Financial windfalls – How to master your ‘Decision Free Zone’

The money arrives. You may have been waiting for many years. It may be unexpected. It could be unwanted. But it has arrived. A life-altering sum of money. Do you play ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors’, or do you make a plan.

Your immediate feeling could be one of elation. It might be fear. Depression. Grief. Anger. Mistrust. A combination of many, or a sudden wave of them all. These feelings are quite normal but if left to fester, or purposefully ignored, they could cause financial havoc on your life, havoc that could last a lifetime.

During these moments it’s important to withstand the understandable urge to make big financial decisions. It’s important to park life-changing discussions until you fully understand what has happened in your life, what it means to you and your loved ones, and what direction you now want your life to head.

During these moments it is important to create solid boundaries around you (and your family) that form your ‘Decision Free Zone’. Your Decision Free Zone (or DFZ) is a safe environment that is free from emotion-based decisions, and one that is free from the influence of those around you.

A Decision Free Zone is required for all of us, no matter how much money we receive and how experienced we are with making money decisions. The challenge we face is understanding how to keep our emotions in check during these times. But first we must understand what emotions we are going to face.

My article today explores how to identify your financial windfall emotions, and then how to master your Decision Free Zone.

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You can run but you can’t hide

We all feel emotions. Fact. Big, inspiring, scary, joyous, panicky, emotions. You can’t ignore them. You can’t deny them. But we’ll try! It feels safe doesn’t it? To park them to the back of our mind. To make excuses not to front up to them. To tell ourselves we don’t need to feel them.

The truth is this – unless we face up to how we’re feeling our emotions will simply resurface at a later date, under a different guise, tasked with destabilizing us, making any issues we’re facing more difficult to resolve.

So, let us begin by learning how to understand then control our feelings. By doing this the level of enjoyment you have with your new-found wealth, or the speed at which we calmly move through a challenging process, can be increased. 

You’re not alone

‘It’s all well and good you telling me to face up to my emotions Chris but how on earth do I do that?! I’m a 50-year-old male, I run a successful business, I’m the head of my household, I’m an alpha. I don’t have the foggiest clue how I approach my feelings ….. !’

Here’s another truth – you’re not alone. You don’t need to do this all by yourself. Be bold, why not engage the services of a trained therapist who can help you understand the stages of complex emotion you are feeling.

I say be bold because we all have a built-in bias against admitting we need professional help. In our heads we feel that the idea of needing help tells the world that we’re weak, that we’re not strong enough to deal with what life is throwing at us.

It’s a myth. Weakness is not fronting up to our challenges. Weakness is thinking we can do it by ourselves. Strength is seeking out expert advice. Strength is asking others for support. Be strong; be bold, just ask.

What does professional help look like?

A specialist in the psychology of money.

It’s that simple.

Work with someone who understands the unique burden faced with inherited wealth. Work with someone who understands how to handle the feelings over a sudden financial windfall. Work with someone who can provide comfort and healing during times of bereavement. Work with someone who can help to rationalise the impact of a tragic accident.

This person may initially be your religious council, who has heard many a crisis. But you’ll most likely receive better guidance from a trained specialist such as a psychologist, a psychotherapist or psychiatrist. Someone who understands money and how our emotions play a fundamental part in the process.

There are even financial planners out there that can help. Planners who have submitted themselves to years’ of specialist training and coaching, all designed to provide them with the right empathetic and caring skill-sets to help you through such a life event.

Longhurst - Decision Free Zones

Emotions, Emotions, Emotions

Before you spend your money you first must understand how you’re feeling. Let’s explore the different emotions you’ll potentially be facing:

Apathy

Whether it be for positive or negative reasons, the receipt of money is normally a traumatic experience. For most the initial emotion they feel is apathy, indifference, a form of numbness.

The risk you face here is that if you don’t care about the money you’re received you might make a financial or investment decision that you later regret.

Your current apathy is most likely a mask, covering other feelings, a defence against having to face up to how you’re truly feeling.

Beware apathy. Embrace this moment. Face it.

Fear

It’s understandable to face moments of fear when we experience unfamiliar situations. It’s especially common to experience fear when we’re faced with making brand new investment decisions, certainly if our investment knowledge and past successes are limited.

Fear of losing our money sits at the core. When you don’t have money, you have nothing to lose, and nothing to worry about. When you suddenly receive a large lump sum of money, now you have something to lose. Panic!

If you’re experiencing this panic of loss for the first time it can be incapacitating, both emotionally and spiritually, but also and clearly, financially. Don’t hide from these feelings. Don’t deny them. If you do they’ll simply turn up again and again, each time taking a chunk of your energy with them.

But really, fear of what?

One of the fears may stem from investing your new-found wealth. I don’t want to lose this money. So, because of this I’m not going to invest it.

But is this the real fear? Is the actual hidden fear the point that you don’t understand how the stock market works? How capitalism works? You’ve chosen to not want to learn (perhaps), instead opting for what you deem a ‘safer’ option.

In these instances, we implore you to seek out the advice of an exceptional financial planner. Explain to them your current money situation and describe your fear.

Your expert will then take the time to calmly explain how stock market cycles work, explain what triggers the ‘ups’ and ‘downs’, describe what stocks tend to experience more volatility than others, and show you the best and worst-case scenarios in a particular investment’s history.

Your expert will reinforce the proven fact that markets rise and fall all of the time, but they rise more often than they fall. That is the truth of capitalism.

Time and time again, declining markets are replaced with rising markets, with the big companies of the world continuing to grow and be profitable for those investors that own them.

