‘Money stress’. The words alone can fill you with anxiety. Luckily, we’re here to help. Read on for our comprehensive guide on how to deal with money stress, or when financial worries are dragging you down.
What is Money Stress?
Money stress is usualy when you feel overwhelmed, anxious, or low about issues concerning money. This might happen if you have to suddenly make a large payment or if you lose your job.
Money stress feels so big when you’re in it that it can seem impossible to get your head around. The first step to beating it is to recognise that the root of the problem is very simple. The issue is almost always in one of two areas (or some combination of them). You either have an income problem or a spending problem.
Simply put, you’re either not making enough, or you’re spending too much. One way or another, you’re struggling to pay your bills, or you’re close to struggling.
But don’t worry! It happens to everyone, and we’re here to talk you through it.
How it Happens
When facing up to money troubles, the most important thing to remember is that we all go through them from time to time. No two situations are the same, but most have one of three causes: shocks, lifestyle, and pre-existing issues.
Shocks are unexpected changes to your cash flow. Think having to pay out for an expensive car part or suddenly losing your job.
Lifestyle covers major changes to the way you live, which require you to reconsider your budget and reallocate your funds. Getting married is one example, and having kids is another: both are costly and often intimidating!
Pre-existing issues can be the hardest to confront. This category covers everything, from a chronic health condition to diagnosed mental illness, to troublesome spending habits that are hard to shake.
Obviously, each of these issues will need a different remedy. The one thing common to all of them is that key problem – struggling to meet your expenses. And it’s that element we’re tackling today.
No matter where your money stress came from, it’s absolutely crucial that you remember – don’t panic. It was good enough for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and it’s good enough here. The problem likely isn’t as big as it looks, and you’ll never solve it unless you keep it in perspective. Not panicking is the best way to keep things manageable.
If you’re already in panic mode, you want to put yourself in a better position to managing your situation. One good thing to do would be to call a friend or family member for a chat. You don’t have to come to any conclusions or resolutions, but you’ll feel better having talked it through with them. They could have some useful advice, too.
A lot of money worries happen at night while trying to sleep. If you’re struggling to get some shut-eye form worrying about money, my best suggestion is to try and distract yourself with a book or something on tv, get some rest, and deal with it in the morning.
Panicking can make the problem much worse. It can lead to anxiety about everyday things that are essential to managing a healthy budget. If you’re already suffering from money stress, the last thing you need is to find yourself too worried to answer the phone, contact the lender, or check your post.
Panicking can also negatively impact your mental health, which can then make your financial situation worse in other ways. For example, by causing you to perform less well at work or by leading you to spend on things you don’t need. Panicking creates a cycle where it becomes tempting to bury your head in the sand, making the problem worse. So stay calm and don’t forget to breathe!
Take Back Control
This is very apt when it comes to managing your finances. Money stress can make you feel like your financial situation controls you. Here are some practical tips for staying in the driver’s seat:
Check in With Yourself
Note what you’re spending, why, and when. Keeping a close eye on your income and expenses is crucial to managing them.
Checking in regularly will allow you to build up a budget. What regular expenses do you have? Think food, rent, bills, and the like. Turn your spending diary into a framework, so you know what you’re working with each month and each week – and make sure to keep checking your actual expenses against your budget!
While panicking can create a vicious circle, staying calm and monitoring your cashflow gets easier the more you do it.
Now you have a framework for what you spend and how much you have to cover it. Checking your spending against this budget will help identify and cut inessential spending. Note that this doesn’t just mean frivolous things. If you find that your weekly grocery shop is eating up a large portion of your wages, consider cheaper options – bulk buying easy-to-store essentials, switching to own-brand toiletries, and so on.
Practising these three habits will make you more conscious of your spending and give you more control. Having a structure will keep you from feeling guilty about any spending. If you’re under budget, it’s more than okay to put some of that spare cash into a nice meal with friends. Which leads us to our next suggestion …
After all, what are friends for? Whether you just need someone to vent to or more active help managing your money stress, you should absolutely engage with the people who care most about you.
After all, as Bill Withers sang, we all need somebody to lean on …
In some cases, especially if you’re worried you’ll miss a payment, it may be necessary to tell any lenders what you’re worried about. Banks often have specific teams to help with things like this, so try dropping them a call and explaining your worries. Some banks will hold off on adding interest or on contacting you. You may even be able to delay payments or work out a more manageable way to pay off debt. Just be honest, and have all of the information you think you’ll need to take them through before you begin the call.
If Someone Else is Affected…
You might be tempted to hide money troubles – maybe you’re embarrassed, or reluctant to be seen reaching out. These feelings are natural, but if anyone is directly affected by your financial situation, you should let them know. If you owe a friend some funds, if you’re finding it hard to maintain your social life, or if you’re struggling to support your family, you’re much better off if you open up.
Not talking can contribute to your stress and make the situation even worse. Talking brings the problem into the open and can be a crucial first step in managing it.
If You Can’t Get Started…
We’ve all been there. You have a problem, and you turn to the internet for help. You read a few posts, and you nod your head at all the sensible tips – but you know you’ll never act on them. Maybe the stress is too much to face head on, or maybe you have a pre-existing issue which makes managing hard.
Regardless, we’re never too far gone to pull ourselves back – we just sometimes need another hand on the rope. Turning to people you trust can help you bring things under control. They may be more objective about your situation and can provide moral support when you make those difficult financial decisions.
If It’s Still Too Much…
Finally, if your money stress is simply too overwhelming, don’t be afraid to reach beyond your social circle and seek professional help. This can take any form: financial advisors for the money component to counsellors for your mental health. Doctors are also on hand to help with the mental effects of money stress. Your GP is a great place to start – we’re blessed with free access to appointments in this country, and you should absolutely make use of them. There’s no shame in reaching out!
This guidance should help you bring your money worries under control. The most important tip is not to panic. In addition to creating a budget and tackling your problems, not panicking also means keeping to some sort of a routine: get out of bed, go to work, eat regularly, and so on.
And don’t forget to stay social and stay active! If a gym membership or sports club is too expensive, consider body-weight type exercises at home such as press-ups and sit-ups, or going for a run. Similarly, you can save on your social activities by meeting friends in a park rather than the pub. Get creative with managing your money stress!
Citizens Advice and gov.uk both have a lot of materials on redundancy, dismissal, benefits, and the like, and the NHS website has many pages on eating healthy and keeping fit on a budget.
If you want to chat, the Money Advice Service can be reached at 0800 138 7777, and the National Debtline at 0808 808 4000.
Finally, if you’re struggling with mental health, try www.mentalhealthandmoneyadvice.org and www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/money-and-mental-health
Money stress can feel overwhelming, but remember, you’re not alone. We know you can beat this!
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Last updated by Robert Edwards, April 2022