FLM Step 2: Gerri Detweiler discusses the importance of assessing your financial situation

In honor of Financial Literacy Month, we created a microsite that offers 30 simple steps to financial wellness--one for each day of the month. To enrich the experience, we asked some amazing people to guest post during the month on a topic that is related to the day’s step. Their dedication to financial literacy is truly inspiring! Today, educator and author Gerri Detweiler is discussing the importance of assessing your financial situation.

I recently interviewed a bright and energetic woman, “Alex,” for my new book Reduce Debt Reduce Stress. Alex had run up a large amount of credit card debt after her divorce and knew that she had a problem, but she didn’t want to face it. A friend and colleague in whom she had confided finally told her that they were going to write down everything she owed. “No we aren’t!” was Alex’s first reaction. She panicked at the thought of tallying up her debt.

Alex’s reaction is very common. In fact, almost everyone I interviewed for the success stories in the book told me the same thing: facing the facts was probably the most difficult step in the entire process. Karen McCall, for example, shared her story of the big bowl of unopened bills on top of her fridge. And Rich told me how he was terrified at the thought of telling his wife Jana how much debt they had.

This step, however, is essential if you want to create a better financial future. No one I spoke with was able to conquer their debt without first finding out what they owed.

What if you just can’t go there? For many of us, assessing our current situation is much more than just adding up the numbers. It brings up intense feelings of fear, shame, anxiety, regret, anger and so much more. Sound familiar?

If you’re stuck here, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. You can find a trusted friend to help, for example. Tell them they don’t need to offer solutions. They just need to be there for you, to remind you that you are so much more than the balances on your credit cards.

Even better, talk with a professional credit counselor or trained money coach. They understand what you are going through and what you are up against, and will be able to provide objective advice – and help you find solutions.

As Benjamin Franklin warned, “He that can’t be counseled, can’t be helped.”

Gerri Detweiler has written numerous articles on financial topics and been interviewed for thousands of news articles. She serves as Credit Advisor for Credit.com, and is the author of a new book, Reduce Debt, Reduce Stress (Good Advice Press, 2009).

Kim McGrigg is the former Manager of Community and Media Relations for MMI.

  • The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) is an association of nonprofit consumer organizations that was established in 1968 to advance the consumer interest through research, advocacy, and education. Today, nearly 300 of these groups participate in the federation and govern it through their representatives on the organization's Board of Directors.
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