How to Deal With Sneaky Money Stress

Here's a confession: I am an incredibly anxious person.

On top of that, I can also be a bit of a pessimist. It's something I've been working on, but give me a crisis, and I'm coming up with worst-case scenarios and waiting for the other shoe to drop. While I'm definitely better at managing my anxiety than I used to be, depending on what is happening in my life I still go through “seasons” where it feels like my fears are running away with me.

But today I want to talk about money stress, which is a kissing cousin to your garden-variety, run-of-the-mill anxiety. When I graduated college and started my first year as a “working” (read- BROKE AS A JOKE) actor, money stress was the constant monkey on my back. Not only did I have all those credit card minimums (as told in my origin story), but I only cleared a whopping $12,500 that year.

How to Deal With Sneaky Money Stress

Every decision I made, every social situation or grocery store run presented itself with a cycle of money stress that ran on loop in my head until my card cleared and I could make it back home.

(If you're interested/an actor, check out Stefanie's post for more on how actors are underpaid and can increase their earnings.)

Then I moved to New York, got a high-paying job as an administrative assistant at a hedge fund, (where I cleared six figures as a 23-year-old receptionist) and I slowly learned how to manage my money. I learned how to relax, pay both my bills and have fun, and my money stress took a backseat.

… Until July 2013 when I bought my house and the renovation drained every, last, single penny that I had. From that July-November while I was renovating my first home, money stress ruled my life. It was an old, familiar feeling..but not in a good way. Money stress is sneaky in that way – one minute you're fine, and the next you're back in an old place.

My old headaches came back. I stopped eating and laughing. Instead I sat at home checking my bank account balance and arguing with my contractor.

When the renovations were over, I focused on building up my emergency fund and paying off my credit cards. I finally started to feel good about money again and enjoyed a break from the constant stress of a large project. Learning many lessons from that time in my life, I thought I was done with money stress for good.

…Until I decided to leave my full-time job in April to freelance and work for myself.

And as you guess it, my old friend money stress was back.

The point of this long story is that I've finally realized that unless you're financially independent or really, really, really well stacked, money stress is going to come and go in your 20's, no matter how prepared we are or how much we've saved. We worked hard for that money in the bank. It is super stressful to watch it come and go, even if it is for an important emergency.

So as a salute to my old friend money stress, I'm going to write out what I've found to be the most effective tips for kicking it to the curb.

How Can You Manage Money Stress?

Exercise

No surprise here, as exercise has been proven to be one of the most effective treatments for anxiety and depression, but exercise works for money stress too, and not in the ways you may think! I find that when I exercise I have more energy for the hustle, which is important for tackling my to-do's and growing my business. So it's a double win- exercise to decrease stress while increasing energy and productivity.

Throw Yourself Into a Project

When things are out of control, it's calming to focus on the things you can control. Get the groceries, balance the checkbook, paint the trim in your den, clean out your inbox, organize your dropbox, brush the dog's teeth…whatever. Often those nagging little to-do's are the perfect antidote for feeling crazed.

Stay Positive

At the beginning of 2015, I was in a low place at the end of another failed relationship. Tired of hearing me whine about this guy I couldn't get over, my friend Carrie (a life coach in training, even if she doesn't know it yet!) told me about the power of positive thinking and how it might help me transform my life.

She told me to write and say daily, “Things are always working out for me.”

“Even if things seemed terrible at the time…didn't it always work out for you in the end?” She asked. “You bought that house, but it was a good money move. Your engagement ended, but better that than divorce, right?”

And she's right. That small daily affirmation has changed my entire f*cking life. It's done wonders for my overall attitude and outlook. So now, when things (especially money matters) seem out of control, I remember my mantra. I write it down. I think on it for just a second. And things are just a little bit better when I'm done.

I'll even be so bold as to say that a positive attitude is worth more than dollars and cents. Yes?

Scale Back

If money is leaking out of your bank account (whether it be business, emergency, or life-related) scaling back is an important step for moving things in the right direction. Remember: you are in control of your money. Emergencies or important life changes aside, you control how it gets used and where it goes. 

