When you think about your finances what’s the first thing you feel? Maybe it’s tension in your chest and the clenching of your teeth. For others you might feel yourself breathing a little faster. Your mood suddenly shifts from relatively calm to agitated, with a few four letter words escaping your lips. If any of these symptoms sound like you, you’re probably suffering from financial anxiety.
You’re not alone.
Money matters are the leading cause of stress in the United States. This isn’t surprising since your finances impact so many other areas in life from your relationships to your ability to access healthcare.
But how do you overcome anxiety about money? Is it even possible?
Yes, it is! The key to managing anxiety when it comes to your money is to gain a semblance of control over it. While this does take some work, it’s not as hard as you may have led yourself to believe.
Steps to Overcoming Financial Anxiety
Step One: Look at it!
The first step is the hardest; you actually have to look at your banking account. Like, really really look at it. I can feel your anxiety spiking at the thought of it, but just breathe and remember you’re taking steps towards a better future.
Reviewing your finances simply means looking at the big picture of your money by finding out the following things:
- How much money you have coming into your banking account (paychecks, child support, etc.)
- How much money you’re spending on necessities (housing, groceries, utilities, etc.)
- How much money you’re spending on debt payments (car loan, student loans, credit cards, etc.)
- How much money you’re spending on “the extras” (going out to eat, entertainment, etc )
- How much money you’re actively saving or investing
Do this for one month’s time and determine how much money you have left (if any) at the end of the month. This is how you will determine where you stand financially. This is the most important step because you can’t move forward until you know where you currently stand.
Full disclosure: After you complete this step, you might not feel any less stressed. Your anxiety may actually increase a little.
Whatever you do, don’t stop here! Do not let your habit of overspending, lack of savings, or piles of debt dissuade you from taking the next step toward financial control. I told you step one was hard, but it gets easier from here. I promise!
Step Two: Prioritize and make a plan.
The next step is to prioritize your financial goals. Whatever financial struggle you have that keeps you awake the most at night should be the first thing you tackle. Don’t try to take on too many goals at once, either. Start small, and as you begin to feel more confident with your finances you will be able to take on bigger and bigger goals.
For example, if not having any money saved up is your biggest worry, start with setting a S.M.A.R.T goal for saving up an emergency fund as quickly as possible.
What’s a S.M.A.R.T goal? Good question! It’s the simplest and most effective way to set goals for yourself. S.M.A.R.T is an acronym:
- S = Specific
- M = Measurable
- A = Attainable
- R = Realistic
- T = Time-bound
Going back to building an emergency fund as an example, your S.M.A.R.T goal would look something like this:
- Specific: I plan to save money for the purpose of having an emergency fund to secure my financial future.
- Measurable: I plan to save up $500 for my emergency fund.
- Attainable: I will reach my $500 savings goal by direct depositing $25 from each paycheck into a savings account.
- Realistic: This goal is only realistic if you have $25 from each paycheck to spare. If your entire paycheck is going to necessities and debt, you may need to refocus your efforts on debt pay off first to free up the $25 a paycheck.
- Time-Bound: I will save $25 per paycheck for 20 pay cycles to reach my goal of $500 in my emergency fund.
Using what you learned about your financial picture from step one, you will be able to set a S.M.A.R.T goal for anything in life (not just finances) and achieve it! To keep yourself motivated you might even want to post your goals on your fridge to keep it in the forefront of your mind year round.
Once you achieve one goal, set a new goal and keep moving forward. The feeling of accomplishment from actively working towards your goals will bring about a large amount of relief from stress and anxiety over your finances.
Step three: Staying focused and motivated
I bet you’re feeling more relieved already just knowing the steps you need to take to start on your path to financial confidence. But how do you stay motivated and focused? After all, the solutions to your financial struggles aren’t going to be resolved over night!
First, it will be important for you to continuously review your finances. It may feel uncomfortable the first few times you do it, but the more you pay attention to what you’re spending your money on the more control you will actually feel like you have over them.
Think about it this way: Keeping tabs on your daily or weekly spending means no more overdrafts or unexpectedly high credit card bills, because you will always know how much money you have spent. Most financial institutions make this easy to do through tools like mobile banking apps.
Another way to stay motivated and focused on your financial goals is to ask for help. Don’t be afraid to sit down with a financial professional to help you review your finances and help you set your financial priorities. They may be able to connect you with helpful tools and resources to make the entire process less painful.
Lastly, you can stay motivated by being kind to yourself. You don’t have to expect perfection on day one. It may take time to change your spending habits or stop relying on credit cards. As long as you are still making active progress toward the goals you have set for yourself, you are on the right track.
You can overcome financial anxiety.
Overcoming the anxiety you have about money boils down to gaining control over your finances through reviewing your accounts and setting goals. To keep yourself motivated it will be important for you to start small and work your way toward bigger goals over time. While all your financial goals may feel equally urgent when you’re stressing about them, the best thing you can do is prioritize your goals. Overcoming your financial anxiety is possible.