Many families and small business owners have seen decreases in income over the last several months. Money struggles can cause us to experience stress and worry, and none of us need that right now. Instead we need to boost our immune systems and decrease stress.
Here are some tips on how we can take back control of our finances and reduce our stress around money.
1. Assess your situation.
Take an inventory of your bank accounts, credit cards, and other financial accounts. This helps you to see the entire picture. You can be financially healthy in different ways. For example, you might be low on income coming in but if you have healthy savings or plenty of assets, you might be just fine.
2. Track your spending.
When you can see where the money is going, you can make good decisions about what changes you need to make. Use tracking software like Quicken® or simply a spreadsheet so you can see how much you really need for things like the rent or mortgage, food, utilities, and other necessities.
3. Make any changes that you need to.
If you have more expenses than income, here are several ways to get back in balance:
- Cut any unnecessary spending. For example, trade the expensive $100+ cable bill for a $15 Netflix subscription, at least for a while.
- File your taxes early, especially if you have a refund coming.
- Avoid temptation spending if you don’t have enough for the basics. Remember what’s important and find the will to curb impulses.
- Sell some of the items you own that you no longer need to raise money.
- Get a second job.
- Get support from local nonprofits that can help you if you qualify.
- If you must, dip into your savings or 401(k).
- Ask family members to help.
4. Build a budget and stick with it.
Making a plan helps some people reduce their stress a great deal. They feel good that they now have goals and can develop new habits that will work for their lifestyle.
In your software or spreadsheet, commit to monthly spending limits for each major category: housing and utilities, food, transportation, clothing, entertainment, savings, paying off debt, and other.
Each month, track how you did by comparing your actual spending with your planned spending. Give yourself a grade on how you did, and either reward yourself or make the changes you need to.
5. Pay off debt.
If you have debt, make a plan to pay it off systematically. Here are some ways you can speed that up:
- Pay down the debt that has the highest interest rates. You might even be able to consolidate and refinance your debt to a lower rate.
- Make a payment every single month, even if it’s small.
- See a credit counselor for more ideas on how to get out of debt faster.
6. Build a cushion for the future.
If your spending and income is balanced, but you don’t have a savings cushion, that can also be stressful. You need a safety net to fall back on for times just like these.
Decide on an amount that you can put away for a “rainy day” fund, and stick to it. It’s also never too early to start saving for your retirement years. The younger you start, the more your money will grow into a significant nest egg, providing comfort and flexibility in your final years.
7. Identify any other stressors related to money.
Perhaps a relative constantly asks you for money, and this causes you stress. In this case, you may have to make a “tough love” decision to reduce your stress while maintaining family relationships. These are very personal, individual decisions that include factors far beyond finance. But if they are causing stress, some kind of action should be taken.
8. Make your accounts work for you.
If possible, select credit cards that give cash back, miles, or other perks. Keep you bank balance high enough so that you don’t get charged a monthly fee, and try to get an account that pays interest. You won’t get rich from these things, but they are fun perks that help you save.
9. Invest wisely so you can sleep at night no matter what happens.
Understand your risk tolerance level when it comes to investments, and avoid investments that are too risky. You’ll sleep better at night knowing your money is safe.
Hopefully, these tips will help you decrease your money stress and improve your control over your finances.