Beating ‘Bag Lady’ fears
I used to be terrified of heights.
These days, I am just moderately frightened of them.
The reason is back in the early 1990s my younger sister and I embarked on a toughening up experiment.
For a month and a half we went to Fergs’ climbing walls on the Wellington waterfront several times a week attempting to achieve control over our quaking knees as we crawled higher and higher above the ground. It made a difference. To be human is to have fears, but to be a happier human, you have to face them.
Until I was 24, I was frightened of spiders. Heaven knows where I picked up that fear. It felt like I was born with it. It was cured by a day at London Zoo’s spider friendly programme. More than cured actually.
I’m more of an arachnophile these days.
Not all fears are so easily dispelled.
A common, but little spoken of fear, is known in the US by the casually horrid name of ‘‘Bag Lady Syndrome’’.
This is the fear that you will end up failing so badly you end up homeless, and living out of plastic bags under a bridge.
Women are more prey to this fear than men.
Many people here suffer anxiety over money, though we haven’t coined a catchy phrase for it like the Americans.
A recent survey by insurer Cigna found many people are genuinely frightened of what might happen to them if their incomes were interrupted.
They have a different fear of falling than young me attempted to cure.
But while I could have lived my life without attempting to become better with heights simply by not going up the Sky Tower, fear of falling into financial penury is harder to avoid.
Like many fears, we can Face your fears Get your ropes and cushions in place
Cut your spending
❚experience it more intensely than is really justified.
Unlike in the US, very few New Zealanders end up under bridges, though less visible forms of homelessness are relatively common.
The best way to the nagging worry of bag lady syndrome is to
‘‘The best way to the nagging worry of bag lady syndrome is to build defences against it.’’
build defences against it.
Think of those two young climbers naively facing their fears by making a plan, and putting it into action.
To reduce the fear of falling, a climber needs ropes.
In your money life, these are work skills, insurance, and family.
Yes, family networks are an important element of insurance.
The padding on the floor at the foot of the climbing wall is your savings.
These should included a rainy day emergency fund, and retirement savings.
Consumer debt, like credit card and personal loan debt, provides the opposite of the padding.
For someone in debt, a sudden loss of income can make the impact after the fall harder.
For those who have a decent income, bag lady syndrome is likely to be a symptom of spending too much, not taking debt repayment seriously, and not saving hard enough.
For people on lower incomes, the solution isn’t tightening an already tight belt.
The priority has to be increasing household income.