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Budgeting

How to Deal With Financial Stress

Your palms are sweaty, you haven’t been able to sleep soundly for a week, and your stomach’s in knots. You might be suffering from a little something called financial stress. But don’t worry—you aren’t alone.

You guys, 78% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck . . . every single month.1 That means their money is going out the same month it’s coming in. It’s like a dangerous, tense balancing act, and any second you feel like you could tip over. And then what?

This could be part of the reason financial stress is so common. A study by the American Psychological Association found that 72% of Americans feel stressed about money.2 Our research shows Americans rank personal finances and money as their number one cause of significant stress.

You don’t have to live like that.  There is hope. There is a way out. In fact, I’ve got 12 specific ways to help you lower that money stress and start feeling peace—and even empowerment—with your money.

What Is Financial Stress?

Before we talk about how to fix it, let’s define it. Financial stress is worry, fear and anxiety about finances. Sometimes, it can even cause physical symptoms like insomnia, headaches, fatigue and more.3 And if you’ve ever experienced any form of stress when it comes to your money, you probably know exactly what that feels like.

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Financial stress can sneak up on you out of nowhere. Usually, you know exactly what it is when it rears its ugly head. (Yeah. It’s not pretty.) But if you’re suffering through financial stress, the surefire way to figure it out is by identifying the symptoms. Here’s what to look for:

  • Anxiety
  • Worry
  • Depression
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Gaining/losing weight
  • Physical and health issues
  • Poor coping habits

. . . and that’s just to name a few.4

Financial stress has also taken a toll on marriages nationwide. At Ramsey Solutions, we did a study that found that money is the number one issue married couples argue about, and “41% of couples who have consumer debt say that they argue about money—and it’s what they argue about the most.”

Listen guys, financial stress doesn’t have to take over your life—or your marriage. It’s time to change your money mindset.

How to Deal With Financial Stress

But how? How can you ditch the financial stress and start feeling peace with your money? With these 12 actions.

1. Take inventory.

I know it’s scary, but it’s time to open that junk drawer you’ve been stashing all those old bills in. Believe me—just because the problem isn’t in plain sight, doesn’t mean it’s not there. And it may not seem like it now, but facing those bills head on is the most helpful thing you can do to start relieving your stress.

2. Make a budget (and stick to it)!

It may seem weird, but a budget actually gives you more freedom! Taking inventory of your bills will help put you back in the driver’s seat of your finances. That way, once you know what you’re dealing with, you can come up with a plan of attack—a zero-based budget:

  • First, write down your income.
  • Then, write down your expenses.
  • Now, subtract your expenses from your income until it equals zero!

Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean you have nothing in the bank. It just means you’ve given every single dollar a purpose and a job to do.

Making a budget each month will help you determine if you’re spending more than you make and, if so, where you might need to cut back. I hear all the time that people feel like they’ve gotten a raise once they do a budget—and who doesn’t love finding money?

Okay, but maybe you’re thinking right now that even the idea of budgeting actually causes you way more stress. I get it. I didn’t like budgeting at first either. (Yup, this budgeting expert didn’t like budgeting once!)

But can I tell you something? First, it’s worth it. Yes, it can be a challenge at the beginning—but budgeting is how you get where you want to be with your money. It takes about three months to get the hang of budgeting, but once you do, you’ll start feeling really comfortable with it—and even good at it! So don’t skip this step!

Second, it’s way easier to budget with a really fantastic budgeting tool. And I happen to know one that’s free. It’s called EveryDollar, and it’s what my husband and I use every single month to budget. So go check it out!

Listen: In a stressful time of feeling like things are out of control, budgeting puts you in charge, which relieves stress. Big time.

3. Have budget meetings.

You don’t have to go this alone. Read that again and feel the stress ease a little.

You don’t have to go this alone.

Budgeting can be hard. But doing hard things is easier when you connect with others who are in the same situation. That’s why you need to have regular budget meetings with someone to help keep you accountable—someone who’s encouraging enough to cheer you on and bold enough to call you out.

Got a spouse? You’ve got instant accountability. If you’re single, find a trustworthy person and sit down with them every month to check in and set up the next budget. Doing this together will help you both move forward!

4. Track your expenses.

If you want to stop feeling stressed about money, you’ve got to change your actions with money. That starts with budgeting. And if you want to budget well, you’ve got to track your expenses. Every. Single. One.

Tracking your expenses keeps you in your budget and on top of your spending. You’ll see where your money’s going so you’re not wondering where it went. If you see a budget line is getting low, you can move things around or just plain stop spending money!

Want help with this? Try out the premium version of EveryDollar that connects your bank account to your budget. Your transactions stream in automatically, and you just drag and drop them to the right budget line. It’s how you track expenses quickly and accurately.

5. Build an emergency fund.

Life happens. Worrying about that will give you anxiety. But being prepared with an emergency fund will give you peace of mind.

Start with $1,000 for a starter emergency fund. Then after you’ve paid off all your debt (which I’ll explain next), save for 3–6 months of expenses. Trust me: Knowing you can stand up against a financial threat will get you to that great night of sleep quicker than the softest pillows in the world.

6. Pay off all your debt.

Our research shows that nearly half (46%) of Americans say their debt level creates stress and makes them anxious. But you don’t have to live that way. Just imagine what it would be like if you didn’t have to keep giving your paycheck to student loans, credit cards, medical debt, vacations and more. Seriously—just imagine!

