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Navigating Extreme Financial Tendencies in Early Grief Thumbnail

Navigating Extreme Financial Tendencies in Early Grief

Obliterated. Annihilated. Decimated.

When easy-going words lose their justice to the cavernous landscape of early-stage grief, it is these absolutes that I witness people grasping onto when trying to describe their plans, their dreams, their life that once existed.  

“Everything changes” is almost an understatement. More like “Everything I’ve known is no longer.” What is more, the world continues to spin. Bills are due. Deadlines remain.  

Think about this:

The most popular HR policies in businesses today grant an employee 3 days for paid bereavement leave…3 days.

There is still no US Law giving workers a set amount of paid leave after life-altering events.

So, people must juggle a whole lot in the first days/months/years of grief. And while our friends and family run around making plans and keeping us fed, there is one area of life that is usually left on the backburner: our finances.  

In a previous post, I addressed the different types of financial planning that exist today, including Goals-Based and Values-Based processes. But what happens when your goals have been annihilated? What about when you are not sure if you still hold the same values, even the same beliefs, as you did before _____ happened?

We are conditioned to err on either extreme after unusual events:

We manhandle our legal and financial affairs, alone, in robotic fashion, as a way of coping/escaping/staying distracted from all that has happened….


We completely ignore the papers piling up, in hopes that maybe tomorrow we will have the strength to get to the tasks that have, quite frankly, lost all meaning.

No judgement on either. It is what we have to do. And if there is one thing I have learned, it is that at that moment, a person’s grief is always correct.

But what if there was another way to manage our financial affairs during the immediate fog of grief? A way that encourages both extremes in their pursuit of survival. A way that if even mediocrely followed, would yield a rare freedom to mourn and a better chance at financial health down the road?  

One. Step. In front of. The other.

Habits go full flux when the rug is pulled out from under you. There are some that people hold onto for dear life (like drinking), and there are others that slip between our fingers (like sleep).  

This is where Habits-Based Financial Planning comes in handy. When the “normal-sized” decisions of life become a struggle, we come back to the smallest basics.

  • What bills can we automate so that you do not have to think about them?
  • How much extra cash do we need to save each month to provide a little extra breathing room for expenses?
  • Which financial tasks do not have to be addressed immediately? Which do?
  • What do we do with all of the financial documents that are coming in the mail or email?

I realize that in early grief, the best we may be able to do is something like “decide where to place our wallets so that we do not forget it on our way to buy groceries.”

If you ever wonder why grieving people can be so exhausted all the time, it is because there is a lot of heavy lifting happening inside. A lot of reordering. A lot of thought management. The brain’s capacity is severely limited while processing a life-altering event. And while some of us start with the outside and slowly work our way inward, there are others that start inside and work their way outward. Both are correct.

All that to say, depending on the type of event, finances are usually the last thing we tend to think about. This could be because money seems so overwhelming. It could also be because at that moment, we just don’t care.

Whenever we feel it is time to address our money, it is crucial that we start with the smallest basics. As difficult as it may be, by focusing on our tiny, daily habits, we give ourselves a better chance at a healthier financial life.

You do not have to do this alone. We have purposefully built the Ambient team so that you can walk in, dump a stack of papers on the table, and just say “help.” Or just call, even if all that comes out are tears. Seriously, you wouldn’t be the first, and I bet you won’t be the last. Grief tends to change the rules. We are ready to meet you where you are.   

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