You may think you've got your life and finances under control, and then the unexpected happens. In my personal opinion, there is nothing more taxing than dealing with money problems and the resulting financial stress. When you're figuring out how to deal with being financially burdened, there are things you can do to deal with what's causing the stress (usually a shortfall of cash or being unable to meet basic financial obligations) and then there are important tasks to tackle to deal with the emotional fallout from dealing with money stress.
First, what is financial stress?
Financial stress is anxiety, depression, and worry about how you'll meet your financial obligations.
Here are some examples of how this could manifest in real life:
- Lying awake in bed at night worrying about how to pay your bills
- Feeling guilty when you know you overdid it with your credit card spend
- Swiping your debit card and crossing your fingers, hoping it doesn't decline
When can financial stress strike?
Hopefully, your life isn't in a loop of constant money and financial stress. But, every person (no matter how well off) will have periods when they'll be stressed about money. Whether it's a lack of money causing the stress, or anxiety and frustration about a particular money move.
Below are just a handful of times when I have had to deal with money stress.
- When I graduated college and started my first year as a “working” (read- BROKE AS A JOKE) actor. Back then, money stress was the constant monkey on my back. Not only did I have all those credit card minimums, but I only cleared a whopping $12,500 that year.
- When I've lost jobs unexpectedly
- Buying a home at 26 and then having the renovation run over…and over…and over
- When I left my full time job to run my blog full time
- I recently got married in 2018, and the amount of money leaving my bank account at any given time was super stressful
- Managing money during the spending-driven holiday season
- Figuring out money in the midst of a divorce.
- Dealing with the death of a loved one who died without a will
- And more.
And so on and so on. Money stress is sneaky in that way – one minute you're fine, and the next you're back in an old place.
Even in the best of situations: where you have an emergency fund and plenty of money coming in to deal with the unexpected, managing money can be emotionally stressful. Below are the methods I've found to be the most effective tips for kicking it to the curb.
How to deal with being financially burdened
There are a million different financial scenarios that can lead to someone feeling financially burdened and overwhelmed by money. But no matter the situation, there are only two options for solving a money problem: trim your expenses to the bone or find/earn more money to meet your financial obligations. Here are other options to try when you're trying to financially un-burden yourself.
- Drastically cut your expenses in times of crisis
- How to ask friends/family for money
- Side hustle your way to extra cash (Here's how to earn your first $1,000)
- Consolidate debt or try working with a financial counselor
- Find free balance transfers to lower the amount of interest you're paying on a debt
- Dig into your emergency fund to give yourself some breathing room (if you can)
- How to stop overspending
Strategies to deal with the emotional side of financial stress
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! I find that when I exercise I have more energy for the hustle, which is important for when you're trying to earn extra in order to meet your financial goals.
So it's a double win- exercise to decrease stress while increasing energy and productivity.
Tackle a (small) project
When things are out of control, it's calming to focus on the things you can control. A project that doesn't require a lot of brain power, but can still help you feel incredibly productive.
Get the groceries, balance your budget, 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, at least in the short term. It won't help you long-term, but sometimes its just about getting through the day.
Talk to someone
You'd talk to someone about your emotional troubles…why not your financial ones? And you don't even have to speak with an accountant or CFP (although it's probably a good idea if you have persistent issues managing money.) You could speak to your regular therapist, or find someone on Talkspace to chat with.
Yes, it costs money to speak to a therapist. But sometimes speaking to someone can make you feel a great deal better about what's going on in your financial situation. You can talk to a friend or family member, and if you have one you feel comfortable with, you should. Often, it's better to have an objective person to listen, and that way you can share without fear of being judged.
In case you couldn't tell, I'm a big therapy advocate.
Write a daily affirmation
At one point, 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.”
And she was right. That small daily affirmation ended up changing my entire life.
It's done wonders for my overall attitude and outlook. (And now I've been able to manifest more money in my life as a result.)
So now, when things (especially money matters) seem out of control, I remember my mantra. I write it down. I think about it for just a second. And things are just a little bit better when I'm done.
Remind yourself that things are 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 good and bad, is only “for now.”
Right now you have money stress. But in six months, you may not. You could win the lottery tomorrow or receive a promotion. You could get a roommate, or a side hustle and dramatically change your financial situation.
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 outcomes, it makes sense to think that way about our bank accounts as well.
The TL: DR – Accept that you're in survival mode
Let all your other money goals and “must dos” fall by the wayside. If you're in financial survival mode, don't guilt yourself for not paying off debt, contributing to retirement, or making significant strides in your savings. Now isn't the season for that. Another season will come.
The point of managing our money well isn't to be able to never have financial hardships or times of financial stress. The point of managing money well is to be able to handle those trickier money seasons when they come for us. As always, when learning how to deal with being financially burdened, I'm going to advocate for giving yourself as much grace as possible. It's okay to be in survival mode and just get by.
Lauren Bowling is the creator of Financial Best Life. Writing about money since 2012 (formerly as L Bee and the Money Tree), Bowling is an award-winning blogger and money and real estate expert whose advice has been featured on CNBC, Forbes, CNNMoney, Elite Daily, Business Insider, Redbook, and Woman’s Day Magazine and more. After selling the site to a division of The Motley Fool in 2019, Bowling is now back as the owner and primary voice behind FBL and is excited to continue educating elder millennials everywhere about how to afford their best life.