Facing My Money Fears

Financial Literacy Awareness Moth

I remember my first job after I graduated from college quite vividly. I started part-time as production assistant at a small TV station, and eventually moved to full-time. I’m sure they gave me paperwork to enroll in my 401k, but I was too fascinated with my “big” check to care. Plus, I had no idea what a 401k was either. Oops.

It certainly didn’t seem as important as newly robust check or my shiny new health insurance card. I happily went on my way until about a year later when one of my friends mentioned she was making some changes to her 401k.

Roh. Oh.

She was a whole year younger than me and she was investing in her 401k?!?! Perhaps I should figure out this mysterious 401k too.

401k. Yeah Right. More like Fear-Okay.

I really had no idea where to begin, but one day I overheard the receptionist complaining about all her problems with rolling over her 401k. I grasped onto that tidbit like it was the last life boat on the Titanic and stopped all investigations into this baffling 401k. Instead I chose to focus on more practical and urgent matters—like building my shoe collection.

This lasted until a large broadcast company purchased our small station and sent us these lovely packages with new 401k paperwork. Like real paperwork. Beautiful glossy brochures that were full of scary words, like company match, mutual funds, risk tolerance, time horizon, asset allocation, etc.

I felt paralyzed. I certainly wanted to retire some day but some day seems so far away when you’re 25. So I did nothing and promised myself I would get serious about this 401k thingy at my next job.

Well, it took me another 3 years (and two jobs) before I did and by then I was working at a financial services company in their financial education department. It was my job to help write seminars on …. drum roll, please … 401ks.

Isn't it Ironic?

I felt like a complete fraud. Granted, I now knew what a 401k was, but I still had not started investing. Before my ignorance and lack of knowledge made 401ks seem scary, but now I knew what my ignorance cost me—six investing years. Therefore, I was doomed.

They say knowledge is power, but sometimes it only powers fear when you let it.

Shine a Light on My Money Fears

I finally bit the bullet and started investing in my 401k. A year later, I agreed to meet with a financial advisor who I was confident would confirm my greatest fear: the only person I’d ever say “tell death do us part” would be my employer.

In other words, I was screwed.

To me surprise, she did not tell me I was screwed or doomed or destined to work forever for the man. She gave me some good advice on insurance, especially disability since I am the sole provider of my cat. (I take that responsibility very seriously. :) ) Overall, I was in pretty good shape financially. I earned a good salary, had no debt and was now saving a respectable amount in my 401k. What I really needed to do was set goals, so I knew what I was working towards and could figure out how much I needed to save.

My previous goals were all generalizations because I never imagined they would be more than dreams anyway.

I have never been more happy to be wrong in my life.

carlton dance photo: Carlton tumblr_llhf2ap97E1qzmowao1_500.gif

It was the the wake-up call I needed. Fear had made me afraid to confront my financial situation because I was too scared of what I would find. I let my imagination run wild, instead of seeking the truth. I was fortunate because I was okay, but for six years, I agonized that I wasn’t. And I felt so darn helpless and powerless.

Shine your light on your fears, doubts and worries and you will see that it's only been so scary because it's been sitting in the dark places in your mind! YOU are the LIGHT!

I’m not perfect by any means. Sometimes I still drag my feet but then I remember the danger of letting fear rule my finances. So I shine a light on my concerns. Sometimes it turns out to be nothing and other times I uncover issues. Regardless, now I am in the position to take action.

And I do.

FInancial Literacy Awareness CarnivalI’m excited to be participating in The Financial Literacy Awareness Carnival hosted by Shannon Ryan from The Heavy Purse. There are a ton of great bloggers sharing their money a-ha moments, so please be sure to check out their posts. You can find a list of participating advisors, here.



  1. says

    Haha…love me some Scooby-Doo. I think a lot of people feel like they are running and not going anywhere with their finances. Fear is certainly one of the biggest killers that keeps us from getting to where we want to go.

    • Tanya says

      Even though I am definitely a cat person, I love me some Scooby-Doo! Yes, fear definitely kept me from taking action. It’s something I continue to monitor as fear can rear it’s ugly head anytime.

  2. says

    You are not alone when it comes to financial fears as many people have them. Not investing in our future is something that many people put off and it may hit them or may not. They might not care they are missing out on company matching programs or just simply investing. Good for you and thanks for sharing. Mr.CBB

    • Tanya says

      Yeah, fear can really do a number of us. And so can plain old lack of knowledge. That’s how it started for me. 401ks were a strange beast and I really didn’t know where to start, then it eventually turned fear and into a major bugaboo. I don’t consider myself to be an investment guru by any stretch of the imagination but I also know it’s not something to fear and there are so many people who can offer solid advice too!

    • Tanya says

      Carlton’s happy dance still cracks me up years later. It was so goofy and joyful at the same time. And Scooby – he’s an icon. And I can’t help but laugh at a scaredy-cat dog! Who also shares my love of food. :) I honestly still think I have much to learn but I do feel that I am on my way, which at one time, seemed impossible!

    • Tanya says

      I never realized how much it was holding me back until I faced it. Then I felt so silly that I waited for so long. I guess many of us our guilty of letting fear override our good sense.