Scaling back on discretionary spending helps you feel in control while reigning in your spending.

Remind Yourself that It Is Only Temporary

I'm going to musical theater nerd out for a little bit. In the show “Avenue Q” there is this song at the end called “For Now.” The song's message is to demonstrate that everything in life, both the good and bad, is only “for now.”

Right now you have money stress. In six months, you may not. You could win the lottery tomorrow or receive a promotion. The point is: YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT COULD HAPPEN! 

Money comes in and it goes. Marie Forleo has a great video I recommend all the time where she advocates people come from a place of abundance rather than “money scarcity.” If positive thoughts influence our actions and outcome, it makes sense to think that way about our bank accounts as well.

Prepare

I'm a big advocate of having an emergency fund. And trust me, I know it is the biggest bummer to get a nice healthy nest egg and then have to use it. It's not so pretty when the old EF is low, but alas, that is what it is there for, and better to use that than go into debt.

During one of your abundant phases, be sure to set aside money for when the tides turn. It is going to save your sanity, and a healthy EF will help keep the money stress from turning into a full-blown money mental breakdown.

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Are you constantly worrying about your financial situation? Compulsively check your account balances? I was right there with you until I learned how to manage my sneaky money stress.

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  • Dia
    August 20, 2015 at 8:35 pm

    I am the same way! I am glad to say having an emergency fund has came in handy for me. I think that you are right it’s hard to remember when everything is unraveling that it’s only temporary but it always is.
    Great post!

  • Giulia Lombardo
    August 19, 2015 at 5:08 am

    great post I am absolutely agree!!!

    • Lauren Bee
      August 19, 2015 at 9:42 am

      Thanks Giulia!

  • Emily @ evolvingPF
    August 18, 2015 at 8:08 pm

    I really like the affirmations idea. I might put that in place to stay positive about my burgeoning business as well.

    • Lauren Bee
      August 19, 2015 at 9:42 am

      Let me know what you come up with. I like the idea of having a “life affirmation” and then one for business. I mostly keep repeating to myself “you’re in a growth phase right now.” Ha.

  • Bridget Casey
    August 18, 2015 at 6:05 pm

    And to address the actual post: I’m stressed as eff about money. Only because the economy is in the dumps right now and I’m paying for a wedding haha. Worst combo ever.

  • Bridget Casey
    August 18, 2015 at 6:03 pm

    “Then I moved to New York, got a high-paying job as an administrative assistant at a hedge fund, (where I cleared six figures as a 23 year old receptionist, a fascinating story really)”

    whaaat

    First I’ve heard this. Didn’t you say you made $45K at that job?

    • Lauren Bee
      August 19, 2015 at 9:41 am

      Yes mam I did. 45k was my salary. We had a bonus structure based on fund performance at the company where I worked. Incredibly generous and a big moment for me when the fund did so well I found out I’d make 50k as a bonus that year. The extra 5k was in performance and writing gigs. It was absolutely insane.

      And planning and paying for a wedding is the worst kind of stress. The WORST. But at least there is an end point in sight! 🙂

      • Bridget Casey
        August 19, 2015 at 10:28 am

        I’ve never heard of a hedgefund giving a receptionist a $50K bonus. Entry financial analysts receive these bonuses but they work 16 hour days for them. I also don’t understand how it took 14 months & 30% of your paycheque to pay off a $10,000 LOC with this income. Where did the rest of the money go? What did you spend it on? Even after taxes you should have pocketed $30K of that bonus which, at 23, would have had a transformative impact on your net worth (or at least given you a great collection of designer handbags). I’d like to read a post about that.

        I don’t know why you would ever leave this job. Or how you’re ok going back to $60-$70,000 per year. I’m at ~$90,000-$100,000/yr (we’ll see) all in and I can’t imagine living with 20% less than that.

        • Lauren Bee
          August 19, 2015 at 11:19 am

          Hi Bridget,

          Great questions, and some that would make for a good blog post. I know it sounds impossible, but it definitely happened. I’ve written about bits and pieces of this story over the years but you’re right, I haven’t put it down in one place. I left the job because the boss at the time put me in a position where I didn’t think I could stay.

