The last few years in America have been unstable, to say the least. COVID, political tensions, high prices of food and gas, and the macroeconomic factor of an insanely high dose of inflation has most people talking. Seems like everyone nowadays is facing financial worry in some respect. When taking into account statistics like the fact that 78% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, month after month, it should not come as a surprise that financial stress is uncomfortably common.
In fact, it’s so common that a study done by the American Psychological Association shows that 72% of Americans feel stressed about their financial situation.
However common these feelings and situations may be, it does not mean that people have to live in such a way. There are tools, steps, support groups and a whole list of other resources that can be easily accessed to help people manage their finances. Here is a list of strategies to help manage money and financial stress.
Start at the beginning: where are you financially?
This is actually one of the hardest parts in beginning to address and rectify financial stress. Why? That’s because it can be very nerve-wracking just gathering up the courage to face the problem– especially when it is just one of many issues that people deal with on a daily basis. Coming home after a long day of work to situations like a messy house, relationship problems, or screaming children hardly leaves much energy to deal with financial problems. It requires a lot of energy to begin going through that pile of bills, and discipline to begin saying no to all those guilty pleasures of spending that, ironically, are what help us soothe the rising stresses of financial unhappiness.
However, if your goal has become to truly begin managing your money to overcome financial stressors then this is an absolutely necessary part of the process. You can’t fix the problems if you don’t know where they are at. Even spending a few hours doing so can help create the momentum and feeling of accomplishment that helps to spur on the efforts of becoming financially healthy.
A tip: block a day and time per week that is dedicated just to getting finances in order. A weekend day (possibly after a long nap) will leave you more energised and less drained by other tasks from the day so that you can have more energy in reserve to use toward these important first steps.
Having a budget may sound like a pain – less freedom, fun, and spontaneity – but ironically, having a budget laid out can actually encourage more financial freedom! It’s easy to be clear about the big expenses like mortgage, car payments, utilities, and medical expenses, and while those things can certainly be huge sources of anxiety, they might not have to be. Knowing where your money is coming from, how much you have, and where it’s going is a great way to narrow down what is actually important to you, and what is just frivolous and wasteful. Those are typically the expenditures that are the real problem.
The small things add up, and until you start tracking how much those seemingly innocent purchases amount to, you may be missing a huge problem. That couple hundred dollars worth of undisciplined spending that detracts from the ability to easily pay larger bills is what may be causing most of the stress.
Whether you choose to utilise one of hundreds of budgeting tools and apps available today – which your bank may have as included in your service – or just want to do things with paper and pen, get started. Having a budget in the back of your mind will do a lot for self-control.
Life, as much as we may not want to admit it, is not always under our control. It tends to be the “surprises” in life that take a background level of worry, and immediately turn up the stress to a level that keeps you from sleeping. The car is going to break down, a child will get hurt, and the appliances made of too many plastic parts are going to break.
Without an emergency fund set aside to pull from, you will have to hope that the next few paychecks can cover the unavoidable and often immediate need. Beginning to set aside even $100 a month will be a huge relief and peace of mind when that next emergency comes up. Starting with a $500 or $1000 emergency fund is a great beginner’s mark. Next, work your way up to 3-6 months’ worth of expense savings. Sleep will come much easier, even after the air conditioning unit goes out in the middle of summer. However, all that needs to be done by taking inventory of your finances and setting up a budget.
Debt. Weirdly, basically, everyone lives with it. It is almost a necessity to live in our modern world, but that doesn’t mean that you have to. Settling your debts can be a slow, challenging process, but the rewards are literally exponential. Whatever money is not consistently going to pay down debt and the associated interest rates can be put right back into your own savings or 401k account to begin accruing positive interest. In order to get there though, you have to start by chiselling away at those chunks of debt.
A great way to do this is to figure out which of the debts is the smallest, then list them to the largest. By focusing on the smallest amount of debt first, and paying only minimum payments on the remaining debts, you can concentrate on ridding yourself of one problem at a time. Continue this process (smallest to next largest) with each debt until, ideally, they are all gone. The real goal after that is a much longer conversation: considering whether debtors and credit cards are truly necessary to financial health.
Financial stress is very common, and while there will always be emergency and economic factors in the global financial landscape that is out of your control, money doesn’t have to be a source of stress. Taking inventory of your financial situation, starting a budget, saving for emergencies, and paying off debt are just a few of the many actions that can be taken to be free of financial anxieties.
Adam Mulligan, a psychology graduate from the University of Hertfordshire, has a keen interest in the fields of mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.