We’ve all been there before: you wake up in the middle of the night, and while you try to get back to sleep, your mind turns to the topic of money.
What begins as a passing thought about a bill can suddenly leave you worried about how you’d pay those bills if you lost your job, how to climb out of debt, or how to make your budget stretch for the month.
Before you know it, you’re imaging the worst and it’s impossible to get back to sleep.
Financial stress is far from benign, and if left unchecked it can fester into a threat to our health.
The difference between financial stress and financial anxiety
“It’s important to differentiate financial anxiety from financial stress. They’re so closely related, but stress is more focused,” says Megan McCoy, a financial therapist.
She explains that financial stress is fixed to one specific thing, such as a credit card bill that just came in. “Anxiety is stress on steroids,” she continues. “It becomes so generalised when you feel so sick and worried for no specific reason – it becomes a lack of mindfulness.”
When Ms McCoy meets with a client who has this kind of constant and convoluted reaction to money, the first thing she does is ask them to name what exactly it is they’re worried about. Trying to put your concerns into words can help you start to get over them, she explains: “I think money anxiety is something that festers in your brain when it’s left alone. It needs to be let out and talked about.”
Here are our tips to help alleviate money stress.
Talk to someone
It’s often tempting to bottle everything up and try to work through it yourself, especially when it comes to money. Many of us still consider money a taboo subject, one not to be discussed with others, but bottling things up will only make your financial stress worse.
Not only is talking face to face with a trusted friend or loved one a proven means of stress relief, but speaking openly about your financial problems can also help you put things in perspective.
It’s especially important if you’re in a relationship. Ms McCoy says that money often drives a silent wedge between couples that can disappear once people get honest – no matter how uncomfortable the conversation might be.
See a financial therapist
Financial therapy is a relatively new term. The field combines financial planning services and mental health treatment, and helps people reach their financial goals by tackling psychological, behavioural and personal challenges. During financial therapy, clients can start to process their underlying feelings about money while working out a plan for retirement, savings, investments and other goals.
Focus on the positive
This might sound a bit wishy-washy but there’s a lot to be said for focusing on the good aspects of any situation as opposed to the negative ones.
Of course, thinking positively won’t magically pay your bills or stretch your budget, but it might help calm you down.
Recognising and appreciating your financial strengths can allow you to see the bigger picture and might lead to solutions to some of your problems.
Examine your spending
Regular budget check-ups are essential since life, and all of its expenses, are rarely constant.
The first step to devising a plan to solve your money problems is to detail your income, debt, and spending over the course of at least one month.
Once you have that information you can start to identify spending habits and triggers.
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When you’re faced with a pile of past-due bills and mounting debt, buying a coffee on the way to work may seem like an irrelevant expense. But seemingly small expenses can mount up over time, so keep track of everything.
Look to make small changes
Once you have a breakdown of your spending you can start to pinpoint what you can change.
Spending money on things like a morning newspaper, lunchtime sandwich, or coffee shop treat can add up to a significant monthly outlay. While it may be unreasonable to deny yourself every small pleasure, cutting down on nonessential spending and finding small ways to reduce your daily expenditure can really help to free up extra cash to pay bills.
See a financial planner
If you want help determining financial goals and making sure you’re on the right path to meet them, a financial planner may be the way to go.
Whether you want to save more for retirement, start investing, or you just need help defining your aspirations, they can be of great assistance.
Make a plan and stick to it
“A lot of anxiety is a sense of powerlessness and not having control. So even if your financial situation isn’t perfect, if you have a plan, all of a sudden you have control over your financial situation and you’ll feel happier,” Ms McCoy explains.
The plan to address your specific problem could be to live within a tighter budget, lower the interest rate on your credit card debt, curb your online spending, seek government benefits, declare bankruptcy, or to find a new job or additional source of income.
The more detailed you can make your plan, the less powerless you’ll feel over your financial situation. But remember, we’re all human and no matter how tight your plan, you may stray from your goal or something unexpected could happen to derail you. Don’t beat yourself up, but get back on track as soon as possible.
Contribute to an emergency fund each month
Even the best-laid plans can be derailed. Now is the best time to set up an emergency fund if you don’t already have one.
Aim to have at least six months’ worth of living expenses. Knowing that you have money set aside for emergencies can help you rest much easier at night.
Go easy on yourself
As you review your debt and spending habits, remember that anyone can get into financial difficulties, especially at times like this. Don’t use this as an excuse to punish yourself for any perceived financial mistakes. Give yourself a break and focus on the aspects you can control as you look to move forward.
By talking it out, creating a plan, and monitoring your inner dialogue around money, you can stop financial stress in its tracks and save yourself a lot of headaches.
Do you ever feel anxious about your finances? How do you cope?
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