Finances can be a major stressor for many households. In fact, money is the number one source of stress among Americans, according to a survey from Northwestern Mutual, with roughly half of workers saying they feel anxious, fearful, or insecure about their finances often or all the time.
New research from J.D. Power also reveals that the majority of adults aren't happy with their financial situations. When asked to rank how satisfied they were with their finances on a scale of 1 to 10 (with 1 being extremely unsatisfied and 10 being extremely satisfied), 55% of survey respondents gave themselves a rating of 5 or below. Even more concerning is that approximately 16% of people gave themselves the lowest score possible.
There are many reasons Americans may be unhappy with their finances. They could be saddled with loads of debt or struggling to save for retirement, or are simply having trouble keeping their spending in check. If your finances leave a lot to be desired, there are a few steps you can take that can improve your situation significantly.
1. Establish a healthy emergency fund
Only around 60% of Americans have enough savings to cover a $400 unexpected expense, according to research from the Federal Reserve Bank, but an emergency fund can help you avoid a slew of financial problems.
When you have a healthy stash of savings, you can avoid taking on a loan, racking up expensive credit card debt, or tapping your retirement fund if you're hit with an unexpected cost. Each of these actions can have long-term consequences, and if you're slammed with another unexpected cost before you've fully paid off the first one, you could end up in even more trouble.
Squirreling away a few thousand dollars in a high-yield savings account can help you avoid these situations -- and all the stress that comes with them. Aim to save enough to cover around three to six months' worth of living expenses in your emergency fund. Then if you lose your job or face a hefty expense you weren't prepared for, you can rest easy knowing it won't derail your entire financial future.
2. Get into the habit of budgeting
Establishing a budget isn't the most exciting task in the world, but it can improve your finances in multiple ways.
Sticking to a budget can ensure you know exactly how much you're spending every month, as well as what, exactly, you're spending your money on. If you're not tracking your expenses, it's easy to overspend in certain categories without even realizing it. Case in point: Although nearly 60% of Americans say they're living paycheck to paycheck, according to a survey from Charles Schwab, that same survey also found that the average American spends close to $500 per month on unnecessary expenses.
In other words, some people may feel like they're barely scraping by financially, when in reality they simply may not realize just how much they're spending each month. When you keep track of all your expenses and set spending limits in each category of your budget, you can ensure your spending isn't getting out of control. Then when you're able to keep your spending in check, you can devote more cash to your savings.
3. Make saving a priority
It never hurts to save a little more, especially if you have multiple financial goals. Whether you're saving for retirement, trying to build an emergency fund, or squirreling money away for a down payment on a house, it's tough to reach your goals if you don't make saving a priority.
Of course, saving more is often easier said than done, particularly if you don't have much cash to spare. But it might be easier than you think to stash away a little extra each month.
Start by setting your savings on autopilot. If you have a 401(k) through your employer, you can set aside a certain amount of cash from each paycheck to go straight to your retirement account. When that money never reaches your bank account in the first place, it's easier to avoid spending it. If you have an IRA or are saving for other financial goals, you can set your accounts up so that a certain amount of money will be transferred from your bank account to your retirement or savings account every week, month, or however often you choose.
Aside from never having to remember to save, this strategy also ensures you stick to your savings goals. When you know you're going to be saving a set amount of money each month, you can build your budget around that amount so you know exactly how much you have left to spend. Even if you can't save much right now, simply getting into the habit of saving at least a little every month will go a long way toward establishing a healthy financial mindset.
Managing your money can often be stressful. However, if you're unhappy with your financial situation, you have the power to change it. By keeping a close eye on your day-to-day finances while also creating a plan for the future, you can substantially improve your overall financial health.