How To Ease Financial Stress—and Achieve a Healthier You
You can boost your credit score and your mental health by following this game plan.
When you think about setting personal goals, you may choose to focus on, say, your health or your finances. But did you know you can improve both at the same time?
A recent study by the American Psychological Association shows a relationship between financial stress and poorer health. In addition to contributing to anxiety and depression, chronic stress can worsen other conditions—such as heart disease, diabetes, insomnia, high blood pressure and gastrointestinal problems.
Four Warning Signs You’re Under Financial Stress
Are you experiencing money-related anxiety? These common symptoms may signal a problem.
You fight about money. Financial stress creates anxiety, which can cause you to be short with others, especially those closest to you.
You lie awake at night. Obsessing over money problems can make sleeping tough, which further impacts your physical health.
You feel angry and afraid—maybe even worthless. When you feel like your finances have spun out of control, your sense of self-worth may decline.
You’re tired; you’ve lost your appetite. Being stressed and depressed about money can be physically exhausting and could even kill your appetite.
If you identify with one or more of these symptoms, don’t despair. Instead, make that health-finances connection work for you in a positive way. Here are five steps that can help you improve both your financial outlook and your well-being:
1. Identify your financial concerns.
Begin by identifying the source of your financial stress, such as credit card debt or a lack of savings. Or perhaps you’re concerned about how your family will pay the bills if you lose your job.
How this eases financial stress: Knowing you have a problem is the first step. If you don’t have all the answers, don’t worry. “There are people who can help you along the way,” says Steve Milbeck, chief trust officer for AAA Banking Services. “You don’t have to go it alone.”
2. Make a plan.
After you identify the cause of your concerns, dive deeper into the specifics so you can create a plan that works for you. If your concern is outstanding debt, for example, make a list of everything you owe. And don’t forget to consider other options that can help address your financial issues, like inquiring about payment plans, savings options or lower interest rates on credit cards. Once you’ve pinpointed what you need to do and what to work toward, prioritize your items into a step-by-step plan.
How this eases financial stress: It may feel overwhelming now, but knowing exactly what you owe is a great starting point for creating a plan that will reduce your stress, according to the American Psychological Association.
3. Set up a monthly budget.
To set a realistic budget, first become familiar with your income and living expenses. From there, you can allocate what you need for groceries, rent/mortgage payments, utilities, savings and other bills. Next, look for new ways to save. Spending too much on dining out? Try cooking at home more. Instead of that week-long vacation, plan a staycation centered on nearby fun. Cutting back on expenses can help you put more money toward your financial goals.
How this eases financial stress: Keeping track of your money will help you feel empowered because you’ll know exactly how much you have—and what you can do with it.
4. Put your plan into action.
This step is rather simple: Give your plan the green light. But as you embark on your journey to financial freedom, remember that things can change and that you don’t always have to stick to what you have on paper. For example, if you find yourself with extra cash each month, consider increasing your monthly debt payments. Or if money becomes tight while you’re paying off credit card debt, consider negotiating for reduced interest rates.
How this eases financial stress: The mere act of starting to dig yourself out of a financial hole is a positive first step in lowering stress. “Once you’ve begun to address your financial concerns, remember to celebrate the victories—however small—which will motivate you for the next challenge,” says Milbeck.
5. Prepare for the future.
Want to set your family up for success should the unexpected happen? It might be time to look at your life insurance policy. Life insurance payouts are often protected from creditors, so your policy could help protect loved ones who might otherwise be responsible for your outstanding debt.
How this eases financial stress: With your life insurance firmed up, you can feel at ease knowing you've helped support your loved ones when you’re gone.