Previously we’ve explored what financial stress is and how it can affect you. Now let’s learn what you can do about it. By developing your financial stress management skills, you can improve your mental and financial health.
1. Ask for help.
You need help. I needed help, too. It can be really hard to ask, since our culture just assumes adults know how to manage money, and being broke or in debt is often seen as a personal failing. But nobody is born knowing how to do this, and if the super-rich people out there can get help, you deserve it, too.
“Help” can look like several things:
- You may need money or assistance programs to help pay your bills. (FindHelp.org is a great place to start!)
- You might need information so you can figure out what financial options are best for you.
- You may need training in how to create a budget, use a credit card responsibly, or other skills.
- Maybe you even need emotional support for all the stress that thinking about this brings up!
Whatever you need, I suggest you first reach out to a friend, relative or partner you trust. Preferably someone who seems to have their finances in good shape. Tell them you’re stressed out about money and want to get to a better spot. Ask this person to help you figure out what to do.
If you don’t have anyone, churches and community services can usually point you towards someone who can help. The online community /r/personalfinance is a great place to ask questions and get ideas, too.
2. Build your money skills.
Financial literacy is your ability to understand and make financial decisions effectively. People with high financial literacy are “good with money.” They’re also less stressed about money, even if they go into debt, because they know how to get back out of it.
Here are some great places to improve your financial literacy:
- That same friend or relative who seems to have their finances sorted out. Ask them how they did it. Do they use a budget? Do they use credit cards? How do they decide what to buy and what to save?
- /r/personalfinance. Not only can you ask questions, but they also have a wiki with answers to common issues, and a flowchart that helps sort your goals into concrete steps.
- YouTube! When I was new and clueless, I searched for “personal finance 101” and listened to videos while working out and doing chores. Avoid anyone who’s trying to sell you something or says you can get rich easily.
- Investopedia’s personal finance section! This is like the Wikipedia of money, and they won’t try to sell you things you don’t need.
3. Take breaks when you get overwhelmed.
Okay, that is a lot of info in those resources I linked. My brain got fried when I first tried learning this stuff, but then, I was starting with very little know-how. I had to pull myself away from the computer, focus on other people and hobbies, and take breaks. A lot.
If your finances are screwy, you won’t fix them in a week, or a month. You certainly won’t fix them by wearing yourself out with anxiety or sleep deprivation. But you will fix them if you learn a little bit at a time, and make a few changes at a time, and keep going for as many months or years it takes. Financial stress management means pacing yourself.
4. Tackle one goal at a time.
Taxes and budgets and loans, oh my! There are too many things demanding your money, and not enough to fill them all yet. But just as importantly, you only have so much time and energy. Pick one thing you can work towards first. The Personal Finance flowchart is a good starting point.
You may be tempted to try to learn everything so you can make the best possible series of decisions. But if this leads to never actually making a decision, it can be a problem in itself. Some people overanalyze because they’re anxious or afraid of commitment. For others, it’s a way to procrastinate.
You will make mistakes. Sometimes expensive ones. But if you’re not gambling or taking huge risks in the stock market, you probably won’t make your situation worse. You’ll have time later to adjust course. Just do what you can with what you’ve got right now.
5. Mental health management = financial stress management
Mental health can make financial stress management much tougher. Some mental health issues that get in the way are anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, compulsive shopping, gambling addiction, and substance use problems. Divorce, bereavement, homelessness, and poverty can also seriously affect your health and finances at the same time.
Tell your friends and family if any of the above are happening to you. Like finances, it’s much easier to recover when you’ve got people in your corner. Check out support groups and mental health services in your area, using a directory like FindHelp.org or by calling 211. I also help clients work through anxiety and stress related to finances, and have a limited number of sliding-scale appointments for people in need. Contact me if you’re interested.
I hope this article has been helpful for you! Financial stress is one of the world’s biggest causes of anxiety, but just by reading this, you’ve already taken a step toward positive changes. Good luck!