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How to Move Forward After a Financial Setback

No matter how earnest your efforts to ride down debt and build savings, life has a way of bucking you off the saddle.

Sometimes bad luck strikes as a medical emergency or expensive car repair, or the hurt is self-inflicted through a budget-busting credit splurge or a bad bet on a risky investment.

Whatever the setback, here’s how experts advise you to get your finances back on track.

Understand what caused the fall

Before getting back on the horse, understand why you ended up on the ground. “Did you fall? Were you thrown? Were you on a terrain that was too advanced for you?” asks Razi Hecht, a wealth advisor for Bronfman Rothschild, an independent registered investment advisor in Delafield, Wisconsin.

“Translated to personal finances: Is this just a hiccup along the way or are you utilizing a strategy that is not appropriate for you or beyond your ability to handle by yourself?”

Talk to a professional

Even financial professionals seek outside help when money woes strike. Alison Norris, a certified financial planner at SoFi Wealth, recently coached a Minnesota man who lost his job in the finance department of an insurance company.

“From a literacy perspective, he understood a lot about finances and how to achieve his goals, but he felt absolutely deflated,” she says. “So he was struggling not only with lack of a paycheck, but also with his perception of his own worth.”

That’s a common malady during big financial setbacks. Talking to a third party, such as a professional fee-only financial advisor who won’t try to upsell you on financial products, can help correct your finances and rebuild self-esteem.

Beware of your emotions

Big changes like the loss of a job or marriage are emotional earthquakes followed by a potentially more devastating financial tsunami. One common problem in divorce settlements: To avoid having to move out of a beloved home, a partner takes property over a bigger slice of retirement savings. That can create a “house rich, cash poor” scenario that spells trouble.

“Poor planning in splitting the assets in a divorce can create hardship for one party — and often it’s the woman with the emotional attachment to the family home,” says Lorraine Ell, CEO of Better Money Decisions, LLC, an Albuquerque, New Mexico-based fee-only financial planner.

A 56-year-old Phoenix woman who kept her house in a divorce came to Ell’s firm, overwhelmed by upkeep and mortgage costs. “Fortunately, the home had $500,000 in equity, so the answer was obvious — sell the house, get a smaller place and invest the rest,” Ell says. “She just needed help to get there.”

Make a plan, celebrate wins

Often, the emotional impact of the financial loss “is far greater than the actual loss of cash,” Ell says. Rebuilding morale with a new reality — and a new financial plan — is crucial.

“You have to know and accept what is happening, and understand there are more important things than money,” Ell says. “Then construct a financial plan to get back to some semblance of normal. That’s easier said than done because often that means working more, downsizing and reducing your lifestyle.”

The key is celebrating successes without splurging. “At the end of the month, when the net impact of cutting back on expenses shows up, make sure to take notice,” suggests Paul A. Ruedi, a financial advisor with Ruedi Wealth Management in Texas and Illinois.

“Celebrating even the smallest financial successes during times that require sacrifice to resolve financial setbacks can be a great way to keep morale high and keep you moving towards financial health,” he says.

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