In a survey by Northwestern Mutual, 85% of Americans admitted to feeling stress about their finances. And financial stress is only getting worse: 36% of these said that their levels of financial stress have increased over the past three years. Long-term stress can lead to unhappiness, weight gain, and health issues, the latter of which can paradoxically put even more strain on your finances. Here’s what you can do to deal with the financial stress in your life.
Know where your money goes
Track your spending. Even smaller purchases, like a morning cup of coffee or a take-out dinner, can add up overtime, so don’t leave those unrecorded. If you’re coming out of debt, track that too. Seeing your progress can help you make more educated plans for the future. Use apps like Mint and DebtTracker to watch your finances from your cell phone.
Create a monthly budget
Once you know how much you’re spending, start evaluating. Are your expenses higher than your income? Are you breaking even? In either case, try to figure out where you could be saving more money. Rank your purchases from most to least important. What is a more necessary purchase this month: new cookware or new jeans? Would you rather have money to take the family to the movies, or go out to eat? Depending on how far off you are from your financial goals, you may have to make bigger lifestyle changes, such as looking for a cheaper apartment. Take your time with these decisions, but realize that the stress of moving now might save you a lot of stress later.
If you are frequently asked for money by friends or family, make your boundaries clear. How much can you afford to lend per month? Don’t let yourself be pressured to exceed your means. Similarly, resist the temptation to keep up with the Joneses. Don’t be goaded into expensive decisions based on what your friends, family, and neighbors are spending.
Prioritize debt reduction
If you are in debt, making getting rid of that debt your number one priority. The faster you can get out, the faster you can leave that enormous financial stressor behind you. If your current debts are backing up, talk with the collector companies and see if you can negotiate a more manageable payment play.
Create an emergency fund
Be prepared for unexpected expenses or sudden job loss by building an emergency fund to tide you over. Using your budget, plan for enough money to last you for six months. Set this money aside from your regular account, for use only in emergencies. If you need to save money up for a big purchase, create a separate account for that.