MONEY matters

Mark Zaifman's thoughts on money, global economic trends and politics

Retirement Planning for Scaredy Cats

Mark Zaifman   |    Tue, Mar 25, 2014 @ 10:01 AM

retirement planning for scaredy catsImagine you’ve just met a person that not only has a black belt in karate, but a third degree black belt to boot and is a well respected and nationally acclaimed sensei (teacher). You’re in awe of the practice and discipline required to achieve this level of martial arts mastery.

Meet Jay, a soft spoken, warm, gentle person who radiates a calming energy that you feel the second you make eye contact with him. His appearance gives no clue that underneath the hood, so to speak, is a person with immense personal power.

I met Jay for a retirement planning consultation recently and after a few minutes of getting to know each other, we got right into it. He just turned 50, is married and has a son and daughter both currently in college. Jay and his wife Julie have done a fairly decent job of saving for retirement.

About 20 minutes into our conversation, Jay becomes quiet and as I begin wondering what he's thinking, he takes a deep breath and shares the following with me.

“Dealing with money is the one area of my life that I have not mastered. In fact, it’s my biggest challenge in life and I’ve kept that fact a secret from my wife, my friends and my kids up until just this minute.  I’m a scaredy cat when it comes to this stuff. I’m sure this money secret is negatively affecting our marriage, but I’m not sure how to tell her, when to tell her or what to do about it and it’s tearing me up inside”.

At that moment, you could have blown me over with a feather. Here, in my Petaluma office, was a third degree black belt saying he was a ‘scaredy cat’, (his words and the inspiration for this blog post) when it comes to dealing with money. He made himself vulnerable and exposed his true fears. I knew that meant Jay felt safe and trusted me. He confessed a secret that’s been eating at him for years and soon after, we were on our way to exploring his money history.

Jay remembers vividly watching his father and uncle lose their business to bankruptcy when he was a teenager and the suffering that caused his mother and his siblings. His father tragically ended up committing suicide soon after the bankruptcy.

He thought he worked through all the sadness and pain this tragedy caused him in counseling and didn’t think the trauma he suffered as a teenager was affecting his current relationship with money.

Step 1- Know Your Money History

Your money history has a profound effect on the decisions you make about money. Until and unless you shine a light on all the assumptions and beliefs you’ve been carrying around since you were a kid about money and consciously eliminate outdated or self-defeating money patterns, having a peaceful relationship with money will elude you. You will strive but never arrive.

And lurking in the shadow will be the ever present money demon of self-sabotage. This unconscious and self-destructive behavior poses the greatest threat to your financial wellness. It will also be the most challenging to eradicate because it’s deeply embedded in your ego. And if your self-worth is inextricably linked to your net-worth, the hold it will have on you will be even stronger.

You could have $1 million, $5 million or $100 million - the amount of wealth you have accumulated makes no difference at all. Fear and anxiety around money is an equal opportunity offender. It takes its toll on the rich and famous as much as it does on the average person.

From Scaredy Cat to Fearless Retirement Planner

Jay's story is real, only their names have been changed. Upon my suggestion, he set up a weekend get away with Julie at their favorite vacation spot up in Lake Tahoe and gave her the true scoop about his fears and challenges around money and retirement planning.

When I saw his name pop up on my caller ID the Monday morning after their weekend away, I was eager yet a tad nervous to hear how things went. To my surprise, Julie was also on the call.

They said in the 22 years they’ve been married, this was one of the best weekends of their relationship. Everything was out in the open, and now, together and working as a team, they would move forward with a common vision of their future.

So the moral of this blog is that if a third degree black belt in karate can admit he’s a ‘scaredy cat’ when it comes to dealing with money, so can you. And then you can deal with it and move forward with your life. The truth will set you free.


“To know yourself as the Being underneath the thinker, the stillness underneath the mental noise, the love and joy underneath the pain, is freedom, salvation, enlightenment.”

-Eckhart Tolle

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