We all fall victim to financial stress from time to time, whether it's an unexpected bill, an impending college tuition payment, or an upcoming wedding in the works. But in a new report from Bank of America Merrill Lynch, a growing number of workers are coming clean about their financial stress and the extent to which it's messing with their careers.
Not surprisingly, 56% of employees say they're stressed about their personal finances. Given that 69% of Americans have less than $1,000 in the bank, and that one-third of workers have yet to begin saving for retirement, this data is hardly shocking. But what may be surprising is that 53% of workers claim their financial stress is interfering with their job performance.
Of those who are feeling that financial pressure, millennials are most likely to report that it actually impedes their ability to do their jobs. They're also the most likely to spend time at work dealing with personal finance matters -- four hours a week on average, compared to just one hour for baby boomers.
But it's not just younger workers who spend time stressing when they should otherwise be working. All told, 43% of employees across all age groups spend three or more hours a week focusing on financial matters, during which time their primary tasks inevitably fall by the wayside.
Now we can't all just snap our fingers and hope that our money-related stress magically goes away. But what we can do is take steps to address our primary concerns so that our finances don't end up dragging our careers down.
Take charge of your finances
It's one thing to carry around a bit of financial stress, and maybe even lose sleep over it. But it's another thing to underperform at work because you're so worried about money. If your financial anxiety reaches the point where it detracts from your work, and that impact becomes evident to your managers, it could lead to a dangerous yet ironic cycle where your money troubles cause you to lose your job, thus resulting in even more money troubles.
Your best bet, therefore, is to take control of your finances rather than succumb to the stress they might otherwise cause you. Specifically:
- Create a budget. This will help you track how you spend your money and explain why it always seems to disappear on you. Sticking to a budget will open the door to savings opportunities, which can help alleviate other points of financial stress in your life.
- Build an emergency fund. No matter how old you are or how much you earn, you should always have three to six months' worth of living expenses on hand in an accessible savings account. This way, if you fall ill, lose your job, or encounter any other situation where you don't have an income for quite some time, you'll have money to tap instead of needing to charge every last bill on a credit card.
- Start contributing toward retirement. In the above-mentioned survey, 64% of workers say they're worried about running out of money in retirement. And it's a valid concern, given that most U.S. adults are behind on savings. Though you're allowed to contribute up to $18,000 a year to a 401(k) and $5,500 a year to an IRA ($24,000 and $6,500 if you're 50 or older), socking away any amount is a critical step toward building your nest egg. Saving just $100 a month, for example, over a 30-year period will leave you $113,000 richer if your investments generate an average annual return of 7%.
- Set aside time each week to deal with financial matters. Whether it's a medical bill you need to fight or an investment decision you need to make, we all require time to focus on our finances. Rather than do so at work, allocate a specific time each week to tackle your money woes on your own time. This way, you're more likely to stay on track and meet your on-the-job obligations.
Natural as it is to find yourself tangled in a web of financial stress, don't let things reach the point where they're putting your job on the line. Otherwise, you'll risk losing your single greatest source of income, and with that will come a whole new world of money-related anxiety.