Americans' financial optimism is at an all-time low right now, dropping 134 points on the Wells Fargo/Gallup Investor and Retirement Optimism Index -- the largest drop since the index was founded in 1996.

With tens of millions of Americans out of work and the country deep into a recession thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, it's no surprise that many people aren't feeling upbeat about their finances. However, mindset matters more than you may think when it comes to your financial health.

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How an optimistic outlook can improve your finances

Optimists tend to fare better financially than pessimists, a report from Frost Bank and FleishmanHillard found. In fact, optimists were seven times more likely to have better financial health than pessimists, according to the survey.

Researchers also found that optimists tend to take steps that improve their financial health. For example:

  • Nearly 60% of optimists seek out financial advice, compared to just 42% of pessimists.
  • Approximately 43% of optimists say they are very interested in learning more about money management, while just 33% of pessimists say the same.
  • Almost 70% of optimists changed their financial habits after a setback, compared to only 36% of pessimists.

As a result, optimists tend to make better money management decisions. A whopping 90% of optimists say they've saved for a major purchase, for instance, compared to 70% of pessimists.

When you have strong money management skills, you're more likely to have better financial health -- meaning you'll be more likely to be able to pay your bills on time, more likely to keep out of unmanageable debt, and more likely to have a financial cushion to fall back on if you experience an unplanned expense.

Fake it 'til you make it

Sometimes, keeping an hopeful outlook feels impossible. If you've lost your job, are trying to stretch every dollar, and aren't sure how long it will be before you're back on your feet, feeling glum is understandable. 

Still, there are financial moves that can help you feel more optimistic. There's one thing in particular you can do right now to improve your finances, no matter what your money situation looks like: Set goals for yourself.

The key to setting goals is ensuring they're small enough that you know you'll be able to achieve them. Telling yourself you want to save $500,000 for retirement is great, but that goal can be daunting. Instead, aim to save, say, $10 per week. Or, if you're struggling to keep your spending in check, set a goal to cut back on just one expense, such as takeout or online shopping. Reaching these smaller targets will boost your confidence, thus making you more optimistic about achieving your larger goals.

Creating a financial plan can also help you feel more in control of your future. Write down every one of your goals, then create a step-by-step action plan for achieving them. If one of your ultimate objectives is to pay off all your debt, for example, write that down -- but also write down which type of debt you want to tackle first and how much cash you're putting toward it. Establishing a financial plan can be a lot of work upfront, but having all your goals mapped out in front of you can do wonders for your confidence.

Feeling optimistic during difficult financial times is tough, but a more positive outlook can improve your situation. By setting short- and long-term goals and creating an action plan to achieve them, you can give yourself a better chance of improving your financial health.