I have $ 700K but spending gives me panic attacks

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    Dear Penny,

    I am a 61 year old woman with $ 700,000 saved for retirement. I own my own house (on a mortgage) and have daily expenses in a cash account for more than five months. I have a few investment accounts in addition to cash and generally follow a 60/20/20 budget for my dollars after tax and after retirement.

    Why can’t I stop freaking out about money? I save up for home repairs and then freak out when I write the check. I save up for a new car and then freak out when it’s time to buy it. I HAVE THE MONEY.

    I am not poor, but I have been poor in money in the past. I’ve always been saving up for retirement, but I can’t stop freaking out. And by freaking out, I literally mean days of heart pounding panic attacks that Xanax is my only friend.

    How do others deal with it?

    -L.

    Dear L.,

    Anxiety is healthy to some extent. That’s why we buckle up and avoid dark alleys at night. Having some level of money-related anxiety is also a good thing. If you weren’t worried about running out of opportunities, why not spend every dollar?

    But there is a huge difference between healthy anxiety and the serious anxiety you are experiencing. Advice is not a substitute for psychological treatment. Whatever you do, it is important that you discuss your anxiety with a professional.

    I wish I could tell you that $ 700,000 is more than enough for you. But that wouldn’t be an honest answer. There is no way I can tell you for sure that any type of saving is a guarantee that you will never run out of money. Even billionaires end up in bankruptcy courts. However, there is much you can do to reduce the risk of an outcome you fear.

    Financial health isn’t just a number. That $ 700,000 could be more than enough if you live in an inexpensive area and plan to work for several years. But if you live in Manhattan, want to retire next year, and the people in your family are often over 100 years old, it can make you very short. It all depends on the context. The amount you have saved is meaningless without knowing your lifestyle, goals, and concerns.

    I wonder how much planning you actually did without just saving. Do you have an age in mind when you want to retire? Have you thought about when you will start using social security? Are you planning to stay in your home and if so, will you be mortgage free by the time you retire?

    All of this seems overwhelming when money is already causing you so much stress. But worrying all the time is playing tricks on you. You spend so much space and energy in the brain worrying that it feels like you are actually taking action.

    I want you to do what doesn’t seem intuitive to you and think about the absolute worst-case scenarios. But I don’t want you to do this alone. I urge you to meet with a financial advisor since you have the means to do so.

    Write down your greatest fears so that you can discuss them together. Are you afraid of outliving your savings? Are you worried that the market will collapse right before you retire? Or that health care costs are gobbling up your retirement budget?

    A financial advisor doesn’t have special procurement that can guarantee none of this will happen. However, they can help you reduce the risk of these worst-case scenarios. If you are worried about running out of money, you can plan how much you can safely withdraw from your retirement accounts and when you should get social security. Of course, they can’t prevent a stock market crash, but they can ensure that your investments are safely allocated based on your goals.

    It sounds like you’re someone with a low tolerance for risk, which means you probably want to invest conservatively. Perhaps repaying that mortgage with some of those savings would be a good investment for you. Will it be scary to make so much money at once? Of course, especially since the interest savings are likely to pale when compared to your investment returns. But when you can sleep better and know that what is likely your biggest expense will be met, it might be worth it. I’m not saying that you should absolutely do this, but it is worth discussing it with your finance professional.

    I suspect if you think realistically about your worst case scenarios, you will find that things are not as bad as you imagined. Suppose you had to stop working tomorrow for some reason. Your retirement plans would likely change significantly. But at the same time, you wouldn’t be left without food or a home.

    You say you have been poor in money in the past. Yet you got past that and even managed to save for retirement when you didn’t have a lot of money. You are not doomed to repeat your past.

    I think if you do what is scary and face your fears directly – with the help of a finance professional and a psychologist – you can lessen your fear of money. That doesn’t mean you will never worry about money again. But you can get to a place where fear of money doesn’t dominate your life.

    Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected].


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