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Guest opinion: Frozen by fear — facing your financial facts


By Joey Beech | Executive director, Ankeny Economic Development Corp.

When I was 10, I woke up in the middle of the night and saw the shadow of a man on my bedroom wall. I froze. Every nerve in my body was on edge, yet I couldn’t move. The only part of my body that moved were my eyes. I stared at the shadow, waiting, hoping, praying the man would go away. He didn’t move, so I didn’t move. It felt like hours passed. Neither of us moved. I was exhausted but didn’t dare close my eyes. I wasn’t going to move until he moved.

That’s when I realized, he never moved. Not an inch. No shifting. No adjusting. I was so frozen by fear, I didn’t realize he was also frozen. He was motionless because, when I finally worked up the nerve to look out my window, I saw nothing was there. The “man” turned out to be a poster on my wall that looked like a large man when the moon hit it just right. I was frozen in fear because of what I thought was there.

I see many women have the same shadow fear when it comes to their finances. Without exception the women I talk with approached it with fear and dread. They are convinced their credit score is way too low, their debt is way too high and their savings is never enough.

Like my 10-year-old self who finally looked out the window to discover nothing was there, these women found once they actually sat down and looked at their debt and credit, what they feared wasn’t nearly as bad as what they thought.

They were so exhausted from looking at the big scary shadow that they were convinced the monster creating the shadow was five times bigger than it was.

I’m happy to report that every conversation I’ve had with a woman who resisted looking at her financial facts due to fear ended with, “that’s not as bad as I thought.” Their posture softens, their shoulders relax, and I can literally see the stress leave their body. In just minutes they go from a curled-up ball of nerves that can’t even look out the window  I mean, at the financial facts — to “that’s it?” Followed by a couple of “I thought it was a lot worse.”

I thought this fear and resistance was limited to those I’ve gotten to know through volunteer work. Many of these women have gone through unusually tough situations. But I’m finding it is a common thread among women.

I’ve been speaking to a lot of college students lately. To better answer their questions, I wanted to see an actual credit report and score of a recent college graduate. So, I asked a young woman I know if she would allow me to look at her credit report. This is a BIG ask of someone and I didn’t take it lightly. I’ve known this young lady since she was born. I’m friends with her parents and she’s now a working adult who I hoped would trust me with such sensitive personal information. When she gave me permission, she quickly followed it with a long list of possible reasons her credit might not be good. While fear of judgment is reasonable, I know this young lady enough to know she was truly worried and expected her credit to fall short and feared what I’d find when I looked at the facts. Like all the other women who have had the courage to share their personal financial information with me, she discovered it was much better than she thought. Her mood lightened and she walked away happy with a new confidence in her step.

We all have to find the courage to push past the emotion and face the facts. I have yet to find a case where the facts are worse than the fear. Fear loses its power on us when we look straight at the cause of it, size it up for what it really is and hatch a plan for dealing with it.

Joey Beech is the executive director of Ankeny Economic Development Corp., the author of “A Girl’s Guide to Personal Finance” and a speaker on financial literacy. Contact her via email.

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