Financial Stress: What it is, When it Strikes and Strategies to Cope

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.

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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:

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. 


Scaling back on discretionary spending helps you feel in control while reigning in your spending. Looking for inspo?


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.


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.

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Financial Stress: What it is, When it Strikes and Strategies to Cope
  1. Reply

    Good tips for managing stress. As ever, this too shall pass! Kind of hard to remember in the moment, but very true.

    • Dia
    • August 20, 2015

    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

    great post I am absolutely agree!!!

    1. Reply

      Thanks Giulia!

    • Emily @ evolvingPF
    • August 18, 2015

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

    1. Reply

      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.

  2. Reply

    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.

  3. Reply

    “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)”


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

    1. Reply

      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! 🙂

      1. Reply

        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.

        1. Reply

          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

  4. Reply

    I love affirmations!

    1. Reply

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

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

    1. Reply

      Thanks Taylor!

    • Christina Scalera
    • August 17, 2015

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

    1. Reply

      Thanks Christina! You’re so sweet <3

  6. Reply

    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!

    1. Reply

      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.

    2. Reply

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

    • Ali
    • August 17, 2015

    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.

    1. Reply

      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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