How to Recover From a Financial Train Wreck


How to Recover From a Financial Train Wreck

It doesn’t take long before most people experience (or have a close friend experience) a financial trauma of some varying degree.  

Recovering financially first starts with acceptance of the situation and committing to changing directions; then learning from past mistakes and making peace with our past failures. The best time to learn survival skills is obviously before the train leaves the station.

In this article, I will provide you with 6 steps to help you rebuild financially (and perhaps emotionally) from a disastrous financial train wreck.

Why bother? Because bad decisions make a tough situation worse. In the early days of a financial disaster, sometimes all you can do is just keep life and limb together. The worst thing you could do is make life-changing decisions in an emotional state so here is how to take a practical response to a heavily emotional situation.

1. Prioritise your values.

When you encounter a financial train wreck, you naturally become more hyper-aware of (and usually irritated by) those around you with a healthier level of liquidity. It’s human nature to unconsciously compare based upon externals. Taking a moment to reset and prioritise what’s important to you now, will give you a fresh focus on what’s ultimately more meaningful to you and can help reduce your current heightened sensitivity to the world around you.

Get more deliberate about what you buy and who from and why. Make a list of the issues and things important to you, and spend less money and time on the areas that didn’t make that list.

Financially successful people value experiences over ‘material stuff’. Make sure your spending aligns with your values. A $100 haircut might not be as important as a family meal together at the local family run Thai restaurant to celebrate a school report, a first-year relationship anniversary, a new job or the chance to just remind someone that they ‘are never far from your thoughts’. 

2. Create an emergency budget.

We all need to spend less than we earn. It’s much safer to see the extent of the financial problem you’re dealing with than to ignore it and let it loom larger than it really is.

  • Make an emergency budget. This will help you see the bigger picture in the context of what you can do, what needs to be done and what’s the next step needed.
  • Make a list of your costs to live. Prioritise the essentials: rent, mortgages, food and utilities, health insurance and your emergency savings account.
  • Make a list of the costs to stay open for business.
  • Make a list of what expenses are negotiable and what could be put on hold or cut out for the next 6 to 12 months.

Only when you resume the habit of tracking your expenses, can you create a monthly spending plan for yourself, your family and then your business. You can learn about a powerful percentage-based budget system in my article, How to budget like a badass.

A financial train wreck brings pain and difficulty, so decide to know the ‘real’ extent of the problem.

3. Track your expenses again.

For many people, the sense of a lack of control over their financial future can feel worse than the actual financial train wreck itself. There are things you can exercise a degree of control over and some you can’t. Learning to recognise and separate these, can help you better decide what you need to do first, what needs to happen second and what should be your attitude towards it.

While you may not control all aspects of working through a financial disaster, you can control tracking your expenses and how to see the bigger picture.

4. Re-establish your emergency fund.

Life is risky and happens to us all. Having an emergency fund helps manage the stress of unexpected and unavoidable expenses, such as your car breaking down, an emergency trip to the vet, dentist or an expensive home repair.

Rebuilding an emergency savings fund can:

  • Help repair your sense of control about being able to respond to the risks in life.
  • Help grow your sense of how to anticipate and forward budget for the risks in life.
  • Help stop you incurring high-interest credit card debt and increased repayments, at a time when you probably need to be reducing your debt exposure.

5. Set purposefully achievable goals.

When working your way out of the financial wreckage, deliberately set short-term goals that are reasonable and achievable (but that still require a stretch). When you know where you’re going, you are halfway there. If you don’t have anything tangible to work toward, no matter how small, without goals, you’re without direction.

Acknowledging small wins and celebrating reaching small goals improves our self-care and improves our emotional resilience. Without this, even having a Masters in Financial Planning isn’t going to get you far (trust me on this one).

It’s about returning to the habit of setting a goal (knowing where you’re going), saving for it (delaying gratification), and achieving it through your own efforts. This makes you more an active participant in recovering from your financial train wreck (a skill we all need to cultivate), rather than just staying a passive victim of circumstance.

Sounds like strong medicine I know but that’s what it takes to pick yourself up and get ahead again.

6. Begin to talk more about and normalise conversations about ‘money matters’.

What we normalise and learn to comfortably talk about, we increase our chances of mastering. Whether that’s men’s health, respect for diversity or getting a handle on your money matters; the more comfortable we all become talking about it, the less we risk fearing it and hiding from its effects in our lives.

  • Have regular financial conversations with your mates.
  • Subscribe to a financial education blog and normalise learning about financial life.
  • Deliberately talk through financial goals over a family meal.
  • Ask yourself this question often, “How long did I have to work, to afford this?”

We all hope never to experience a financial train wreck but when we do, taking a practical approach to a highly emotional situation is our best chance of survival.

In the words of Winston Churchill, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it’s the courage to continue that counts.”

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