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Signs You’re In Financial Denial



Financial disaster rarely comes about overnight. Even for those devastated by a sudden, tragic event, the foundation of their collapse lies in their daily habits and assumptions, and has been brewing for many years.

Whether overcome by an unexpected experience, or living in a state of horrible financial neglect, many people are in full-blown denial about their contributions to the event. ‘How can this possibly be my fault?,’ they ask.

My friends, you have more power than you think.

Defining Denial

My definition of financial denial is simple, although the effects are far from that:

Having a money problem and not being able to admit it.

Without getting past acceptance, the problem never exists in the first place, and you can’t begin to work at the root of the issue. Without diligence and a sound plan of action, a solution is impossible.

The form of denial most familiar to many of us is associated with substance abuse – alcoholism and drugs. In fact, financial denial is very similar, and you’ll likely recognize some of the symptoms on the list.

The Symptoms

Denying financial problems is as much a disease as substance abuse, and the effects can be damaging and long-lasting. Money affects every other area of life – including relationships, careers, and personal health.

Let’s look at some of the signs you or someone you know is in denial:

1. Using Lack of Failure as Evidence of Success. Many people without any visible or major money problems use their high success rate as an excuse to avoid saving or making other smart money moves. Unfortunately, getting lucky is not evidence that you’ve done all the right things, just that you haven’t been caught by Murphy yet.

2. Getting a Thrill From Living on the Edge. For many people, living paycheck to paycheck is a psychological thrill. They get a short-lived high figuring out how to pay their bills and successfully making it through another month. It may be fun for a while, but the likeliness of disaster looms.

3. Hiding Money Problems from Friends & Family. If you’re not willing to share your financial habits with your loved ones, you’re probably embarrassed about something. Hiding can extend the problem, because others it affects are often unaware that it’s even happening.

4. Making ‘Someday’ Statements Frequently. People who play the lottery, overspend regularly, or are living in a perpetual state of ‘it will be better tomorrow’ are victims of this symptom. When did we stop being happy with what we have today, and instead look for a quick fix in the future to fix our current problems?

5. Having a Rationalization for Everything. Excuses, excuses. The highest-level deniers can come up with a logical, thoughtful explanation for almost any expense or silly money move. These folks are particularly hard to break because they usually think that their logic equates to being correct in their assumptions.

6. Getting Angry When Confronted. One of the classical denial symptoms is using anger or blame to shift attention from the issue and onto something else. It’s often the most hurtful to those around you.

7. Believing You’re a Unique Exception. While we’re all unique in some way, it’s hard to say we are exceptions to the rule. Dealing with money follows a set of principles that, when violated, boomerang back and hit you in the face harder than you expect.

8. Thinking Emergencies Won’t Happen to You. I hate to break it to you, but none of us are God. Believing that you’re invincible doesn’t decrease the probability of a financial emergency striking at any minute.

9. Creatively Making the Problem Look Smaller. People in denial have the uncanny ability to disguise and downplay money issues in a way that makes them seem insignificant.

10. Being Scared of ‘Normal’. Many people have the genuine psychological need to stay away from ‘normal.’ They believe that life without debt, without money problems, and with adequate income and savings – would simply be too boring. See #2.

11. Not Having Hard Data to Back Your Claims. It’s great that you think you’re on your way to a comfortable retirement, but do the numbers speak the same truth? You may get a lot of psychological mileage by making generalized and inflated statements, but be careful of actually believing what you say! Do what you say.

12. Refusing Genuine Help. If this is your problem, you’re probably not reading my blog, or getting any other form of financial help. Whether it’s arrogance, ignorance or indifference, you simply will not seek assistance. It will be hard to help you unless you decide you want to help yourself.

13. Using Success in One Area to Overshadow Failures. It’s great to celebrate even the smallest of victories – lasting change does not happen overnight! But like making the problem look smaller, people in denial can often take the tiniest victories and use them as their victory speech for months, ignoring the rest of their declining financial situation.

14. Believing Your Actions are Independent. You are not alone in this world. Even if you’re single and live alone, your actions still affect others around you. If you’re in a relationship or part of a family structure, the effect is tenfold. Making decisions without considering their implications on others is a quick path to failure.

15. Missing Out on Promises and Responsibilities. Being unable or forgetting to pay your bills, or promising to go on a vacation with your spouse and never saving up enough money for it – these are both good examples of this symptom.

Somebody Save Me!!

If you’re nodding your head furiously, there’s a good chance you recognize some of these in yourself or those around you. It’s not a lost cause, just the first step!

While a detailed analysis might involve the help of a good psychologist, I’ve prepared a few tips to get you started if you’re trying to help someone get out of financial denial. Each situation will be unique and rely on the strength of your relationship and how well you know and respond to the person in question.