The investors that fail throughout their life are those that panic during the ‘low’ market moments and sell/bail out of their portfolios.

By taking this approach to learning you are then furnished with academically proven information, allowing you to make an informed decision based on judgement, and not emotion.

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Solitude

You’ve just become the wealthiest person in your family and your social circle.

How do you react?

How do they react?

The rub of the green is this – you don’t know how your closest connections are going to react. They may become envious. They may feel that you’re not the same as them anymore, you don’t know what it’s like to be like them. Your money can now buy you out of the problems they still face.

Talk to them. Tell them how you feel. Admit concerns you have. Reassure them, and yourself, that nothing will change if they and you don’t want it to.

It’s a challenge. With hope people’s perception will be temporary. It might not though. So be prepared for that.

Non-Acceptance

Unworthiness and resentment are very common emotions following a large financial windfall. These moments are some of the most dangerous to your long-term financial position, because your emotions can lead to money mis-behaviour and mis-handling.

Feeling like you don’t deserve the money could lead to squandering and wasting it, spending it on meaningless things because it removes the guilt of holding onto it.

If you’re received your money following a painful divorce, or worse a life-impacting accident, you may well feel resentment towards the person or persons whose actions brought this new money into your life.

The reality is that this new money is probably very important to your current and future self. Therefore, you need to try to separate the feelings of non-acceptance from the critical importance of making prudent financial decisions. If you don’t do this, and instead waste the money, you simply compound your misery and pain. Just don’t do it, please.

Fight versus Flight

Or resistance versus exuberance.

Your new-found wealth may well have put you in a position to make some life changing and life enhancing decisions. How you react in these moments is very important.

On one hand you may not want to make any changes in your life. You like your job. You love where you live. You love your ‘old’ life. But, you quite like the concept of moving home. Maybe moving to another country. But you daren’t make a change. Fear kicks in. What if it’s a mistake. What if I get it wrong.

You could also be faced with the opposite extreme. You may now feel powerful; invincible even. I can have what I want, when I want, and with whom I want. You’ve inadvertently fallen into the biggest trap of all – the ego trap. It is at this very moment you are susceptible to making very unwise and poor financial decisions, often at the hand of charlatans who are only after one thing – and it’s not your well-being.

If you’re facing one of these emotions best advice is this – do nothing, be inactive, make no decisions. The prospect of change in your life (positive or negative) can be overwhelming. Let the moment pass without change. Then, when the pathway is a little less emotional, make some life decisions.

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Suspicion

Mistrusting people is a predictable emotion to be feeling right now. Why wouldn’t you! The world is full of horrible people hell-bent on ripping you off. Whether you’re an eighty-year-old retiree, or a twenty-year-old new saver, we’re all susceptible to the charms of others.

Take inheritance as a prime example. The passing of a loved one will often follow with family members (and other interesting characters) coming out of the woodwork. We’ve all heard stories like this, and I’ve seen it first-hand within my own family. Its not good.

It’s important however to remember that not everyone is bad or has veiled intentions. Best advice is to mentally separate your old friends from the new ones you meet on your new wealth journey. Those from your past are friends for a reason. Give them time to get used to your new financial position. As for new friends, as you would anyway, let them earn your trust, but be conscious of your time and energy with them.

Shame

Shame, or guilt, typically occurs from the receipt of money following the death of a loved one.

It can be a confusing time. You’re struggling to cope with a bereavement, but now you’re faced with a new-found wealth, one that you’d give back in an instance if it meant one more day with the one you’ve lost.

The issue that you face at this time is that it often leads to poor financial decisions, because of feelings of non-acceptance (as above), or because you haven’t actually detected the origins of how you’re feeling.

Giving it all away could be a solution you’re thinking about. I’m unworthy of it so I’ll let others have it. A decision you’ll be making without really taking the time to understand why you feel like this, and whether you’re future self can financially survive without the money.

Feeling any form of shame or guilt is very normal. It’s part of the grieving process. It will pass, in time, just be careful not to make any significant life or financial decisions whilst you’re feeling like this.

Heartbreak

It’s tough. The grieving process. The heartbreak. It can take time. There’s no specific right way to deal with this; it’s your journey to take. There is however a wrong way to deal with it.

Isolation, depression, anger, shock, darkness – are just some of the stages you may be facing. A lose in self-interest and well-being may follow. It is absolutely critical that during these moments do DO NOT make any unnecessary life decisions.

You have permission to say no. You have permission to tell people you’re not ready. You have permission to understand that you will not make any good financial decisions while you’re feeling emotionally and physically low.

Take care of yourself first. Then in time you can take life decisions with confidence.

If you’re not feeling confident with your ability to take care of yourself you need to seek external support, perhaps from family and very close friends, and maybe from a trained psychology expert.

Longhurst - Decision Free Zones

Own your Decision Free Zone

Do as it says on the tin – own your Decision Free Zone.

It’ll be tough. You’ll question yourself and want to allow close family/friends (or new friends ….) to help direct your decisions. Be wary of relying on this path however. You are responsible for you, no-one else is.

During these times employing the services of a specialist in the psychology of money may be a wise idea. Even if you just have the one session, try it out, see how you feel at the end of it, you may be surprised with the results.

Our key message within this article has been repeated many times. When you are faced with the unique burden of new wealth (whether it be inherited, earned, compensated, won, or otherwise), take time out from the world before you decide what to do next.

Your Decision Free Zone is your barrier from outside influence; a force-field as it were (for all sci-fi fans); a safe environment for you to understand how you feel about yourself; how you feel about your life; and how you feel about your future.

As we say in our other articles – be bold but be brave. One life. Live it. Your way.