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The 5 Stages of Grief for Financial Loss

Battered boomers coping in a classic way

En español | As the numbers coming out of Wall Street these days go up and down, many boomers continue to struggle to salvage a lifetime of retirement planning that was bruised and battered by the global collapse of 2008. Not surprisingly, such a jarring change can fray emotions and cause considerable grief.

See also: Boomers face a savings deficit.

The five stages of grief and coping mechanisms for boomers facing loss of savings

Many boomers who have lost their retirement savings are going through the grieving process. — Photo by: Raymond Patrick/Getty Images; Christoph Wilhelm/Getty Images

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, the late Swiss-born psychiatrist, famously identified five stages of grief in people struggling with a terminal illness. Her theory was later applied to people facing personal tragedies of other kinds.

But how about mass evaporation of boomer savings? All signs suggest that her ideas also fit the coping techniques of a financially shaken generation.

Stage 1 — Denial

"This is not happening." Raise your hand if at some point after the crash you chose not to open your investment statements because you didn't want to see your account value. Turning off the news is another common way to stick your head in the proverbial sand.

Unfortunately, this response offers only temporary relief. When you figure out that a quick recovery for our economy is not in the cards, you acknowledge what is going on and move to the next stage in the grieving process.

Stage 2 — Anger

"Why me? This isn't fair." You spent decades saving and planning for retirement. You sacrificed. It's natural to be angry if those plans get derailed and you're forced to do a hard reset. Lashing out at a spouse or adviser or Wall Street can be cathartic, but after a while, this gives way to trying out steps meant to keep the inevitable from happening.

Stage 3 — Bargaining

"If I can just get back to even, I will invest more conservatively." In the bargaining stage, you recognize past mistakes and promise (yourself, your spouse, a higher power) never to repeat them if only you can regain what has been lost. After a while it becomes apparent that the bargaining isn't working — the market and employment levels are still a long way from where they were in 2007, after all. You're set to move to the next stage.

Next: Stage 4 — Depression. >>

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