By Rick Kahler MSFS CFP®
Not long ago, one of Americans’ top fears was public speaking. Apparently Toastmasters is working; this fear didn’t even make this year’s Top 10 list.
Survey of American Fears
Chapman University recently completed its third Survey of American Fears, as reported in an October 12 article in Science Daily. Based on responses to questions about 65 potential fears from more than 1,500 adult participants, here are the top 10 things Americans fear:
- Corruption of government officials (same top fear as 2015)
- Terrorist attacks
- Not having enough money for the future
- Being a victim of terror
- Government restrictions on firearms and ammunition
- People I love dying
- Economic or financial collapse
- Identity theft
- People I love becoming seriously ill
- The Affordable Health Care Act/”Obamacare”
Four of these top fears (numbers 3, 7, 8, and 10) relate directly to financial health
The survey additionally identified four attitudes essential to motivating ourselves to protect against a fear:
- This can happen to me.
- This is serious.
- I can actually do something to help myself.
- Taking action will make a difference.
Let’s apply these attitudes to just one of the top fears: not having enough money for the future.
There’s a good reason this fear made the top ten. Around 70% of all Americans live paycheck to paycheck. Faced with a sudden need for $1,000, 75% would need to sell something or borrow to come up with the money. Around 48% would need to sell something or borrow just to come up with $400. Clearly, many Americans are not saving for emergencies and retirement.
Let’s look at the first motivator, This can happen to me. We are a nation of optimists. Many have money scripts like “The money will always be there,” and “Social Security and future government programs will provide for me.” We don’t consider realities such as the meager living Social Security would provide or whether taxpayers can or will support expanding aid programs. Thinking happy thoughts won’t create emergency reserves or retirement investments.
Which brings us to This is serious. If you are not investing enough money from each paycheck to continue your standard of living into retirement, it is really serious. If you retire unprepared and underfunded, it will be too late to save. And continuing to work won’t be an option for 8 out of 10 because of health reasons or inability to find a job. This is serious.
I can actually do something to help myself. Today, while you have a job and your health, you can make changes. You can get creative to reduce your standard of living and begin to save and invest. You can change your diet and take better care of your health so you can work longer. You can go back to school and reeducate yourself so you stay relevant in the workforce. You can make double and triple payments on your debts and become debt free. You can relocate to an area with a lower cost of living. You can even focus on rebuilding great relationships with your kids so they may let you move in with them in your last years.
Taking action will make a difference. Indeed it will—and starting now is key. Someday is today. Search online for printed materials, online courses, local classes, or professionals that can help you create spending plans that work, get out of debt, creatively cut expenses, increase your income, and maximize your investment growth.
There is a lot you can do to help yourself, and your most important action is to take a first step.
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