Worrying about money is something that many of us do on a regular basis. Your electric bill comes in higher than usual. Your car needs repairs out of the blue. Your landlord raises your rent, or your property taxes go up. It's easy enough to let life's many expenses throw you for a loop, but there's a difference between reacting to specific trigger events and walking around day in, day out feeling perpetually stressed about money. Unfortunately, the latter describes the reality that most Americans face.
According to a 2016 study by Northwestern Mutual, 85% of U.S. adults suffer from financial anxiety. Furthermore, over the past three years, 36% of Americans have grown increasingly anxious over their finances. More than a quarter of Americans say they worry about their finances at least once a day, and 67% claim that financial anxiety impacts various aspects of their health. Not only is financial anxiety making many of us sick, but it's also affecting everything from our home lives to our social interactions to our careers. And unless we do something about it, the problem is likely to get worse.
What are we all so stressed about?
While unexpected expenses are the primary source of financial anxiety for most Americans, day-to-day expenses are a close second. Furthermore, almost a third of Americans worry about not having enough money in retirement, while a quarter or more are stressed about healthcare expenses, housing costs, and credit card debt.
Of course, these are all extremely valid concerns, but spending time actively worrying about money won't do you nearly as much good as taking steps to address your fears. If you're suffering from financial anxiety, here are a few things you can do about it:
Have an emergency fund
Americans' greatest financial fear is having an unplanned emergency, which is not surprising given that an estimated 28% of Americans don't have a dime in emergency savings. Having an emergency fund will help you sleep better at night, and just as importantly, it'll potentially spare you from financial catastrophe in the event that you lose your job, fall ill, or find yourself unable to work for a prolonged period of time.
If you don't own a home or have children, you should aim to save enough money to cover three to six months' worth of living expenses. If you do own a home or have kids, aim for six to nine months' worth of expenses. When calculating how much to save in your emergency fund, be sure to include everything from your rent or mortgage payment to your grocery bills to come up with the right amount. Furthermore, don't forget about costs that could go up if you're not working, like higher healthcare premiums.
Once you've built up your emergency fund, stick that money someplace safe, like the bank. While doing so won't help you grow your savings, you can rest assured knowing that your principal won't go down.
Live below your means
A little over 50% of Americans stress out about their day-to-day expenses. If you're tired of feeling like every penny you earn is already accounted for by the time it comes in, you'll need to take a hard look at your finances and find ways to cut corners. This could mean downsizing your living space, trading in your vehicle for one with a lower monthly payment, or cutting back on certain luxuries, like your landscaper or cleaning service. The more money you free up in your budget, the less worried you'll need to be about whether you can cover your monthly bills.
Come up with a long-term plan
Falling short on retirement savings is a huge fear for many people, and it's not helped by the fact that one out of every three Americans has zero saved for the long haul. One of the best ways to relieve some of your financial stress is to create a long-term savings plan. Once your emergency account is fully funded, start putting money aside every paycheck for retirement. It's OK to start small and eventually increase the amount you contribute, but you should begin saving as early as possible to give your money a chance to grow. Saving $100 a month starting at age 35 will give you about $136,000 by age 65 if your investments bring in an average annual 8% return. But if you wait until you're 45 to start putting that money away, you'll have just $55,000 by the time you reach 65.
No matter what you do to improve your financial picture, the key is to take action rather than sit back and let your money-related fears consume you. As long as you save wisely and stick to a budget, there's no reason to let financial anxiety rule -- or ruin -- your life.