When it comes to money, do you feel more tricked than treated? Don’t let managing your finances spook you more than ghosts, ghouls, and other things that go bump in the night.
Money is a difficult thing to discuss; it can be complicated and stressful. According to the APA’s 2016 “Stress in America” survey, money ranks as the second-most stressful thing in Americans’ lives – higher than even work and health. There are so many facets to handling your finances responsibly: analyzing investments, creating a budget, deciding when to take on debt, all on top of saving for a retirement which may be years or decades away. It can be incredibly overwhelming.
In our opinion, widespread financial stress is propelled by two main factors. First, social norms promote the idea that money is taboo, much like religion and politics (“you must not talk about it”). Second – even though proper money management is recognized as both a vitally important and complex part of our lives – there is a shocking lack of effort to promote formal financial education in schools and elsewhere throughout adulthood (i.e. beyond what you can just read on the internet).
America is by-and-large a consumerist society. To struggle financially can be seen as a source of shame and embarrassment. As such, few are comfortable enough to broach the topic of money with family and friends, possibly even with their spouse. Think about it: you probably know your best friend’s health history, but it is doubtful you know how much money they make, how much they have saved for emergencies, or – perhaps more seriously – whether they carry a crushing load of debt.
Obviously, this is not to say you should shout from the rooftops your salary and 401(k) balance; certain personal boundaries are not necessary to cross. The basic idea is that the vast majority of Americans do not talk about money in the slightest, even though it shapes our lives on a daily basis.
Just as outright avoidance hinders problem-solving, so, too, does the widespread lack of formal financial education. In her 2011 study, economist Annamaria Lusardi found only 35% of Americans are financially “literate” (i.e. have a working knowledge of basic financial concepts). A similar 2018 study by the FINRA Investor Education Foundation found only 34% of respondents could correctly answer more than 80% of questions on everyday financial topics.
There are many things you can do to minimize financial stress and combat the avoidance tendency. Consider the following:
Talk about it. As uncomfortable as it may be, opening up about money with someone you trust can help alleviate stress. Research backs this up! Open discussions tend to allow for brainstorming and problem-solving. If you have kids, read more here about how to include them in money conversations.
Identify your triggers. To broadly say “money stresses me out” does not provide an actionable jumping-off point to a solution. Rather, ask yourself questions like: do I avoid looking at my bank account balance because I’m nervous about how much I do (or don’t) have? Are my bills late because I hate writing checks? Is the reason I’ve put off saving for retirement because I’m not comfortable picking investments in my 401k? Does habitually checking my stock account multiple times a day make me feel better or worse?
Make a list of the specific things that bother you. From there, you can look for solutions.
Start small. Rome wasn’t built in a day. It is unlikely your financial future will be either. Trying to fix everything at once puts you at risk of burn-out. Instead, start by picking an easy task, practicing it, and turning it into a habit. Soon the easy things will be second nature. Then work your way up to more difficult tasks. Some quick suggestions:
- If your bills are frequently late – set up one or two bills for automatic payment.
- If your goal is to save more – set up automatic transfers into a savings account at set intervals (weekly, monthly, etc.). Even better, time it to when you get your paychecks so you become used to living without it.
- If you’re easily tempted to dip into savings – consider keeping your savings account at a different bank. This creates a roadblock should you become tempted.
- Use one of the pre-made templates in Microsoft Excel (or an online/mobile app) to create a monthly budget and personal financial statement. The relatively simple task of just getting your affairs organized on paper can be a good confidence boost – note: it might be best to do this after you’ve conquered the smaller tasks.
Whatever it is, just start small. It will give you the momentum and confidence you need to forge ahead.
Treat yourself. The whole point of financial planning isn’t to deny yourself life’s basic pleasures or finer comforts. Create a rewards system that allows you to treat yourself after reaching certain checkpoints. Consider setting up separate savings accounts for different goals (i.e. “Disney Vacation”, “New Car Fund”, “Christmas Presents”). This way, you will tangibly see your progress and not have any guilt when it comes time to pay the bill.
Consider working with a professional. In a previous blog, we discussed the benefits of working with a financial professional. Shifting responsibilities and outsourcing difficult tasks can help take the weight off your shoulders, while also keeping you accountable to the bigger picture.
If you find yourself stressed about finances, you don’t have to go it alone. Try some of the suggestions above. If you still find yourself with questions, contact us to get started on a plan. Our goal is to ease financial stress and empower clients to build healthy relationships with money.
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