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 veers to the topic of money. Before you know it, you’re in a full-blown 2am panic during which you lose sleep and accomplish little. What begins as a passing thought to remember to pay the bills 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.
If the topic of money leaves you in a cold sweat, there may be a deeper reason behind the stress. However, the good news is that you can absolutely put yourself in control of your financial thoughts and actions. By taking a step back from your worst fears and making sure you control your cash – and not the other way around – it’s possible to dismiss those negative thoughts and actually get some sleep at night.
How to Manage Your Financial Anxiety & Stress
1. Focus on the Positive
There’s a lot to be said for focusing on the good aspects of your finances instead of the negative issues. Of course, thinking positively won’t magically pay your bills or stretch your budget, but it can help calm your fears. It can also help you recognize and appreciate your financial strengths, which could lead to solutions to some of your problems.
Grab a piece of paper and start listing the positive aspects of your money management skills. Perhaps you have a great job, are regularly socking money away in a 401k or an IRA, and have a nice emergency fund saved up. Even when things are tight or money is causing you anxiety, taking a second to focus on where you’re going right can help you stay calm and clear your head.
2. Retool Your Budget
When I get the most stressed about my finances, it often means my personal budget is out of whack. It can be anything from overspending on certain categories, to not properly planning my purchases. Regular budget checkups are essential since life, and all of its expenses, are rarely constant.
Check these items off your to-do list when your budget starts causing you stress:
- Review. Go over your bills and expenditures, and make sure all your numbers are accurate by ensuring that receipts and bills match up with your budget. Of course, things can fluctuate from month to month because of car repairs, health emergencies, travel, and other unpredictable events. This might be the perfect time to allot a certain amount to an emergency fund for a little more peace of mind.
- Reduce. Check to make sure you’re in the black each month, since going into debt is generally the greatest cause of stress. If you find yourself in the red more months than not, it’s time to rethink your money-making or spending strategy. Try taking on a second job to bring more in, or reduce your phone bill, TV package, or travel plans to restore balance to your budget.
- Pay Off. Create a debt pay-off plan and stick to it so you have an idea of when your credit card balances, student loans, or car payments are going to be paid off – this knowledge alone can help you breathe a major sigh of relief.
- Repeat. Repeat as needed to feel more in control of your finances.
3. Banish Financial Shame
Past financial mismanagement can lead to an aura of shame, whether it’s a lack of money, incorrect budgeting, or simply being ignorant of proper financial practices. Unfortunately, that shame can perpetuate a cycle of anxiety and future mismanagement. If that sounds like you, you’re not alone. With an unemployment rate hovering around 7% and an average household credit card debt of over $7,000, it’s clear that not all Americans are on par with Warren Buffet.
When you’re feeling embarrassed about money, remember that taking the time to educate yourself and organize your finances – even if the numbers make you squirm – can set you on a healthier path for the future. There’s no shame in wanting to be better with money, so don’t feel awkward if you need to broach the subject with your partner, see an advisor, or ask for help.
4. See an Advisor
Making an appointment with a financial advisor can help calm your fears and ensure you’re on the right path for your financial goals. Whether you want to save more for retirement, start investing, or you just need help defining your aspirations, an advisor can be of great assistance.
Many financial advisors offer a no-obligation, low-pressure first appointment as a way to get to know each other and consider the basics of your finances. The process is very much like seeing a therapist – but for your money. Just bring a list of goals and questions to the first appointment. If you feel comfortable, make it a long-term relationship.
5. Contribute to an Emergency Fund
The idea that the best-laid plans can be derailed by unknown events, such as the loss of a job, illness or death, or even natural disasters, can be paralyzing. However, if fear of the unknown has you second-guessing your financial plans, it’s a good time to evaluate your emergency fund – a nest egg of cash that remains untouched, except for emergency purposes.
If you haven’t started an emergency fund yet, begin with a goal of saving up just $1,000. Then, as you continue contributing, work your way up to 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.
6. Stop Comparing Yourself – Especially Online
My Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts are generally inundated with friends’ pictures of trips, cars, and other clear indicators of wealth. No matter how accurate my perception of their wealth actually is, comparing myself and my finances to others’ definitely causes me stress.
