Feeling worried about money? You’re not alone. Three quarters of working Americans (74%) say they are stressed about their personal finances these days, according to the latest CNBC Your Money Survey.
Berna Anat, financial educator and author of “Money Out Loud – All the Financial Stuff No One Taught Us,” says that the first signs of financial stress tend to show up in your body: “A licensed therapist once taught me to notice financial stress in my body, since our bodies are so good at telling us things before our brain can understand.”
When you think about the word money or imagine yourself opening your bank account, what do you notice? “Are you clenching your jaw, or holding your breath; do you notice a twinge in your shoulders, or a pressure on your chest? If you could imagine those parts of your body talking, what would they say?” says Anat.
Other indicators that financial stress is negatively affecting your mental health include avoiding your money – say, when you avoid opening your credit card statement. “I pay attention to moments where I avoid my money,” adds Anat. “I try to remember that I’m avoiding my money not because I’m negligent or a bad person, but because I don’t feel resourced enough to face it.”
In other words, feeling ashamed about your money situation or beating yourself up for avoiding financial issues is counterproductive. Here are four powerful strategies to help you cope with financial stress.
1. Unpack your money story
Ready to face your finances? Your first instinct may be to binge-watch personal finance YouTube videos or download a budgeting app. These things are helpful, of course, but they won’t be as powerful as unpacking your “money story,” as Anat puts it.
“Money is incredibly personal, and how we feel about money is tied up in our identities, our cultures, our religions, and especially our upbringings. Going straight to budgeting tips or debt hacks might feel good as a quick fix for a while, but eventually, our humanness will kick in, our ‘bad’ habits will pop back up, and if we haven’t unpacked our emotional history with money, we’ll blame ourselves and compound the stress.”
The first question you should ask yourself is “What are my beliefs and habits around money, and where did I learn that?” Connecting the dots between the way money was dealt with in your family of origin and your current relationship with money can help you create new, more helpful beliefs and behaviors. It will only make personal finance tips and tricks more effective.
2. Seek social and professional support
“The one thing we’re all missing from our financial lives is social support. We’re trained to see money as a shameful solo sport, something you need to figure out by yourself, in secret. In reality, community is the answer to everything,” says Anat.
You don’t have to deal with financial stress by yourself. Talk to a trusted friend – you may just find out that you’re in the same boat and have similar goals. Why not keep each other accountable and cheer each other on?
Professional help may be a good idea as well. A therapist can help you manage stress and address challenges like emotional spending. A financial advisor can help you find more effective ways to manage your funds or consolidate debt. Additionally, there are free resources out there to feel supported on your financial journey.
For instance, Anat is part of a board of financial educators who have partnered with Secret Deodorant to help compile free resources to break down barriers to financial freedom.
3. Have regular money dates
Have you ever thought of dating your money? “You’ve got to have a regular time to deal with your money, either every week or every other week. Consider it a money date, like a therapy session or a doctors’ appointment,” recommends Anat.
“Waiting until the stress builds up or catastrophe hits is only going to deepen your fear of money, but having a designated, regular time to look at your money life will help you adjust your money life as it changes.”
This can also be your time to learn about finances, from reading a book you previously didn’t have time to read to listening to a podcast episode from your favorite personal finance influencer.
4. Use financial planning to become more resilient
The only constant in life is change. Financial preparedness can help make you more resilient to financial stress. “To me, financial freedom means not just being prepared for how my financial life runs now, but for the twists and turns it could take in the future,” says Anat.
For Anat, financial planning looks like having a budget plan for her current paycheck as well as a backup budget plan in the event of a sudden pay cut or job loss.
“In the event of an emergency, I already know Future Me is stressed, and the last thing she’ll want to do is draw up a new budget. Preparedness is all about making it easier for Future Me to make decisions.”
You may feel stressed about the idea of planning for anything if you’re living from paycheck to paycheck and struggling to make ends meet. But if you adopt the strategies above and start making plans regardless of your current situation, even the tiniest bit of progress towards a goal like an emergency fund can help relieve some of your stress.
Financial stress affects your mental health – and it’s also becoming a problem for many Americans. While there are plenty of external circumstances you can’t control, taking a few intentional steps towards tackling financial stress can bring relief (and even make you hopeful about the future).