In theory, our basic needs are food, shelter, and water. In reality, though, you want a little more than that for you and your loved ones to be happy.
When you’re doing the best you can to create a good life, a lack of money can be an obstacle. Stressing over the inability to pay bills or spend money on wants instead of needs is unhealthy. It's even one of the most common causes of arguments in relationships.
It can seem like all your problems compound when you’re worrying about money. While it isn’t a magic fix, having enough financial stability to take care of your health and wellness is a form of security.
If financial stress is keeping you from living your best life, try these five ways to ease the burden.
1. Don’t Try to Hide Your Problems
You don’t have to tell everyone about your money issues, of course. But keeping all the worries inside and trying to manage them on your own is a recipe for mental and physical health disaster.
At the very least, talk to your significant other, if there is one, to make sure you are both on the same page. When one partner is unaware of the problem, they’re more likely to spend frivolously. It's not their fault; they don't understand the consequences because they don't know there's an issue.
It might be tempting to hide your spending habits out of fear that they will get angry. They probably will, too, if they had no idea what was going on. Eventually, that anger will turn into the realization that you both need to work together to fix the problem.
Financial problems don't go away by themselves. Even if you ignore them, they will eventually make themselves known! Ask for help from a trusted source who can give you smart advice, or at least lend you an ear.
2. Make an Action Plan
You can’t solve a problem without a plan, no matter what type of issue it is.
First, try to identify your financial triggers. What areas of your budget are the most stressful? Focus on one of them at a time.
Look for hot burner problems that need handling before they become major problems.
A credit card that is already late beyond what you can reasonably pay is important, but the damage is already done. Can you take that monthly bill and use the money to get rid of something else before it becomes a fire you have to put out?
Just like that, one bill at a time, check for problems that are realistically too far gone to fix in the moment. You can circle back to them later.
Where can you stop something before it spirals out of control?
Create action steps to get rid of or reduce your money stressors based on what you can handle at that point. Slowly, you’ll be able to tackle more.
You can’t fix everything immediately. However, ignoring it all and hoping it goes away isn’t an option in this case. One bill at a time may be all you can do, and that is fine.
3. Focus on the Solution, Not the Problem
Problem-oriented thinking, or worrying about what could happen, puts you through unnecessary stress. You are overanalyzing and coming up with possibilities for something you can’t control.
In short, you’re stressing yourself out about outcomes that most likely aren’t going to occur! Surely, every consequence you’re imagining isn’t going to happen.
The time you’re spending draining your energy over unknown future events could be better spent in the present. Solution-oriented thinking is what you need here.
With this type of mindset, you identify the problem, but don’t focus on it. Start looking for a solution instead. Baby steps get you further than wallowing in the problem with no action plan to get you moving out of it.
It may not always be possible to think positively, but that doesn't mean you have to spiral into catastrophic worst-case scenarios.
Figure out exactly what you need to do, whether it's getting another job or calling the debt collectors back to talk to them honestly. Then start working toward a solution!
4. Pay Attention to Your Money Habits
By the time you’re really stressing finances, you probably know what’s going out in general. You may have money habits you don’t notice, though.
Start paying attention to how you are spending what you are bringing in. One way to do this is to print out your last two months’ bank statements.
Use multi-colored highlighters to categorize each transaction. For example, one color would be for rent/utilities, one for groceries and fuel, and one for non-essentials like eating out. Where is all your money actually going?
Another way to do this is to grab a notebook and keep track of everything you buy. Everything, even if it only costs a dollar.
Make a list of everything you and anyone with access to your finances buy during the day for one week. Are there any habits that need adjusting, at least while you’re trying to regain economic control?
Sometimes, once we start looking closely at the problem, we can find more information to guide us to a solution.
5. Practice Self-Care
When you think you can’t possibly take the time to do something for yourself because you’re so stressed, that’s when you need it the most.
The typical argument here is that you can’t spend money when you’re trying to save it. But you don’t have to spend money to take care of your mental health!
Whether you want to have company or spend some time by yourself, these are some ideas for free or inexpensive self-care activities:
Have a game night with friends and family members.
Explore a nearby hiking trail.
Spend the evening lying out in your backyard, looking up at the stars and relaxing.
Enjoy a long, candle-lit bubble bath with a book.
Take a walk with a friend and avoid talking about anything stressful.
Self-care is an integral part of managing your mental health while you’re stressed. The financial problems aren’t going to go away, but you can face them easier when your head is on straighter.
The strain of financial stress isn't something you should feel shame over. Millions of people are in the same boat at some time in their lives.
The part you need to focus on is easing the stress so you can walk strong through this season of your life. It will pass and how you handle this time will determine how long the consequences of your financial problems last.
Take control, don’t ignore the issue, and ask for help from those who can guide you. With those actions and these tips, you can put financial woes behind you as quickly as possible and move on with a better life!
Aaron Hunt is the Property Manager of Prime Place UNL, a student apartment complex near UNL.