  3. says

    It seems like we all need to go through this financial rite or passage where we are afraid to start doing the financial responsible things because they are intimidating, confusing, etc. I had this experience as well, and I am so glad I did. At least you had this moment in your 20s. Can you imagine if you waited until much later in life?

    • Tanya says

      It’s sad that our financial responsibilities do seem so confusing and scary. They shouldn’t be … but I know I wasn’t the only one with a Roh Oh face when we got our 401k paperwork. We didn’t know what it was or why we should even care. I am very grateful that I went through this in my 20s. I hope my former co-workers figured it out early too. :)

  4. says

    Good for you for jumping on board and investing in your future. I think many of us hold off during our first few years of working because we are just so happy and excited to be working and being on our own.

    These sentences mean so much “Fear had made me afraid to confront my financial situation because I was too scared of what I would find. I let my imagination run wild, instead of seeking the truth.”

    Sometimes we just don’t know what we don’t know so our mind conjures up all these fears of what could happen. I can so relate.

    • Tanya says

      I know I was just so darn happy to have a job in my field. I felt so grown-up, but not grown-up to start investing. That was something old people do. :) Commence head slap!

      So true – when we don’t know, it’s easy to conjure up all these horrible scenarios, which is precisely what I did. While I normally appreciate my vivid imagination, this is definitely where it hurts me. Glad and sorry that you can relate! We can lean on each other when our fears take over in the future!

  5. says

    I don’t know what was more hilarious – the roh-oh or the fear-okay or the Carlton! :) All hilarity aside, I relate to you so much about letting fear paralyze me into just not starting to figure something out at all, like becoming debt free or investing. That’s awesome that you finally faced fear head-on, and truly empowered yourself by learning how 401k’s work. Great post, Tanya!

    • Tanya says

      See, this is what I like about you, Anna; you get my humor. :) I think I am seriously hilarious, but to my great shock, not everyone agrees! LOL! I wish I could say that I never let fear paralyze me again but that would be an outright lie. I still let fear put its claws in me but I do catch on eventually and know that I need to shine a light on my fears.

    • Tanya says

      Well, I’ve been out of the 401k business for awhile, so I can’t guarantee I would know the answer but I know someone who would. Ummm …. you probably know her too. She’s tall and blond and talks a lot about financial literacy. :)

  6. says

    I’m pretty much sure I’ve said the words “run-roh” a lot over the years when it comes to finances. Hindsight is 20/20 isn’t it? But that’s kind of crazy you got a job talking about 401k’s when you hadn’t had one yourself! :)

    • Tanya says

      I know, right? Who gets a job on something they know absolutely nothing about? A good bluffer, that’s who! No, they actually knew that I had very limited knowledge but I sold it as then I could write seminars that other newbies could relate to. I did learn quite bit writing all those financial education seminars. And sometimes it scared me, more than empowered me. But now I know that knowledge and confronting those fears is the only way to go.

  7. says

    Love the gifs, Tanya. Well, I am certainly grateful that you ended up at a financial services company. :) Fear can really prevent us from taking action and I’m glad you faced that fear. Even when things are less than ideal, it’s always better to know so we can take action. Thanks for sharing your money a-ha and helping me put this all together!

    • Tanya says

      I am grateful too. :) And you’re welcome. It’s been fun learning everyone’s money a-ha’s. A lot of good information to take to heart!

  8. says

    A lot of people do as you did
    Tanya. It’s easier to wait for it to go away. The good thing is you were able to really learn it well by teaching it! Now you continue teaching it on this blog! Great job facing your fears and turning it into something really good!

    • Tanya says

      So true, Maggie. Lots of us are guilty of hoping our problems will go away, even when we’re not even sure if we have a problem! LOL! I’m glad I faced it as every time I find myself wanting to pretend a problem doesn’t exist, I remind why it pays to shine a lot of those fears.

  9. says

    I love this post Tanya! I too skipped the 401K with my first “real” job. What the heck is that? Oh its for my FUTURE? nah, I have some shopping and eating and boozing to do in the present…I need all the money. Yeah, seriously young and well, you now. Financial literacy is a journey, one we never seem to stop learning on.

    • Tanya says

      Thanks, Corinne! It makes me feel a lot better that I wasn’t only one that didn’t know what a 401k was! I agree – financial literacy is a journey and one we are always on.

  10. says

    That’s great, that you had that moment and someone to get you thinking about it. When I first started working at a real job, everyone in the company was a lot older than I, so I couldn’t really relate to them. Of course, they needed to invest in their retirement. But me? Nah! The company offered a defined contribution plan as well, where they would match any amount I would put in. But they would give me the first 3% without requiring me to put anything in. So, all this to say, I didn’t take advantage of it. I wish I had now. Markets were doing really well at that time too. But you can’t dwell on the past, you can only make changes to improve your situation today.

    • Tanya says

      Oh man! 3% without even contributing. That would have been sweet, but honestly I probably would have done the same. I wouldn’t have realized what a HUGE gift that was. Nope, you can live in the past, which sometimes I have to strongly remind myself, and you can live and learn!

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