It seems like we, as humans, like to know where we fall on the measuring stick of wealth, looks, and success, so we use others to gauge our position. However, constantly comparing yourself to others is not a healthy way to live.
Here are some things to remember the next time you feel the urge to compare yourself to others financially:
- You don’t know what’s in their bank account. While a friend might seem to enjoy plenty of success, it could be courtesy of credit cards and debts.
- You don’t see the hard work and sacrifice that goes along with financial success.
- Your friends’ journeys are not yours – your experiences are unique.
- Many people post the best version of their lives on social media, so perception can be skewed.
- Keep some factors in your life private, so you don’t feel the need to promote a perceived sense of wealth to your friends. While it’s okay to share pics from your latest vacation, boasting online is unhealthy and can leave you spending more to maintain the facade.
- The only person you can change is yourself. Instead of gauging your success by that of others, create a measuring stick by which you can feel more in control over your money, such as a healthy savings account and an accurate monthly budget. These can be more effective indicators of your wealth and success – not someone’s Facebook photo album.
And, if all else fails and you still can’t stop yourself from feeling stressed and depressed because your friend just went to Hawaii, it might be time to put your social media accounts on hold until you can gain control of your feelings.
7. Consider the Worst
It might seem counter-intuitive that one of the best coping techniques for financial anxiety is to consider the worst. After all, “the worst” is probably a trigger for much of your money stress. Whatever it is to you, take a few minutes to actually ponder what would happen if it came to fruition.
After you realize and acknowledge your fears, put a contingency plan in place and you can diminish the power they hold over you. The truth is that bad things sometimes happen, but by predicting them and knowing how you’d react, you can find yourself firmly in control of almost any situation.
8. Educate Yourself
If fear of the unknown causes you to stress about money, turn those unknowns into “knowns.” For instance, if you want to save for retirement but have no idea where to start, you may be worried about the future. Or if you think you need life insurance, but don’t understand the difference between the various types, you are likely feeling extremely confused.
In the case of finances, ignorance is definitely not bliss. Calm your fears by educating yourself and performing the following tasks:
- Research retirement savings options online.
- Take a course through your local continuing education department on financial management and budgeting.
- Sign up for a college course in accounting.
- Take a massive online open course (MOOC) for beginning investments.
- Talk to a financial counselor about your options.
- Ask someone for advice who understands your particular financial question.
By taking matters into your own hands and educating yourself, money stops being a stressful enigma and becomes something that you can understand and control.
9. Talk to Your Partner
If you’re managing money with someone else, such as a partner or spouse, shouldering too much of the burden yourself – or not shouldering enough – can cause definite stress. A clear division of financial responsibility can help you feel less anxious about where your money is going when someone else is involved.
Set a time to talk to your partner about your financial worries. As you look over the numbers together, several things can happen. First, your fears can subside when you realize you’re not alone in your struggles and aspirations. Second, you can ask your partner to take on some of the burden of financial responsibility so you’re not budgeting and paying bills solo. And third, you can come up with a new plan for spending and saving that you can agree on, allowing you both to feel at peace with your financial situation.
10. Retain Some Concern
While constantly worrying about money is detrimental to your wellbeing, retaining some concern over your finances might actually protect you from making poor spending and saving decisions. For example, being preoccupied with the future could inspire you to start saving more seriously. Or, extra caution about sticking to your budget may protect you from overspending each month.
Fear can also be helpful when it comes to investments. If your gut is telling you an opportunity is risky, you might want to talk to your financial advisor about putting your money into a lower-risk vehicle. If your spouse is pushing you to change jobs and locations and the idea makes you feel uneasy, some discussion might be required to avoid making a rash decision.
Perhaps a better word for “fear” is actually “respect.” While being anxious about the future is a passive way to deal with finances, actively respecting money and treating it with the proper care can help you plan for the future – and control your cash.
The bottom line is this: Staying up at night and worrying about money won’t magically make cash appear in a depleted bank account, or help you decide how to save for your retirement. Instead, learning how to calm your fears and feel confident about your financial choices is a matter of education, action, and respect. As you find proactive ways to stay on top of your finances, you just may find that the anxious feeling that comes when checking your bank balance dissipates in favor of control and confidence.
Do you ever feel anxious about your finances? How do you cope?