7 ways to manage financial stress during trying times
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From a global pandemic to the highest inflation rate in 40 years and a potential recession — the past couple of years have not eased up much on financial pressures. Most people have been affected by these negative economic conditions in some way, and it’s taking a toll on their mental wellbeing.
In an April 2022 Bankrate survey, 42 percent of adults said that money concerns have a negative impact on their mental health. That number is higher for women and for lower-income people. Financial stress can leave you feeling anxious, losing sleep and struggling with insecurities about the future.
While much of what causes financial stress can be attributed to external factors, there are ways you can mitigate it and take steps to improve your financial security. Here are seven ways to help you manage financial stress during trying times.
1. Prioritize what you can control
You can’t change everything that is causing you stress. Some things are simply out of your control. If you dwell on things you can’t control, it’s likely to cause you even more stress as you get frustrated with not being able to change them.
Focus instead on the things that you can control so that you can work to improve your situation. For an easy example, consider something simple like your food budget. Unless you are already on a bare-minimum food budget, look for ways to shave a few dollars off your grocery bill, like going with the cheaper store brand items. You’ll not only save money, but the feeling of accomplishment and being in control may help reduce your stress as well.
2. Find ways to earn more money
You can only cut a budget so far, and you’ll want to be careful that your tight budget isn’t a source of additional stress. With the price of consumer goods being higher than normal, line items in your budget are likely already under strain.
It might be worth looking for ways to increase your income, instead. Some ways to do so include:
- Work a few extra hours: Try talking to your employer about putting in some extra time each week, if you’re paid hourly or at least eligible for overtime pay.
- Negotiate for a raise: Given high inflation and a tight labor market, employers may be more willing to grant a pay increase.
- Take on a side gig: A side gig can be a good option for those who want a flexible way to pad their income on the side of a full-time job. This can include things like delivering food, tutoring or running a blog.
3. Pay essential bills
If you are worried about being able to pay all your bills, prioritize essential bills first. Sorting through your bills and prioritizing them serves two purposes:
- As a budgeting exercise, it guides you to deliberately think through what you spend your money on. You may find that some bills can be eliminated or reduced.
- By knowing beforehand which bills you will pay first, you won’t have to scramble to decide if you do find yourself in a bind later.
Both of these outcomes will help reduce your financial anxiety, and hopefully allow you to sleep better.
4. Save money (if you can)
Try to stick to a consistent savings plan. If you don’t follow a plan already, try to implement one even if it starts small.
Having a savings plan that you follow is one more thing you can control. The act of saving will give you a sense of accomplishment that will reduce your anxiety. Plus, having a cushion of savings in case you need it in an emergency will also relieve some stress.
If you want to keep your money accessible but don’t want it to be idle, consider putting it into a high-yield savings account. High-yield savings accounts pay higher rates than typical savings accounts and make great vehicles for emergency funds. If you want to contribute a certain amount to your savings each month, you can set up an automatic transfer from your checking account.
Once you’ve built an emergency fund, you may want to put any extra savings into a certificate of deposit (CD). You’ll commit to keeping the money in the account for a set time frame in exchange for a guaranteed return rate that’s generally higher than traditional savings accounts.
Here’s a look at some of the best places to save your money.
5. Track your money-saving progress
You won’t really know if you’re making progress if you don’t track it. Make sure you know where you stand.
“Do the work to figure out your exact financial situation,” says Tracey Bissett, president at Bissett Financial Fitness. Tracking your progress lets you know whether the actions you are taking are moving the needle.
It also helps to know your progress because when you make progress toward your financial goals, like paying off debt, the positive psychological effects can lift your mood and health. If you aren’t tracking your financial goals, you may not realize how much progress you’re actually making.
6. Talk to your lenders
Debt can be both a financial and mental burden. Before you let debt and the stress it causes overwhelm you, talk to your lenders.
“Always remember that lenders are often open to discussing your issues and finding at least a short term solution,” says Anna Barker, founder of LogicalDollar and personal finance expert.
The lender may be willing to make a modification on the loan, such as extending its term or lowering the interest rate, to reduce your monthly payments. You could also try refinancing.
7. Consult with financial professionals
Consider talking to a financial advisor to help take some of the weight off your shoulders when it comes to things like setting goals, saving money and decreasing debt.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, many services have migrated online, including several in financial services.
“Fortunately, most financial coaches and advisors have adapted their practice to serve clients online,” says Brian Thorp, founder and CEO of Wealthtender. “While technology has shown its value in a world of social distancing, it can’t replace the human element offered by financial professionals when it comes to the emotional topic of money.”
Financial stress and anxiety is a common occurrence, especially when the world seems pitted against you. Though it will take a little effort, there are ways you can curb financial worries and stay ahead of expenses, whether it be writing out a budget for your bills or tracking savings progress. Also, don’t be afraid to reach out to a financial advisor or a trusted friend or relative for advice.
There are some online resources that can help you, too. Bankrate’s home budget calculator can do some of the menial work of making a budget for you. When it comes to saving, try out a money saving app (many of which have free versions) or look into what savings features your own bank’s app might come with.
— Bankrate’s René Bennett contributed to an updated version of this story.