Deep breaths, y'all. It's gonna be okay. If you are reading this, chances are you're coping with anxiety about your finances and are looking for some relief from those emotions. Well, I'm definitely one who has been there!
I probably have more panic attacks about money than about any other subject. Since I am the main bill-payer/bookkeeper/accountant of the family, I know all the details about our financial situation. And being privy to the inside information means I do not live in the bliss of ignorance. Instead, I am well-versed in tossing and turning through the night, because my mind won't shut off about how scary the finances are. Trust me when I tell you that I have been learning for decades about coping with anxiety about money. I won't claim that I have fully conquered this monster, but I do have several suggestions for making it a little easier.
My Tips for Coping with Anxiety about Money
1) Have a plan. If you haven't already, make a budget. A budget is nothing more than a list of all the categories for which you want to spend money, and how much you want to spend for each one. How much should be spent on food, how much on clothing, etc. Spending money without a plan is a sure recipe for insecurity, because you never really know where you stand.
Also, making a budget can help you develop a schedule for paying off debt. I hate debt; having it definitely contributes to my anxiety. It's a drag to have to pay someone for something I bought in the past, before I can do anything with my money NOW. When I have a plan for how long it will take to pay off, I feel at least a little better.
Then there are long-term financial goals that it's also good to plan for. One of the goals I'm working on right now is to get to the point of living on last month's income. Delineating the goal and creating a plan for working towards it helps me feel more on top of the big picture.
Thinking these things through and setting them down on paper means you are fully informed about how much money you have and what you want to do with it. This goes a long way towards lessening anxiety.
2) Work the plan. One of the commonalities of the times when I am anxious about money is that I am invariably feeling like everything is out of my control. In reality, what is most likely happening is that I am not working the plan. I am probably ignoring it, in fact, because I've gotten lazy or unmotivated. Unfortunately, that leads to money being spent in other places than I've budgeted, and now I have to take emergency measures to straighten things out and get back on track… which sabotages the next month or two… and my stress level climbs rapidly. It is important after making a plan to actually DO it. This does take discipline over the long haul; but if we want to avoid anxiety, we need to act like adults and follow through with what we've planned.
3) Communicate with your significant other. Just because I am the accountant of the family does not mean I can't go to my husband when I am stressed about the finances. I can ask him for help to figure out a tough problem, or just for encouragement that we're headed in the right direction. When necessary, we can figure out a new plan together. I don't have to shoulder this whole thing on my own — nor should I! Knowing someone is with me in this struggle to make ends meet is a huge help in coping with anxiety. (If you don't have a close friend to go to, finding a financial counselor is another possible way to alleviate that sense of being alone in your situation.)
Also, don't procrastinate about communicating with whoever you owe money to. Trust me, it is not a good idea to avoid this. Anxiety is allayed after coming clean, because then you can set up a payment plan and get back on top of things again. It WILL feel better to just pick up the phone and call.
4) Remember that life happens. It just does, y'all, and it will continue to do so. Your well-thought-out plan may have to be changed due to illness or job loss or just the need for a new washing machine. This can be discouraging and anxiety-provoking, but it is important to learn to “roll with the punches,” as the folks at YNAB (You Need a Budget) say. If we've been working our plan, we might have enough set aside to deal with the issue (which is what happened to me recently — read my update on our attempts to live on last month's income). The fact is that life is not static — it is constantly changing. We get our heads set in one direction, though, and then we have a hard time giving that mindset up when necessary. But flexibility is a key to reducing anxiety.
5) The other really big thing to remember is that we Americans are in fact quite rich compared to others in the world. I don't want to sound obnoxious to my international readers — the same is probably true for them, actually. (Really, anybody who has access to a computer is probably doing just fine.) But there are many places in the world where home is a 10 x 10 shack and food is rice and beans every day. I went on a missions trip in college and saw this with my own eyes. There is a reason our moms told us to remember that there are starving children in Africa — because there are!! And to complain or get uptight because I cannot have the latest thingamabob I think I need is just silly. I must remember to stop feeling sorry for myself or confusing wants with needs. Seeing how the other half lives is one way to remind us that our fears about money are really groundless. We will still most likely have a roof over our heads and food in our bellies. Many do not.
Have I fully mastered the art of coping with anxiety about money? Nope. But these tips do help a lot. The other thing I do is remember Matthew 6:33 — “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” There are higher goals to strive for than just acquiring money. When I remember them, the anxiety tends to fade significantly.
Now all I need is to strike oil in my back yard… ;-)