Americans are certainly no strangers to financial stress. Studies have found that nearly one in four Americans suffers symptoms similar to those of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) directly tied to financial issues. And for millennials, that number jumps to nearly one in three.
It’s no wonder so many people are looking for ways to eliminate this stress and manage their finances. Unfortunately, many take things too far in the opposite direction, getting their money under control but living a sparse lifestyle that brings little joy. As with all things, balance is key.
Read on to learn more about reducing your financial stress responsibly.
An emergency fund is money set aside to be used only in the event of an actual emergency: an illness, auto accident, home repair, job loss, or other surprise you might not otherwise have the funds for. Building an emergency fund is smart and responsible, and knowing you have some buffer between yourself and the realities of life can be a huge source of financial relief.
Many experts recommend setting aside between three and six months of living expenses as an emergency fund. Obviously, this is an ideal amount—it will take most people a while to save that much. However, having such a large buffer ensures that even in an emergency, you can cover all your essential bills without worry.
While it’s true that budgets are no fun and that many people do okay without them, having one can make you feel much more in control of your money.
A proper budget should account for every expense—no vague, miscellaneous categories. If you’ve never done a budget before, this task can seem daunting, but there are numerous resources available to help you get started. The trickiest part of a budget isn’t making it, though. It’s sticking to it. After you’ve used your budget for a little while, revisit it and make adjustments if necessary.
It’s a good idea to periodically review your insurance policies to see if you’re still getting the best value. New policy rules may cause insurance premiums and deductibles to drop, or new providers in your area may offer a lower price for comparable coverage.
Insurance needs can also change over time, and you may find yourself paying for coverage you don’t really need anymore. For example, you can save by reducing coverage on older cars that may not need comprehensive and collision coverage. Alternatively, if you’re driving an expensive car, it may make sense financially to increase insurance coverage to avoid a large out-of-pocket expense in the event of an accident.
While it makes sense to cut back on entertainment since it’s not strictly a necessity, it’s probably better for you if you leave a small budget for relaxation.
Why? Well, all work and no play is a surefire way to raise your stress levels—the opposite of what you’re trying to do. Long-term stress has significant negative impacts on health and well-being. Leaving yourself at least a small budget to do something fun can go a long way towards helping you unwind. Even just $50 a month to go to dinner and a movie with a friend can be worth a sacrifice in another area.
Other areas where people can cut back are cable, internet, and cell service. Instead of cutting cable entirely or reducing internet speed to a crawl, first see if you can find a better deal. Often, if you call your provider and mention you’re leaving, they’ll suddenly find an amazing deal on the same (or better) service.
And sometimes, it’s worth jumping ship for a competitor. Many providers offer discounts to those willing to leave their current providers.
If you’re sure you want to drop cable, you can also consider leaving your internet intact and using a streaming service such as Hulu or Sling TV to get your entertainment fix at a lower price. This tip is in the same vein as slashing your entertainment budget to zero—losing the outlet for stress can be worse than the financial hit of keeping it.
Don’t skip meals just because you’re trying to tighten your budget. While it’ll definitely lighten the load on your wallet, there are better ways to save money. Eating at restaurants can be a significant source of spending for some, but we’re trying to reduce stress, and not eating at all isn’t going to help.
Instead of skipping lunch, buy affordable ingredients and pack a lunch for yourself every day, which can save you as much as $1,500 per year. That’s not the only benefit, either—packing your lunch also allows you to eat healthy options and gives you a routine to look forward to, further reducing stress.
Sometimes, just having a better idea of what you’re doing can make you feel more in control and empowered. The reality for many people is that they just never learned to manage money. Either their parents didn’t teach them, or they did but taught them bad spending habits. Or maybe they know on a technical level what they should be doing to manage their money, but when it comes to the implementation, things fall flat.
If any of those scenarios sounds familiar, consider taking a money management course. There are plenty of great options out there, from Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University to free courses on sites such as Udemy and Coursera. There are a variety of management methods, but most of them teach the same basics: building a budget, setting aside an emergency fund, and paying off debt.
Working toward a sound financial future is an excellent goal. There are plenty of ways to responsibly reduce financial stress and secure your finances, and these ideas should get you off to a great start.