Millions of Americans worry about money, but there may be some things you can do to alleviate your stress. We asked three of our personal finance experts for ways to do just that, so here are some tips to help you come up with a plan, build an emergency fund, and learn how to cut back on non-essentials.
Brian Feroldi: Dealing with your finances can be stressful, as life's expenses always seem to be whittling away at your bank account, making it feel like you are working your tail off just to tread water.
I've personally found that one of the most stressful parts of handling my finances is simply trying to figure out where I should focus my money in order to address my short- and long-term financial goals. Should you pay off debt? Save for retirement? Build an emergency fund? It's tough to know where to begin; with so many choices available to us, it's natural to feel overwhelmed, which more often than not leads us to procrastinate instead of taking action.
One way to help reduce the financial stress you feel is to simply take some time and write down a detailed short- and long-term financial plan. It's amazing how much stress will simply disappear once you have your financial goals written down -- a clear plan can lead to action steps that help you feel like you are finally in control.
While it's certainly possible to develop a plan yourself by using free resources, it can be well worth the money to spend some time with a fee-only financial planner to have them create a step-by-step plan for you. The benefits that can come from having an experienced professional just a phone call away are huge, especially when you have big financial questions and want a second opinion.
Winston Churchill once said, "He who fails to plan is planning to fail." I couldn't agree more, so if you don't have a financial plan in place, make it a priority to get one.
Matt Frankel: There are several things you can do to reduce your financial stress -- pay down your credit cards and work some extra shifts, for example. However, I firmly believe the No. 1 reliever of money stress is having an adequate emergency fund.
According to one survey, 47% of Americans couldn't cover a $400 unforeseen expense without borrowing the money or selling something. And having a high salary alone isn't enough to provide comfort -- a shocking one in four households earning more than $100,000 per year are living paycheck to paycheck. No wonder there's so much financial stress in the United States.
Experts say you should aim to have a solid six months' worth of expenses, including housing, any recurring bills, and groceries, in a readily accessible reserve. This might be a lofty goal; six months of expenses can be a lot of money, especially for a family.
My take on emergency funds is that something is better than nothing. Admittedly, my wife and I don't have six months of expenses stashed in a savings account, but we do have about half of that amount. And, ever since we've had it, money stress has gone out the window. So, try setting aside a small amount out of each paycheck and just letting it accumulate for a while. It may require you to tighten your spending for a bit, but not having to go into debt every time you get a flat tire or need dental work will be well worth it.
Adam Galas: From personal experience, I know how painful and frightening getting into debt can be. My family experienced a series of medical tragedies that has depleted our emergency funds and forced us to tighten our belts for the last several years.
The best advice I can give to people in a similar situation is to prioritize what matters to you and see if you can't come up with lower-cost alternatives that help reduce your monthly expenditures while still letting you enjoy life.
For example, my family used to really enjoy going out to eat and seeing the latest Hollywood movies in theaters. However, when we really thought about it, it wasn't these things directly that made us happy, but rather sharing a great meal and a great time with family and friends.
So we found that replacing eating out with family dinners and movie theater outings with Netflix for just $8 a month allowed us to still remain happy, but saved a massive amount of money each month.
What's more, today we find that we're just as happy binge-watching our favorite movies and TV shows together as we were going out to see the latest blockbuster in theaters. So, tightening our belts turned out to be less painful than we feared.
In fact, when you add in the increased peace of mind of knowing that our debt is being paid off, we can save and invest each month, and soon we'll be debt free and back on our feet, we're all much happier than we ever were back when we spent far more to accomplish the same goals.