How to handle financial disappointments

Are you glad to see the sun set on 2015?

In the final days of the year, my kids are home on break. It's fun to spend extra time with them, but many minutes of the day are filled with our older two children fighting with each other. And squished into the half-time show of their fighting games is some whining from a teething 17-month-old.

With the new year coming around again, I'm longing for our routine. And when 2016 actually begins, I'll be ready for that fresh start.

As we coast to the end of 2015, it's worth processing the past so we can proceed with the future.

Even if you had an amazing year, I'm sure you felt disappointment along the way. That's just life. On the flip side, even if it was an awful year, something good must have happened too. But as you consider the year as a whole, are you filled with disappointment?

What is Disappointment Anyway?

Disappointment is an emotion that results from not getting what you wanted or expected. I find disappointment to be a deep, profound emotion. It also feels like a depressing emotion too. And it's complex and sometimes hard to admit.

What Disappointed You About 2015?

So if 2015 disappointed you, try to identify what actually caused the disappointment. I'll go first.

  • I made a stupid bookkeeping error in mid-December that wouldn't have been such a big deal except that one of my clients didn't pay me when I was expecting it. My error coupled with the delayed income crippled our cash flow in a big way at the end of the year.
  • We also cancelled a vacation because the tickets were much more expensive than we'd planned.
  • I tried to get some additional work — and failed.
  • And we didn't achieve some additional business goals.
  • In addition to the financial disappointments — and much more disappointing — we experienced some personal setbacks as well.

As I look over disappointments that I can control, I'm mostly disappointed in myself. If I had planned better, worked harder, paid more attention, etc., I would have different outcomes to report. Not terribly disappointing, but not amazing. All in all, 2015 was sort of a meh year.

Contemplative young man

Where Are You Today?

After you determine your disappointments and what really triggered them, it's time to move on. Sometimes, if I focus on what disappointed me, I forget about what went well.

To process our past, take 10 minutes to reflect on what went well before the end of the year.

I've heard that we overestimate what we can accomplish in one year and underestimate what we can accomplish in 10 years. But I even underestimated what we accomplished this year.

I looked back in my planner and discovered that we had done much more than I remembered.

Did you accomplish any of these things too?

  • I took care of some retirement savings issues that had been hanging over my head.
  • We stayed out of consumer debt.
  • We cash-flowed all home and vehicle repairs, as well as medical expenses.

Do you have others to add to your list?

  • Saved for something you've been wanting.
  • Paid off consumer debt.
  • Paid down mortgage.
  • Saved up for new vehicles.
  • Gave to charity.
  • Replaced an appliance.
  • Got a raise.
  • Finished college.
  • Had a baby.
  • Got married.
  • Got a new job.

Where Do You Want to be Next Year – And How Can You Get There?

My 2016 goals are already written out and taped to my office window so I can look at them every day. I've also already scheduled time in my calendar to review them each month AND I've broken the goals down into smaller steps, if necessary, so that I'm not overwhelmed by the magnitude of the goal and I can easily tell if I'm making progress or not. Three of the goals deal directly with our finances, while two of them deal indirectly with our finances.

I know you'll be reading (and hearing) about New Year's resolutions soon. But this isn't really what I'm thinking about. This is to help you deal with the disappointment in your past so you can see the hope in your future.

The antidote to disappointment is hope. To find that hope for yourself, realistically evaluate your finances now. Make your financial goals challenging, but not too challenging.

Fight Disappointment in 2016

As good things happen to you in 2016, remember to write them down.

  • If you complete a challenge, for instance, write down that you had a no-spend February. If you don't complete the whole month, a no-spend week or two is still worth celebrating.
  • If you made an extra payment on your mortgage or signed up for your 401(k) at work, write it down.
  • If you got a raise, you probably won't need help remembering that. Also, if you received any positive feedback on your work performance, tuck it away to review at the end of the year.
  • If you saved anything extra, or if you paid off a debt, reward yourself with hope. Your situation can improve!

If you need ideas on what you may have accomplished in 2015 or what you should concentrate on in 2016, you may find it valuable to read this 30 days to better finances article.

A Healthy Dose of Perspective

As you deal with the possibility of a disappointing year, just remember that we're all human. We make mistakes. We know better, but sometimes life is just hard. And sometimes things happen that are beyond our control.

To focus your perspective when you are disappointed with something, ask yourself: Will this matter in 10 minutes? 10 hours? 10 weeks? 10 years?

Sometimes, the disappointment will stay with you for years. But I think most disappointments are more fleeting. For instance, it is disappointing that we had a tight December. Although my error caused me one very stressful day, I'm already over it. And I doubt I'll even remember it in 10 weeks.

I hope the end of 2016 finds you in a more comfortable financial position. Happy New Year!

How do you handle disappointment with your finances? Are you ready for the new year too?

More about...Psychology, Planning

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Kalie @ Pretend to Be Poor
Kalie @ Pretend to Be Poor
5 years ago

Thanks for this honest post. It’s a good reminder that disappointment is a normal part of life, we’re not perfect, but it’s also important to remember what has gone right in our lives.

Financial Samurai
Financial Samurai
5 years ago

My financial disappoints are endless. I handled it by writing them all down and letting the world know that I’ve had so many failures.

It’s cathartic!

Perpetual failure is the reason why I continue to save so much.