It likely comes as no surprise that finances are the biggest source of stress for Americans.
Financial stress affects nearly everyone, regardless of social economic status. I often ask my patients experiencing symptoms of anxiety, “What stressors are involved in your life?” Answers include: losing a job, serious or chronic illness, death of spouse or family member, and natural disasters.
By far, however, being overwhelmed due to debt ranks highest.
Consider this quote written sometime prior to 931 B.C. It’s as true today as it was then.
“Those who love money will never have enough. How meaningless to think that wealth brings true happiness! The more you have, the more people come to help you spend it. So what good is wealth — except perhaps to watch it slip through your fingers!” – Ecclesiastes 5:10-11
This really highlights money woes because how do you quantify “enough”? If you have a million dollars, is that enough? Would 2 million be better?
And we all know about people coming to help us spend our hard-earned dollars. The TV commercials, the magazine ads, those irritating pop-ups on the internet — I bet you can think of many ways others entice you to spend your money.
According to some recent statistics, 55 percent of Americans do not pay off their credit card debt each month. In today’s consumerism society, it can feel like you’re just watching your wealth slip through your fingers. Many people worry over their wealth and financial future, even to the point of sleeplessness and other serious health implications.
Related: Is stress keeping you up at night?
Do you see yourself yet? Are you looking for elusive “happiness” by wanting to accumulate lots of money or possessions? How’s your sleep? Is it affected by worry about how to pay your bills or spend your money?
If so, what can be done? Here are a few strategies to help you find freedom from the weight of financial stress. Disclaimer: while I am no financial expert, I am an expert at helping people along in their quest for better health and more happiness.
Build a budget you feel confident in.
Many financial advisors advocate preparing a budget and knowing exactly where each dollar goes on a weekly or monthly basis. Unfortunately, most people see budgeting as too restrictive and yet, they are at a loss when it comes to being able to ascertain exactly where their money is going. The goal is not to spend more money than you earn.
Start budgeting today. If you know where you stand, you should feel more confident and experience lower levels of stress when making decisions.
Start an emergency fund.
Another strategy is to set aside money for emergencies. Some suggest anywhere from 3-6 months of expenses should be sufficient to cover the unexpected. If your water heater quit working today, do you have the funds to quickly replace it? This money is set aside for “emergencies,” not for holiday spending or a nice vacation.
Peace of mind goes a long way in alleviating anxiety. If you have an emergency fund, you don’t have to face the fear of how you’ll afford those unexpected expenditures.
Get out of debt.
One of the main causes financial stress is overwhelming debt, but it can be difficult and stressful trying to “get out of debt.” This is particularly relevant to those graduating from college and facing, almost immediately, student loan debt. The authors of one study indicate how anxiety has particularly increased among college students who worry about money.
Seek out help and resources for strategies to get out of debt quickly, so you can look toward the future with a healthy mindset.
Embrace the practice of saving money.
Some financial planners have suggested when you receive your paycheck to pay yourself 10-15 percent of your gross income. This money is not designed to be spent frivolously but instead saved for retirement.
If you’re regularly putting money toward your future, you’ll experience lower levels of anxiety as retirement starts to grow closer. It’s never too early to invest in your future.
Finally, it is helpful in managing your financial stress to talk with financial experts, as well as successful people who may have practical tips to share. The question is not how much money you make as much as it is what you do with it.
Don’t have a primary care physician? Find one near you.
About the author
David Blackburn, PhD, specializes in Adult Mental Health, Cognitive Behavior Psychotherapy, and Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation at Baylor Scott & White Mental Health Clinic – Temple. The clinic provides an array of care for your family from individual therapy to couples, family or group therapy. Get to know Dr. Blackburn today.