Maybe you’re worried about how to pay your bills, save up for an emergency, or manage your debt. Money stress can quickly turn into financial anxiety, which can make you feel powerless in your situation and unable to make any changes.
If you struggle with financial anxiety, you’re not alone. More than three in four Americans report feeling anxious about their financial situation, and almost 60% feel like their finances control their lives.
Part of the reason I became a financial planner was to help people understand their financial anxiety and empower them, through education, to make smarter, more sustainable financial decisions.
But that doesn’t mean I’m immune to money stress — in fact, I experience the same feelings of financial anxiety that many of my friends and family come to me about.
What is financial anxiety?
Financial anxiety typically centers around uncertainty, instability, and fear of the unknown. In most cases, anxious thoughts are about the future and what may (and may not) happen.
Financial anxiety can range from feeling stressed about your overall financial picture to worrying about more specific issues, like savings, retirement, affording a house, or the cost of your child’s education. It can show up in many different ways, such as avoiding checking your credit card balances, obsessively saving, monitoring your accounts, or endlessly worrying about money. In short — financial anxiety is difficult to deal with. If left unchecked, it can quickly overwhelm you and affect your day-to-day life.
For me, financial anxiety comes up in a number of ways. It could be around short-term factors, like if I feel like I’m overspending in a given month or an unexpected expense popped up and I’m worried I’ll have to dip into savings to cover it. Or it’s focused on reaching my long-term goals, like saving for retirement or buying a new home.
Luckily, years of financial planning have helped me deal with financial anxiety and not let it derail my day (or week). Here’s how I handle it.
4 strategies for dealing with financial anxiety
Ignore catastrophizing and focus on the now
In the past when I felt anxious, I used to imagine the worst possible scenario in an effort to feel more in control of the situation. If I prepared for the worst, I would never be caught off guard, right? Unfortunately, catastrophizing really only feeds into your existing anxiety (and may even uncover more things to be worried about!).
So now, whenever I find myself stressing about money, I try to remember that statistically, only 8% of the things people worry about come true. In other words, nine out of 10 times your worries are unfounded.
Don’t underestimate the power of mindfulness here, especially when it comes to financial worry. If I start to worry about the future, I’ll gently try to bring myself back to the present and ask myself if this is something I can control right now. Most of the time, my stress is based on a hypothetical situation that hasn’t happened yet. There definitely is truth in saying, “we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”
Stay in touch with your money
The less you know about or understand your financial situation, the easier it is for financial anxiety to creep in. Small things like checking your account balances, filling out your budget, or creating a plan to pay off debt can all give you a sense of control over your financial situation and empower you to take steps to improve your finances. It also limits those out-of-control feelings financial anxiety can produce.
Creating a financial plan is the key to building confidence in yourself and vanquishing financial anxiety. While it can be initially stressful to go through your finances, your anxiety will just increase the longer you wait. For many people, ripping off the band-aid is the hardest part — once you get started, you’ll realize it’s typically not as bad as you thought.
Create your ‘why’
What do you want to accomplish in your life? For me, it’s a combination of long-term goals — retiring early and buying a home — and shorter-term goals, like taking a much-anticipated vacation to Japan. It’s easy to want to jump into action and start sorting through all your bank statements. But creating some sort of “why” behind what you do can keep you calm, positive, and focused.
I also make it a point to openly share my financial goals with my family and friends. Not only does it keep me accountable and motivated to stay on track, it also makes me feel more comfortable reaching out to them if I feel like I’ve fallen off track. Talking to someone about your financial situation can reduce overall stress, and your loved ones can often help and encourage you to create a plan to improve.
Live and learn
Everyone makes money mistakes — and I am definitely one of those people. Anytime I’ve messed up financially (whether it be an overpriced purchase or a bad investment) I try to take a second to assess the situation and learn from what I did wrong.
While it can be uncomfortable to admit you messed up, facing your mistake can help you prevent it from happening again and move on — and reduce your anxiety and stress around it.
For me, the best way to control my financial anxiety is to not let it control me. We can’t predict the future, but we can control our actions and how we respond to events or circumstances.
I’m a huge believer in a flexible financial plan and the power of taking action. Some of my worst times of financial stress yielded some of my smartest money decisions, simply because my financial anxiety forced me to review my financial plan again and take action.