Money woes take up a disproportionate amount of space in our brains — this is according to just about every study done on the subject in the last decade.
A recent GOBankingRates poll found Americans fear going broke over a host of much more sinister concerns, including death, homelessness and gaining weight. (They’re more afraid of snakes than losing their jobs, though, so priorities remain intact.)
Keep reading: Why Are More People Afraid of Going Broke Than Dying?
The good news is our financial anxieties are beginning to subside since the recession, according to Gallup. Still, about half of all Americans are at least moderately worried about not having enough money for retirement, unexpected medical costs and maintaining a certain standard of living.
Some of these fears are grounded. If you’re scared you don’t have enough saved for retirement, for example, you’re probably right; more than half of Americans have less than $25,000 in total savings and investments. Other fears are somewhat more unfounded: Take the 53 percent of millennial women who worry about becoming bag ladies.
Regardless, financial anxiety can be crippling, making it difficult to concentrate, process information and control decision-making, according to the Harvard Medical School. Because this type of anxiety is pretty much unavoidable, the best course of action for the ill-at-ease is to find good coping mechanisms. Oprah.com recommends, among other methods, hypnosis and manicures (“primates groom each other to reduce stress”!). Here are five more practical tips.
5 Steps to Cope With Anxiety Over Money
1. Check Your Bank Account Balances Regularly
For one, this will help you figure out whether your concerns are grounded or manufactured. Checking the balances on your accounts regularly will not only keep you updated on how your finances stand, but it’ll also help you avoid making expensive mistakes, like overdrawing your account. That one fee will eat up about 145 percent of the interest you’d earn in a whole year.
More importantly for your sanity, keeping regular tabs on your bank accounts and credit cards removes that nagging concern at the back of your mind that you might be in financial jeopardy. Be upfront with yourself about your exact money situation, and you remove the element of surprise.
2. Triage Your Budget
If your bank accounts are always on the verge of overdraft, you probably need to take another look at your budget anyway (or devise one in the first place). The trick is finding a budget that works for you, not being harder on yourself for falling short of the one you have.
A good budget will provide a workable blueprint for every money move you make day to day. No more need to worry about whether you should be buying something; a budget will take that decision out of your hands. Check out Elizabeth Warren’s 50-30-20 rule or Jean Chatzky’s spending breakdown for two budgets you can easily adopt right away.
3. Build Yourself a Safety Net
Most financial fears concern variables you can’t control: job loss, medical emergencies, totaling the car. The only way to feel prepared for the fallout is to have an emergency fund in place (starting at around $1,000). Unfortunately, most Americans — three out of four — don’t have this buffer.
Regardless of your financial standing, setting this money aside is good sense and will give you the peace of mind that you’re able to weather minor catastrophes. Bonus: You’ll feel like you’re accomplishing something — that self esteem bump is why an emergency fund is the first of Dave Ramsey’s baby steps.
4. Join One of These Support Groups
For those money problems that are too overwhelming to tackle alone, there are groups to help. Here are just a few:
- Debtors Anonymous: 800-421-2383
- Gamblers Anonymous: 626-960-3500
- Shopaholics Anonymous: 248-358-8508
5. Find an Advisor
If we were all experts at managing our money, financial advisors would be out of a job. But we’re not, and they’re not. Advisors aren’t just useful in retirement and investment planning — everyone, from millennials to boomers, can benefit from expert advice on exactly how to prepare for the future, and what to do if their finances aren’t up to snuff.
You also don’t have to be rich to hire a financial planner — you just need to find an affordable one.
Photo credit: Mariana Zanatta