Consider the following:

  • If you’re not close, find someone who has a well-established relationship with your target (target being the person in denial).
  • Try to understand your target’s point of view and base your comments from that perspective.
  • Point out the potential consequences of doing nothing.
  • Ask your target to approach your opinions with an open mind and no commitments.
  • Never, ever accuse your target or use ‘you’ statements – it almost guarantees defensiveness.
  • Help your target see things from a different perspective.
  • Seek the help of a trusted or verified source, like an adviser or magazine.
  • Help your target develop an alternative financial plan. Walk them through it step by step.
  • Show your target how their denial is affecting their loved ones.
  • Don’t get frustrated – you can only make your target aware; they have to change their own behavior.
  • If you can, pick a day where they are feeling optimistic about their finances (like after a big tax refund).


Focusing on the future effect of your actions and on solid financial principles is the key to overcoming denial and moving forward.

If you’re in way over your head, please get some professional help. More often than not, the underlying issues are too personal and too in-depth to solve in a blog post.

What I can do is make you more aware of what to look for and spark a sense of acceptance within. Best of luck!

This article was written and produced by Fiscal Fizzle, a blog on all matters financial. see more.

Callum Connects

Benjamin Kwan, Co-Founder of TravelClef



Making music to create a life for his family, Benjamin Kwan, started an online tuition portal and his music business grew from there.

What’s your story?
I am Benjamin and I’m the Co-Founder of TravelClef Group Pte Ltd, a travelling music school that conducts music classes in companies as well as team building with music programmes. We also run an online educational platform which matches private students to freelance music teachers. We also manufacture our own instruments. I started this company in 2011 when I was still a freshman at NUS, majoring in Mechanical Engineering.

I was born to a lower income family, my father drove a taxi and was the sole breadwinner to a family of 7. I have always dreamed of becoming rich so that I could lessen the burden placed on my father and give my family a good life.

After working really hard in my first semester at NUS, my results didn’t reflect the hard work and effort I put in. At the same time, I was left with just $42 in my bank account and it suddenly dawned on me that if I were to graduate with mediocre results, I would probably end up with a mediocre salary as well. I knew I had to do something to gain control of my future.

During that summer break, I read a book “Internet Riches” by Scott Fox and I knew that the only way I could ever start my own business with my last $42 would be to start an online business. That was how our online tuition portal started and after taking 4 days to learn Photoshop and website building on my own, I started the business.

What excites you most about your industry?
Music itself is a constant form of excitement to me as I have always been an avid lover of music. As one of the world’s first travelling music schools, we are always very eager and excited to find innovative ways to a very traditional business model of a music teaching.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in Singapore and I love the fact that despite our diversity in culture, there’s always a common language that we share, music.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Hands down, SINGAPORE! Although we are currently in talks to expand to other regions within Asia, Singapore is the best place for business. I have had friends asking me if they should consider venturing into entrepreneurship in Singapore, my answer is always a big fat YES! There’s a low barrier of entry, and most importantly, the government is very supportive of entrepreneurship.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
I have been blessed by many people and mentors who constantly give me great advice but right now, I would say the best piece of advice that I received would be from Dr Patrick Liew who said, “Work on the business, not in it.” This advice is constantly ringing in my head as I work towards scaling the business.

Who inspires you?
My dad. My dad has always been my inspiration in life, for the amount of sacrifices that he has made for the family and the love he has for us. He was the umbrella for all the storms that my family faced and we were always safe in his shelter. Although my dad passed away after a brief fight with colorectal cancer, the lessons that he imparted to me were very valuable as I build my own family and business.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
You can not buy time, but you can spend money to save time! With this realisation, I was willing to allow myself to spend some money, in order to save more time. Like taking Grab/Uber to shuttle around instead of spending time travelling on public transport. While I spend more money on travelling, I save a lot more time! This doesn’t mean that I spend lavishly and extravagantly, I am still generally prudent with my money.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have taken more time to spend with my family and especially my father. While it is important to focus our time to build our businesses, we should always try our best to allocate family time. Because as an entrepreneur, there is no such thing as “after I finish my work,” because our work is never finished. If our work finishes, the business is also finished. But our time with our family is always limited and no matter how much money and how many successes we achieve, we can never use it to trade back the time we have with our family.

How do you unwind?
I am a very simple man. I enjoy TV time with my wife and a simple dinner with my family and friends.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Batam, it’s close to Singapore and there’s really nothing much to do except for massages and a relaxing resort life. If I travel to other countries for shopping or sightseeing, I am constantly thinking of business and how I can possibly expand to the country I am visiting. But while relaxing at the beach or at a massage, I tend to allow myself to drift into emptiness and just clear my mind of any thoughts.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Work The System, by Sam Carpenter. This book teaches entrepreneurs the importance of creating systems and how to leverage on systems to improve productivity and create more time.

Shameless plug for your business:
If you are looking for a team building programme that your colleagues will enjoy and your bosses will be happy with, you have to consider our programmes at TravelClef! While our programmes are guaranteed fun and engaging, it is also equipped with many team building deliverables and organizational skills.

How can people connect with you?
My email is [email protected] and I am very active on Facebook as well!

