You may think you've got your life and finances under control, but financial stress is sneaky like that. You think it's normal, just a part of “living life,” but it's not. Financial stress is actually a kissing cousin to your garden-variety, run-of-the-mill anxiety.
What is financial stress?
Here is how it manifests in real life:
- When you lay 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
These are just a few examples. Really, the main difference between financial stress and regular stress is it's usually about money. (Duh.) BUT because money is so inextricably linked to everything we do, it may feel like normal stress because it's just there…. all. the. time.
When can financial stress strike?
Hopefully, your life isn't in a loop of financial stress. But, every person (no matter how well off) will have periods when the unexpected occurs and managing money becomes the priority, rather than something that hums in the background. For me, there have been multiple times in my life when I've been more financially stressed:
- 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
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.
6 Strategies to Deal with 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 tackling my to-do's and growing my business.
So it's a double win- exercise to decrease stress while increasing energy and productivity.
Tackle a 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 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.
Talk to Someone
You'd talk to someone about your emotional trouble…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 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 was right. That small daily affirmation ended up changing my entire 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?
Trim the Budget
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.
Remind Yourself 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.
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. 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.
Using the six strategies above, I can't guarantee you won't experience financial stress. At the very least, you'll be better equipped when it does come along.
*this post originally appeared on August 28th, 2015. It was updated in March 2019.