Money Anxiety

With so much going on in the world these days, sometimes all you find yourself doing is trying to simply tread choppy financial waters. Everybody’s in survival mode and basically hoping to get from one day to the next. Have your finances been in a kind of freefall over the past two-plus years? If you’re feeling burnt-out worrying about your future — eg will you come up short in the event of an unexpected bill or be able to take care of yourself in retirement — it is necessary, now more than ever, to get back to basics. You can avoid being stuck in a vicious cycle of money anxiety by reviewing your short-, medium- and long-term financial goals.

You are not alone

First things first. Don’t beat yourself up if you find yourself in a vicious cycle of credit card debt because your budget isn’t leaving you any wiggle room to handle day-to-day living. You aren’t alone. This feeling of money anxiety isn’t peculiar to you. The onset of COVID in 2020 ushered in a period of not just health concerns but, unfortunately, financial ones as well. According to a Pew Research Centre survey in the States in 2021, COVID’s long-term economic fallout saw half of non-retired respondents worried that the crisis would make it harder for them to achieve their long-term financial goals. As the pandemic has dragged on, with complications from the fallout from what is looking like a war of attrition between Russia and Ukraine also impacting global economies, including ours, the outlook for people’s personal finances seems increasingly uncertain.

A return to basics

Now is as good a time as any to review your financial goals and, where necessary, to update them. If the approaching summer holidays are finding you with some time on your hands, this is the perfect opportunity to formulate and set goals if you haven’t before in order to get, and stay, on a firm financial footing.

A financial goal is really any plan you have for your money. It can be short-, medium- or long-term in nature and is meant to keep you focused on achieving it so that at the end of the day you don’t feel as if you have no idea where your money is going. When you’ve decided what you want to achieve with your money, you must make a commitment to keep yourself accountable and then write those goals down and how best you will achieve them.

Short-term goals

A short-term goal is one that can be achieved in the near future, say, in one year or less. So, for example, there’s an online course you can take that you’re interested in. You know it will help you find another, more lucrative job, or at least put you on track to build an additional income stream and put you in better stead to improve your living standards by the additional funds coming in. Setting a budget, starting an emergency savings fund and even writing a résumé are short-term goals too. These things can be done right now and have the potential to improve your future money prospects whilst bringing peace of mind.

Medium-term goals

Now, let’s say you want to tackle credit card debt. Knowing what we do about credit card interest, this may be something you should do before it mushrooms because you’re only making minimum monthly payments. If you aren’t in a position to pay this debt down in under a year, but in no more than three to five years, depending on your age and expectations for remaining in the workforce, then you would list it as a medium or midterm goal. Other midterm goals can include deciding to complete a college education, buying a car or starting a business. When you decide on these goals you must then decide, in collaboration with your monthly budget, how you are going to achieve them in the time frame you’ve set.

Long-term goals

Long-term goals ask where you see yourself in 10 years’ time or more. Depending on your age, they may not seem like a priority. Nevertheless you should still list them. Don’t assume that there is family legacy waiting for you when the time comes; life is complicated and we know about the best-laid plans. Many people who have woken up to the imminent reality of retirement often talk ruefully about how they thought they had all the time in the world while busy living life in their youth. But the years do pass quickly and the things you do now will impact your life in the future. Starting a retirement fund, home ownership and travel are some of the things that you might want to think about as the time approaches to slow down after years of hard work.

Bottom line

You can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’re at right now. Panicking about your financial future is pointless, as it gets nothing done. The beauty of setting financial goals is that you can always return to them and monitor your progress even through all of life’s ups and downs. You must become an active participant in your future. Control your financial narrative by the actions you can take right now; start by refining your financial goals today.

Lamar Harris vice-president, wealth management, NCB Capital Markets

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