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
Download free copies of his books here:

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Before you enter a Startup or before you choose your founding team or new hires read, “Entering Startupland” by Jeff Bussgang



Before you enter a Startup or before you choose your founding team or new hires read “Entering Startupland” by Jeff Bussgang.

Jeff knows how to spot and groom good culture, as the book session was held in Zestfinance a company he invested in and now, “The Best Workplaces for Women” and for “The Best Workplaces for Tech”, by Fortune.

These are the questions during the Book Launch.

How to know if a hire including the founder is Startup material?
Jeff says to watch for these qualities.

First, do the hires think like an owner?
Second, do the hires test the limits, to see how things can it be done better?
Are they problem solvers and are biased toward action?
Do they like managing uncertainty and being comfortable with uncertainty? And comfortable with rapid decision-making?
Are they comfortable with flexible enough to take in a series of undefined roles and task?

How do we know if we are simply too corporate to be startup?

Corporate mindsets more interested in going deep into a particular functional area? These corporate beings are more comfortable with clear and distinct lines of responsibility, control, and communication? They are more hesitant or unable to put in the extra effort because “it’s not my job”.

If you do still want to enter a startup despite the very small gains at the onset, Jeff offers a few key considerations on how to pick a right one.

He suggests you pick a city as each city has a different ecosystems stakeholders and funding sources and market strengths. You have to invest in the ecosystem and this is your due diligence. Understand it so you can find the best match when it arises.
Next, to pick a domain, research and solidify your understanding with every informational interview and discussion you begin. Then, pick a stage you are willing to enter at. They are usually 1)in the Jungle, 2) the Dirt Road or 3) the Highway. The Jungle has 1-50 staff and no clear path with distractions everywhere and very tough conditions. The Dirt Road gets clearer but is definitely bumpy and windy. Well the Highway speaks for itself, doesn’t it?

Finally Please – Pick a winner!

Ask people on the inside – the Venture Capitalists, the lawyers, the recruiters and evaluate the team quality like any venture capitalists would. Would you want to work for the team again and again? And is the startup working in a massive market? Is there a clear recurring business model?

After you have picked a winning team and product, how would you get in through the door?

You need to know that warm introductions have to be done. That’s the way to get their attention. Startups value relationships and people as they need social capital to grow. If you have little experience or seemingly irrelevant experience, go bearing a gift. Jeff shared a story of a young ambitious and bright candidate with no tech experience who went and did a thorough customer survey of the users of the startup she intended to work with. She came with point-of-view and presented her findings, and they found in her, what they needed at that stage. She became their Director of Growth. Go in with the philosophy of adding value-add you can get any job you want.

And as any true advisor would do, Jeff did not mince his words, when he reminded the audience that, “If you can’t get introduced you may not be resourceful enough to be in startup.”

Startupland is not a Traditional Career or Learning Cycles

Remember to see your career stage as a runs of 5 years, 8 or 10 – it is not a life long career. In Startup land consider each startup as a single career for you.

Douglas Merrill, founder of Zestfinance added from his hard-earned experience that retention is a challenge. Startup Leaders to keep your people, do help them with the quick learning cycles. Essentially from Jungle to Dirt road, the transition can be rapid and so each communication model that starts and exists, gets changed quickly. Every twelve months, the communication model will have no choice but to break down and you have to reinvent the communication model. Be ready as a founder and be ready as a member of the startup.

Another suggestion was to have no titles for first two years. So that everyone was hands-on and also able to move as one entity.

Effective Startupland Leaders paint a Vision of the Future yet unseen.

What I really enjoyed and resonated with as a coach and psychologist was how Douglas at the 10th hire thought very carefully what he was promising each of his new team member. He was reminded that startups die at their 10th and their 100th hires. He took some mindful down time and reflected. He then wrote a story for each person in his own team and literally wrote out what the company would look like and their individual part in it. In He writing each of the team members’ stories into his vision and giving each person this story, it was a powerful communication piece. He definitely increased the touch points and communication here is the effective startup’s leverage.

Douglas and Jeff both suggested transparency from the onset.

If you think like an owner and if you think of your founding team as problem solvers. Then getting transparent about financials with your team is probably a good idea. As a member of a startup, you should insist on knowing these things
Such skills and domain knowledge will be valuable. There is now historical evidence of people leaving startups and being a successful founder themselves because they were in the financial trenches in their initial startup. Think Paypal and Facebook Mafia.

What drives people to enter a startup?

The whole nature of work is changing. Many are ready to pay to learn. Daniel Pink’s book Drive showed how people are motivated by certain qualities like Mastery, Autonomy and Where your work fits into big picture. Startups do that naturally. There is a huge amount of passion and the quality of team today and as it grows then the quality of company changes.

The Progress principle is in place, why people love their startup jobs is not money rather are my contributions being valued? Do I see a path of progress and do I have autonomy over work and am I treated well?

Find out more about StartupLand on Amazon

And learn from Zestfinance

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