Countless Americans experience financial stress in some form or another, whether it's due to mounting bills, growing debt, or the seemingly impossible task of paying for college. But for some of us, that stress may be great enough to impact our performance and productivity at work. According to data from SUM180, an online financial planning service, 29% of employees admit to missing work to deal with stress caused by their own finances.
The irony, of course, is that poor attendance and performance at work can cause employees to compromise their main source of income, thus perpetuating a potentially vicious cycle. If your personal finance woes are impacting your ability to do your job, it's time to address your concerns and make changes to help take the edge off.
What are we so stressed about?
Americans apparently have a lot to be anxious about. A 2016 Northwestern Mutual study reveals that 85% of U.S. adults suffer from financial anxiety. Not only that, but 28% say they worry about their finances at least once a day, while 67% state that their financial anxiety is severe enough to impact their health.
Unplanned expenses are the main source of financial anxiety for the majority of Americans, but a large number worry about regular, day-to-day expenses almost as much. Retirement is also a big source of concern for Americans, as are healthcare and credit card debt. But while you can't snap your fingers and magically make all of your money-related woes go away, there are things you can do to improve your financial picture.
Create an emergency fund
Let's address the greatest financial concern among worried Americans -- unexpected expenses. While you can't stop your car from suddenly breaking down or your roof from springing a disastrous leak, you can protect yourself from these and other expenses by having emergency savings on hand. No matter how much you earn or what your living costs are, you should have enough money in savings to cover three to six months' worth of expenses in full. If you're a freelance employee with variable income, or if you have multiple dependents and you're the sole breadwinner for the household, you should aim for the higher end of that spectrum (or, better yet, strive to save more like nine months of living expenses).
The more money you have available for emergencies, the less time you're likely to spend lying awake at night worrying about the unknown. And we all know that less stress and a good night's sleep can work wonders for your job performance.
Stick to a budget
If you're among the many Americans who worry about their day-to-day expenses, keeping a budget can help you better manage your money so that you don't have to stress about it quite as much. A 2013 Gallup poll reveals that only about one-third of U.S. households stick to a budget, but without one, you'll have a hard time knowing where your money is going and an even harder time finding wiggle room to save.
Once you've established a budget, you can review your spending and find ways to cut corners, whether it's making small changes like reducing your cable package or large changes like downsizing your living space. But no matter what changes you make, the key is to ensure that you're living below your means, so much so that you're able to stash 10% of each paycheck in a savings or retirement account.
Prioritize retirement savings
Retirement is another major source of anxiety for many of us, but it doesn't have to be -- especially if you're still working. Anyone under 50 can currently contribute up to $18,000 a year to a 401(k) and $5,500 a year to an IRA. If you're 50 or older, you can contribute a total of $24,000 a year to a 401(k) and $6,500 to an IRA.
No matter your age, the sooner you begin saving, the better your chances of amassing a nest egg that will sustain you in retirement. Socking away just $200 a month for 10 years will give you an extra $35,000 for retirement if you invest that money and it generates an average annual 8% return. And if you have most of your career ahead of you, you have an even greater opportunity to grow your savings. Case in point: Saving $200 a month for 30 years will give you $272,000 in time for retirement assuming that same average annual 8% return.
No matter what moves you make to ease your financial concerns, the key is to take action rather than sit around bemoaning your money-related stress. After all, your career may depend on it.