tips on Working through the Debts
- Get help. See what services are out
there to assist you.
- Prioritize. Decide what things constitute
essentials and what are extra. This will allow you to budget for the important
things such as health costs, mortgage/rent, utilities and food; while delaying
or eliminating non-essential items.
- Communicate and negotiate for yourself. Rather
than dodging your collector's calls –
negotiate a lower interest rate. Keep records of all communications.
- Don't be afraid to downsize. Someone
will do it eventually, and it may as well be you. Your chattels may be
- Consider a part-time job. This
allows for additional cash-flow, and there are many individuals working
part-time jobs just to get out and meet people.
- Use cash instead of credit. Research
has found that people who pay with cash instead of plastic spend 12 – 18
percent less whenever they shop.
- Bankruptcy may be the last solution;
but do not represent yourself. Moreover, it is wise to check with your
state's ethics and rules of professional conduct prior to doing so.
Our attorney John decided to get a handle on
his situation. Furthermore, he also learned to take one day – as well
as one thing – at a time. There may still be many changes that he has
yet to face, but it is not beneficial to try to resolve all problems at once.
Solving one problem at a time gives a sense of control over a situation.
Likewise important, John kept occupied, active
and involved. Assisting (on a limited basis) in the community, the local
or state bar associations or church projects kept him positive. By so doing,
John not only helped others but found these activities helped him build personal
feelings of self-worth. For John, the most valuable life/business lessons
came from facing up to the challenges while planning and implementing his
own personal revolution against debt.