Simply put, financial stress is worrying about money. We’ve all been there and know how terrible it is. Now let’s look at how to deal with it and – more importantly – how to avoid it.
We often think about financial stress as a heavy cloud hanging over our heads, or a feeling of worry and anxiety that doesn’t go away. While this is true, our behaviour can also give clues that our finances are worrying us. Here are sure-fire signs that you are suffering from financial stress:
- Overdue bills – the fact that you are not paying your bills, is a clear sign that you are in financial trouble.
- Poor sleeping – when you worry, you usually struggle to sleep.
- Thinking about money all the time is a sure sign that your finances are stressing you out.
- Money arguments with your partner, children or other family members.
- Withdrawing from others – we often stay away from our friends because we feel ashamed of our money troubles.
- Overspending – some people hide from their problem by spending money they don’t have.
- When you drink more or take drugs to feel better, you know you need help.
The causes of financial stress are most often a combination of factors internal to you (i.e your own behaviour) and your life, and external factors, (i.e, other people’s behaviours).
- Rising fuel, food, education and medical costs impact us all. We have no control over them, which can make you feel hopeless and helpless.
- How much you earn is often not up to you – you can’t give yourself a raise or a bonus!
- Emergencies happen to everyone – your car breaks or your child needs an operation.
- Family expectations can cause a lot of financial stress. ‘Black tax’ is probably something most of us know.
- When you budget poorly or not at all, you cannot spend your money wisely.
- Only by tracking your expenses can you know where your money goes and what you need to do to manage it better.
- Buying without thinking about your bigger picture is a major cause of financial stress.
- Trying to keep up is like giving your money to other people to spend.
When you improve your own behaviour, you will be in a better position to respond to the external factors that can lead to financial stress.
Financial stress can feel overwhelming. Therefore, don’t try to fix everything at once. Take it step by step.
1. Ask for help. This can be the most difficult thing to do, but it is also the most important. Even if you just talk to a friend you trust, sharing your worries will help give you perspective and calm you down.
2. Understand your position. Knowing that you are in trouble is not enough. You need to know the numbers. Get your latest credit report to see what all your debts are. If possible, do this with a friend you trust so you don’t feel alone and overwhelmed.
3. Draw up a budget or rework the budget you have, using your new understanding of your financial position.
4. Using your budget, look at what you can do to bring your debt under control, eg, debt consolidation, or negotiate a deal with credit providers to catch up on missed payments.
5. Track your expenses like a boss – you should know where every rand goes.
6. Give up expensive habits that are often also bad for your health, such as drinking, smoking and eating junk food.
7. Stop spending on impulse. Think about every purchase in the context of your budget and your debt control measures. For example, if you love online shopping, stay offline or ask to be suspended from the sites where you spend too much.
8. Start saving and track your growing balance to keep you motivated.
9. Put an emergency fund in place so that you can deal with unexpected expenses without taking on unplanned debt.
10. If you are a member of a household or a family, you cannot solve the money problems on your own. You must talk to your partner, children and other family members and get their support.
It is critical to also take care of your physical and mental health and wellbeing as part of dealing with your financial stress.
- Get some exercise. Even if you just go for a walk, moving your body is a great way to deal with stress.
- Eat as well as you can. Try to eat less sweets and snacks and more fruit and vegetables. Drink more water and less cold drinks (that will save you money too!).
- Help yourself to sleep better. Go to bed earlier, switch off your screens at least an hour before bedtime, calm your mind by reading a good book.
- Make an effort to socialise. See your friends or your favourite family members, or make an effort to talk to the cashier in the store when you do your shopping.
- Have some fun! This is so important. Don’t get so focused on your money that you forget to live. Enjoying your life will help to keep you happy and healthy. When you look at how much you can afford to spend each month, try to budget in a certain amount just for fun, or find free things to do, like playing in a park with your kids.