04/26/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

How To Fix A Financial Freak-Out

Q: I am really fuming at the moment. Let me tell you what happened.

I live in an affluent rural area and my husband and I work very hard to support our five children aged 4, 9, 11, 14 and 15. They are all good students and they all help out around the house and with the baby, Jennifer, and in our small catering business. We were saving money and we hoped to be able to send them all off to college. In this economy, however, not only have our investments suffered but so too has our business. Obviously, sending our clan to college is becoming more of a dream than a reality.

In an attempt to save money, we are cutting back wherever possible, like daily help at home with house work and babysitting. Thank goodness, I have a best friend, my next door neighbor Betty, who has young children of her own and who will take my baby if my kids are at school and I am on a job. This is helpful and I used to think the kids were safe with her.

But yesterday, I dropped off the baby and found her house to be just plain chaotic and filthy. I was hesitant to leave my child there but there was nothing I could do. Betty told me not to worry, that all would be fine. Today, she asked me for $100 for cleaning help. Betty said that the house had been dirty the day before because she just did not have the time to do what was necessary. Now with another child to watch, she simply needed help. Betty said that she knows I was distressed by the mess, so she thought that getting help would be one way to deal with the situation.

I freaked out!!! I grabbed Jennifer and told Betty that I would never bother her again with baby-sitting. I continued to scream about the rudeness of not having asked me ahead of time. I said that if I knew she was going to start charging me, I would have hired my own babysitter who would then focus only on Jennifer. I hollered that there is no way I was going to give Betty the money as it was not something we had agreed on before. I continued my insults by calling her a user, a low-life, and a bitch. As I walked out the door, I added that not only was Betty inappropriate but she couldn't take good care of children if she didn't know how to treat a friend and her own home was so chaotic and dirty.

Now what am I going to do? Now I will have to spend money for daycare or I will have to stay home and let my husband take care of the business himself. I feel I don't want to see Betty again, at least for now. I do believe she was wrong, but I do miss the many years of friendship. I also feel like there is no one helping me out during this very rough period.

A: You remind me of what's happening both in the country in general and in congress and how everyone's reacted to the exorbitant bonuses that were given to executives at AIG. Of course, AIG and Betty were both inappropriate. Of course, we would love to be able to punish by withholding money or by breaking off a long friendship. Of course we are all feeling powerless as we watch our net worth, even our standard of living, decline. We feel as if the economy's failing us, falling rapidly, and seemingly leaving us to take care of ourselves. We all did the right thing and yet somehow we are all being punished. Anger takes us over. All we can feel is our own red-hot fury and we respond instinctually and immediately to that.

And that is the danger. Anger is something one doesn't want to respond to immediately. When the anger begins to recede, we can see more clearly the whole landscape of the problem. Sometimes we have to adjust to a very frustrating situation because realistically that may be the only resolution.

Like many others, you are really feeling pinched. You reached out to someone you thought you could trust. You leaned on her to help you cope with all the many responsibilities in your life.

With the economy as a whole, it appears that we are all being asked to help others who did not do the right thing. If you don't work out an arrangement with your neighbor, you will have to spend money for daycare or you may not be able to work. In the case of the country, we are being told that even though others have done wrong, we will all be destroyed if we don't help out. None of these explanations soothe our anger, but after the anger passes a bit, they tend to focus us on what needs to be done -our futures and what we personally need. If we focus on that, then we can act in our best interest.

When you cool down you'll see that you need Betty -- not only for friendship, but also to help you out, no matter what she has done. In the case of the country's financial crisis, we hope that our compromises will restore prosperity. We have to be doing something -putting away our totally unproductive anger and instead focusing on what had to be done. We are learning the truth of the old adage, beggars can't be choosers.

In our personal lives, when we feel anger, a good piece of advice has always been to take a deep breath and count to ten. Hopefully by the time you get to ten, you may be able to think more clearly. If not, just keep counting. If you are in therapy, your shrink will most likely ask you not to act out of rage. It's not a time to make decisions. Your anger may well be warranted, but it is almost never in your best interest to act on it. Think things through. Anger may be cathartic, but it is not productive.

It's also possible that your anger stems more from your fear that everything's going to pot and your frustration at losing control over parts of your life than the actions -no matter how galling -of a single individual. When we focus our anger on one person, we effectively distract ourselves from what really scares us. If we are angry at the government or financial executives, that's understandable. But Betty is not them and she has her own problems.

My suggestion to you is to apologize to your friend, tell her you cherish her friendship, and offer food from your catering business in exchange for babysitting. I bet she accepts -with a thank you and hug that both of you can use.