If you spend time worrying about your money and your financial future, you’re not alone. According to a Gallup Poll on personal finances, 51% of Americans worry they won’t have enough money for retirement (up from the prior year).
I find that some people experience financial anxiety only when something unexpected comes up, such as a sudden major medical expense. For others, it’s a consistent undercurrent when it comes to dealing with their finances.
No matter the reason for your worry, the truth is that worrying about it isn’t going to lead to a solution. If anything, it can cause more problems, such as increasing your risk of heart attacks, digestive upset, and short-term memory loss. In the book Scarcity, researchers even found that when people are in major financial distress their IQ can actually drop. How can you make a good financial decision if you aren’t thinking clearly?
Instead of worrying, put your energy into effectively reducing your financial anxiety.
Here’s What You Can Do About It:
1. Make a Plan – Most people worry about their money and never look at what they can do about it. Are you worried about running out of money? Then you need to create a spending plan. Get real and honest about what you are spending and what you need going forward. If things are a bit lean right now, cut back. Always remember, cutting back now doesn’t mean cutting back forever.If you’re worried about not having enough money in retirement, then figure out what you actually need. You can start getting an idea of what you need with one of many online retirement calculators, or you might choose to work with an advisor to help you.If it’s some amorphous future financial threat that keeps you up at night, then build your financial cash cushion (or solutions fund as my friend Denise calls it) so you’ll be able to weather a storm.
2. Focus Elsewhere – Your financial situation may be difficult, but chances are you are way better off than most other people. The median income worldwide is just under $10,000. The median per capita income in the 10 wealthiest countries is 50 times that of the poorest nations (all in sub-Saharan Africa).My guess is that right in your own community, there are people who are suffering and could use your help. If you can’t help them financially right now, maybe you can support them by volunteering. Putting your attention on others is a great way to move your happiness level up (and worry level down).When I was miserable in my first job in public accounting, I decided to volunteer as a “friendly visitor” for an elderly woman in Chicago. Each week, I’d visit with Elizabeth and keep her company. Within a few months, I had a new job (which ended up being a new career for me). I believe that volunteering and finding a new job were related. When you take your attention off your problems, solutions find their way to you.
3. Turn Off the TV – Having a steady stream of financial news blaring at you just might be the source of your money anxiety. The financial news channels don’t make money by telling you “everything will be okay!” You might be suffering from “data asphyxiation.” Too much information can not only increase your anxiety levels, but may also reduce your creativity.
4. Meditate – Slowing the chatter in your mind can help you feel calmer. There are all sorts of researched benefits of meditation which include increased concentration, reduced stress, improved health benefits (some studies even show lower medical costs), as well as higher work efficiency. These all sound like smart money moves to me.
5. Stay Thankful – A regular gratitude practice has all sorts of yummy benefits. It’s good for your health and your wealth. Even just a short focus on what you are grateful for each day can help reduce your stress levels. If the markets are volatile and you are feeling your mood changing with stock price fluctuations – stop and take “stock” in what you’re thankful for. I’ve been using the Five Minute Journal daily for several months now, and love the easy practice of noting what I’m thankful for at the start of each day.
You might feel like worrying about money is just what you do. It doesn’t have to be. Taking a few steps to reducing financial anxiety will not only help you feel better, but just might help your financial situation.