Sunél’s Blog | What is the worst thing that can happen?

Sunél Veldtman, | 06 December 2019

Last week, I wrote about uncovering the root of anxiety about money, which starts with awareness. But awareness is not enough.

When we worry about money, we often have vague fears about the worst thing that can happen. What if a global recession wipes out half of my capital just before I retire? Experts will placate you and say that it is unlikely but that doesn’t settle your anxiety.

A solution may be to imagine what will happen when your worst fear becomes a reality. What will you do on that day? How will you feel that day and the next? How will you cope practically? If you can face your fear and then live through it in your imagination, you may enhance your perception of how you will cope.

Women frequently fear becoming a bag lady – a homeless woman roaming the streets carrying her belongings in shopping bags. Years ago, I read a book about a  wealthy woman for whom this worst fear happened. Alexandra Penney had invested all her funds with Bernie Madoff and lost everything when it emerged that he ran a Ponzi scheme. The Bag Lady Papers: The Priceless Experience of Losing It All, is Penney’s memoir on surviving her worst fear. It is a good read to help you see that you really can ‘survive’ your worst money fear.

Right now, in South Africa, we are facing anxiety over our future. Ask yourself, ‘What is the worst that can happen? How will I survive it?’ Rather than living with that anxiety, face the fear and imagine what you might do to cope. Practical steps may emerge from your imaginary journey that keeps you from the precipice, like saving more money for an emergency fund (even some extremely wealthy families keep too little inaccessible funds).

There may be nothing else you can do, but your confidence in your ability to cope may change. It is our belief in our ability to cope that will battle our anxiety.