          I was okay going back to a lower salary because I moved back to Atlanta where cost of living is cheaper (and salaries are lower to go along with that). It was tough, but I also had to adjust my expectations because people don’t make that kind of money here, especially in support roles. Would I have made more money if I’d stayed even factoring in NYC’s cost of living? Oh hell yes, I think about it all the time.

          I’d have to go back and look to say definitively, but I think bc NYC takes out more city and state taxes I walked away with about $28k. $12,000 of that went into a retirement account the company ran that vested at 25% each year. When I left the company I walked away with 33% of that 12k. Again, because of the situation with the boss, I felt like walking away was worth it.

          The remaining $16k of that money went to paying expenses in Atlanta that summer I was home and unemployed, and largely my first home purchase… funding renovation overages (on top of the $8100 I put on credit cards, it was a bloodshed of a project), and down payments on the wedding that never happened.

          Regarding how it took me 14 months to pay off $10k on a 45k salary, keep in mind that I moved to NYC with essentially nothing (my post on how I moved with $300). I slept on couches for as long as I could, but a lot of my early paychecks etc. went to saving for my own apartment, the brokers fees and furnishing it.

          It took me 14 months from the time I moved to NYC, but with those expenses factored in, I really didn’t start clipping away at it until later in the winter of 2011.

          Hope this helps clear up some things, you’ve definitely given me a lot to think about in terms of additional content for the blog. If you have these questions I’m sure others do as well. I really appreciate how you’ve been a long time reader. <3

  • Michelle
    August 18, 2015 at 12:37 am

    I love affirmations!

    • Lauren Bee
      August 18, 2015 at 11:22 am

      I never believed in them, but I’m glad I changed my tune. It’s been transformative.

  • Taylor Lee @ Engineer Cents
    August 17, 2015 at 8:37 pm

    Oh gosh yes. Money stress has all but consumed my brain space and literally the only thing that helps is exercise. Great post!

    • Lauren Bee
      August 18, 2015 at 11:22 am

      Thanks Taylor!

  • Christina Scalera
    August 17, 2015 at 12:37 pm

    I love these tips! They’re so original 🙂 and great reminders about PF basics too.

    • Lauren Bee
      August 17, 2015 at 1:33 pm

      Thanks Christina! You’re so sweet <3

  • Amanda
    August 17, 2015 at 12:10 pm

    Ignore it!
    I’m kidding, sort of…
    I left a low-paying job teaching & doing admin work for a theatre (although I made more than $12,500 – but FAR less than 6 figures!) for a better paying contract position at a college. Since being laid off, this last year and a half has been been financial hell for me. I was a stress-mess for a looong time over it. I didn’t want to go back to a job that paid less than $20/hour, but eventually did. Hated it. Quit. And now am “unemployed” again, babysitting for a few hours each week and trying to make some cash online.
    Throughout all of this, I had to “ignore it” or I would have absolutely had a “full-blown money mental breakdown” by now. Instead, I follow a lot of what you suggest in this post – stay positive, focus on something else, remind myself it’s temporary, etc. Being stressed out won’t get me anywhere – except maybe backwards. And I really don’t want to end up there!

    • Lauren Bee
      August 17, 2015 at 1:35 pm

      I’m so sorry to hear about your prolonged money stress. I’m glad you’ve been able to stay positive- and hey if ignoring helps you get by, then that is what you have to do.

    • eemusings (NZMuse)
      August 18, 2015 at 10:18 pm

      I’m not the unemployed one in the relationship but YES to all of this!

  • Ali
    August 17, 2015 at 11:28 am

    I am also a VERY anxious person and money stress creeps in now and again. I find that looking at my budget and finding a way that I can save a bit helps relieve my anxiety. Knowing that I have a plan for how to save a bit more always makes me feel less stressed.

    • Lauren Bee
      August 17, 2015 at 1:34 pm

      I log into my online budgeting app daily so I can track where my money is going. It also helps me feel like I’m being a good financial steward 🙂

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