Five Smart Ways to Deal With Financial Setbacks

Suffering From a Financial Crisis

Faced with a financial crisis? Found yourself unemployed or seen your financial portfolio tank along with the stock market? Chances are you are not alone.

In this economy, financial setbacks are a common occurrence, but that doesn't mean all is lost. Nor does it mean you have to sell your house and all of your belongings to keep up. Experts say there are plenty of ways to turn financial setbacks into opportunities as long as you have an open mind, keep things in perspective and employ some creativeness.

"At some time or another, most people face financial issues that they find challenging," says Kathleen Gurney, chief executive of Financial Psychology Corp. in Sarasota, Fla. "They are temporary and can be surmounted with the proper planning and perspective."

Changes won't happen overnight. But facing the problem head-on and taking small steps to improve it will help. If you're one of those looking to overcome a financial crisis, follow these five tips.

Don't Panic

For most people facing a financial crisis, the first reaction is to panic. But experts say that's the worst thing you can do. Things may look awful, but usually they aren't as bad as they initially appear.

"When you panic, you cut air to your brain, and you can't think clearly," says Willie Jolley, a motivational speaker and author of "Turn Setbacks into Greenbacks." "When you can't think clearly, you can't make wise choices nor can you come up with new creative ideas."

Fighting the temptation to panic is easier said than done, but by embracing that strategy, you could avoid making a hasty decision. "It's very common to take immediate drastic action. However, when you have a setback, it's the time for planning," says Kim McGrigg, a spokeswoman for Money Management International, a nonprofit credit counseling firm in Sugar Land, Texas.

So how do you do it? Jolley says you must keep telling yourself each day to stay calm. "Literally say, 'stay calm, stay calm,'" he says.

Do Nothing at First

If you find yourself suddenly unemployed or your net worth has been halved, experts say do nothing for a day, a week or even a month.

Brad Klontz, a financial psychologist and co-author of " Mind over Money," says you should treat the setback as any loss, which means it's normal to go through all the stages: grief, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

"A financial setback can be emotionally devastating," Klotz says. "Let the initial waves of anger, grief, sadness and fear dissipate before you make any big decisions."

During that time of inactivity, Money Management International's McGrigg suggests taking stock of your financial situation. That means creating an inventory of your monthly expenses and debt to get a complete picture of your finances. It could mean contacting creditors to see if they will give you some flexibility in paying your debts.

"You need to look at your situation as it is today and let go of what it was, maybe even yesterday," McGrigg says.

Accept Responsibility

When faced with a financial crisis, it's easy to blame the economy, the stock market or your employer. That's often fair, but sometimes you are partially or wholly to blame. Playing the scapegoat game isn't a productive way to improve your situation.

"You have to look at what your part was in this situation," Klontz says. "The temptation, of course, is (to say), 'It wasn't me. It was the economy. It was the greedy bank,' and that's all probably true, but there's really no learning opportunity from externalizing the blame."

Perhaps you didn't have enough money in the bank, or you chose to work in an industry that's retracting. Either way, Klontz says there must be something to learn from.

While Gurney agrees you should learn from your loss, she cautions that you need to accept personal responsibility only where it fits.

"Guard against taking personal responsibly for loss that may have been inevitable," Gurney says. "Do think through how you can be a valuable and perhaps more valuable player in your career."

Don't Let Pride Get in The Way

The poor economy has hit people in all classes, whether it's a high-level executive or a store cashier. When dealing with a financial crisis, you can't let your ego get in the way of helping yourself.

"You can't let pride poison prosperity," says Jolley. It might mean applying for public assistance or taking a job below your skill level. Whatever it is, now is not the time to let pride prevent you from improving your situation.

A bad economy isn't good for anyone, but the one silver lining is you aren't alone. You may think you're the only one that has to take a job that you consider beneath you, but many people are working in jobs that they wouldn't have dreamed of taking only a few years ago. You need to view it as an opportunity to look at other options, she says.

"Losing your job is not a stigma," says Candace Bahr, registered principal at Bahr Investment Group in Carlsbad, Calif. "It's an opportunity to improve your skills and look for something you really like, even if it means, in the meantime, you take something far below your skill level."

Be Creative

The most important ingredient in turning a financial setback into a success is to be creative. Stories abound of people who turned setbacks into opportunities by starting their own businesses, launching new careers or going back to school for retraining. But the creativity doesn't have to stop there. A hobby can be turned into a moneymaker. Even volunteering can be a pathway to a new career or financial opportunity, experts say.

"Creative thinking will be a great asset in helping to think out of the box," Gurney says. She says to think "freely and spontaneously without prejudgment," and then evaluate each idea to determine if it can be turned into an opportunity.

Take launching your own business, for example. Most people wouldn't even consider it, thinking it would take a lot of money to start your own enterprise. According to Bahr, there are many Internet-based businesses that required little cash to get off the ground. "It's the time to think 'creativity,'" Bahr says. "Look for opportunities that other people can't see in front of them."