When you know your why, you’re ready to start attacking that debt with a vengeance! And I’ve got a plan for how to do just that: It’s called the debt snowball. Here’s how it works:

Step 1: List your debts smallest to largest, regardless of interest rate. Pay minimum payments on everything but the little one.

Step 2: Attack the smallest debt with everything you’ve got. Once that debt is gone, take that payment (and any extra money you can squeeze out of the budget) and apply it to the second-smallest debt while continuing to make minimum payments on the rest.

Step 3: Once that debt is gone, take its payment, and apply it to the next-smallest debt. The more you pay off, the more your freed-up money grows and gets thrown onto the next debt—like a snowball rolling downhill.

It’s worth mentioning: If you’re in the middle of any kind of emergency (like a job loss, major home repairs or a medical crisis), things may need to look a little different.

The best thing to do in that case is only pay minimum payments on your debt and focus on taking care of your Four Walls instead: food, utilities, shelter and transportation. This will help you stay afloat until things get back to normal.

And if you’ve got debt collectors calling, your priority should still be taking care of yourself and your family. The credit card company can wait!

Once you get rid of your debt, you’ll never look back. Because the future will feel so weightless without the weight of debt, moving forward will be your only option.

7. Talk to a financial coach.

If you want to get out of your own head and get some money guidance from a professional, talk to one of our financial coaches. Not an opinionated neighbor or family member—but an actual, highly trained coach. They’ll help you create a personalized plan based on your life and your goals so you can move from being stressed with your money to having direction.

8. Get a side hustle.

First of all, make sure you know that upping your income, in and of itself, won’t solve any problems. You have to be serious about making the best money decisions, whatever your income.

But if you’re doing the right steps and still feeling stressed with your finances and strapped for cash, getting a side hustle could give you the boost you need to ease that tension. Just make sure any extra money you bring in gets a job in your budget so you don’t mindlessly spend it!

9. Cut out emotional spending.

When you’re stressed, you might try to find some instant relief in emotional spending or impulse buys. It’s a quick jolt of satisfaction, followed by guilt, a tightened budget, debt or even a serious shopping addiction.

The thing is, retail therapy may seem like a good idea in the moment. And it can help you forget your stress—for a moment. But it’s not going to fix the problem. It’s just going to make it worse. So instead of running to the store or your online apps to try to forget your worries, work through this list to actually deal with financial stress.

10. Start giving.

I believe in giving. Always. Tithing to your church, donating to charities, supporting worthy causes—even if you’re in debt. It may sound crazy, but it’s actually super valuable.

Generosity shifts our focus off our problems and our financial shortcomings. And when you share your income, you appreciate it more. You stress less. Contentment doesn’t come when we have enough—it comes when we see that what we have is enough. When you give, everyone wins.

11. Practice gratitude.

Speaking of gratitude . . . if you want to know how to deal with financial stress, work on your contentment. Because if you’re constantly comparing yourself to others, you’re going to be stressed over what they have and you don’t. And if you’re stuck with a serious case of “want-itis” (the urge to buy things just because you want them), you can’t find peace in how things are now. Plus, both of these things tempt you to overspend, which just makes financial stress worse.

Learn what triggers your comparisons and want-itis. Then start limiting your exposure to that thing. (Yup, I’m looking at you, social media!) Get yourself out of the habit of scrolling and into the habit of gratitude.

12. Set goals.

When you’re stressed to the limit, it might be hard to set money goals. But goals can help keep you going. So work on setting some right away!

Don’t worry if your goals seem kind of small right now. Make them what you need them to be. Right now, one of your money goals might be scraping up the $1,000 starter emergency fund. You might be ready to destroy your debt. Or you could be thinking about buying a house or saving for retirement. It’s important to set money goals and to remember every monthly budget plays a part in making those future dreams come true!

If you don’t know where to start, follow the 7 Baby Steps. This is the best way to get you from being broke and broken to building wealth and giving.

The Baby Steps cover everything from saving for emergencies, paying off debt, and investing to saving for your kid’s college fund, paying off your home, and building wealth so you can give generously.

With each step, you’ll feel the stress and worry fall away as you journey toward financial contentment.

You Can Beat Financial Stress

Take a deep breath. No, really. Take a deep breath. Remind yourself you’re going to be okay. In fact—you’ll be better than okay.

No matter what kind of stress you’re going through, there’s always hope! If you want even more practical advice, and you’re ready to dig deeper into how to deal with financial stress (and finances in general!), get a copy of my new book, Know Yourself, Know Your Money. You’ll see how your personality and your past affect how you deal with money. Then you can start setting goals and making them happen as you find peace and contentment with your finances. For good.  

You can beat financial stress. I know it. And I’m rooting for you along the way!

Rachel Cruze

About the author

Rachel Cruze

Rachel Cruze is a #1 New York Times bestselling author, financial expert, and host of The Rachel Cruze Show. Rachel writes and speaks on personal finances, budgeting, investing and money trends. As a co-host of The Ramsey Show, America’s second-largest talk radio show, Rachel reaches 18 million weekly listeners with her personal finance advice. She has appeared on Good Morning America and Fox News and has been featured in publications such as Time, Real Simple and Women’s Health magazines. Through her shows, books, syndicated columns and speaking events, Rachel shares fun, practical ways to take control of your money and create a life you love. Learn More.

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