Five Steps to Tame Financial Stress
Do you sometimes lie awake at night thinking about bills that need to be paid? Does it feel as though you're drowning in debt? If this describes you, you might take solace in the fact that you're not alone. A recent report released by the American Psychological Association (APA) showed that 72% of adults feel stressed about money at least some of the time, and 22% said the amount of stress they experienced was extreme.1
The bad news is that stress can be responsible for multiple health problems, including fatigue, headaches, and depression. And, over time, stress can contribute to more significant health issues, including high blood pressure and heart disease.2 The good news is that there are some simple steps you can take to reduce or eliminate some of the financial stress in your life.
1. Stop and assess
The first step in reducing financial stress is to look at your situation objectively, creating a snapshot of your current financial condition. Sit down and list all of your financial obligations. Start with the items that are causing you the most stress. For debts, include the principal due, the applicable interest rate, and the minimum payment amount. If you're not already doing so, review your bank account and credit-card statements to track where your money is going. The goal here is not to solve the problem; it's to determine and document the scope of the problem. You might find that this step alone significantly helps alleviate your stress level (think of it as facing your fears).
2. Talk to your spouse
If you're married, talk to your spouse. It's important to communicate with your spouse for several reasons. First, you and your spouse need to be on the same financial page; any steps you take to improve your situation are going to be most effective if pursued jointly. Second, not being on the same page as your spouse is only going to lead to additional stress. In fact, the APA report showed that 31% of spouses and partners say that money is a major source of conflict or tension in their relationship.3 Additionally, your spouse or partner can be a valuable source of emotional support, and this emotional support alone can lower stress levels.4 If you're not married, family or friends might fill this role.
3. Take control
First, go back and take a look at where your money is going. Are there changes you can make that will free up funds you can save or apply elsewhere? Even small changes can make a difference. And exerting control over your situation to any degree can help reduce your overall stress level. Start building a cash reserve, or emergency fund, by saving a little bit each paycheck. Think of the emergency fund as a safety net; just knowing it's there will help reduce your ongoing level of stress. Work up to a full spending plan (yes, that's another way of saying a budget) where you prioritize your expenses, set spending goals, and then stick to them going forward.
4. Think longer term
Look for ways to reduce debt long term. You might pay more toward balances that have the highest interest rates. Or you might consider refinancing or consolidation options as well. Beyond that, though, you really want to start thinking about your long-term financial goals, identifying and prioritizing your goals, calculating how much you might need to fund those goals, and implementing a plan that accounts for those goals. Having a plan in place can help you with your stress levels, both now and in the future.
5. Get help
Always remember that you don't need to handle this alone. If the emotional support of a spouse, friends, or family isn't enough, or the level of stress that you're feeling is just too much, know that there is help available. Consider talking to your primary-care physician, a mental health professional, or an employee assistance resource, for example.
A financial professional can also be a valuable resource in helping you work through some of the steps discussed here, and can help direct you to other sources of assistance, like credit or debt counseling services, depending on your needs.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that you have the ability to control the amount of financial stress in your life.
1,3,4 American Psychological Association, "Stress in America™: Paying with Our Health," www.stressinamerica.org, February 4, 2015
2 Mayo Clinic Staff, "Stress Symptoms: Effects on Your Body and Behavior," www.mayoclinic.org, July 19, 2013