It's natural to worry about money from time to time, but for some of us, that stress might reach an unhealthy level. A recent study by Northwestern Mutual found that 85% of U.S. adults suffer from full-blown financial anxiety. Specifically, more than 25% of Americans worry about their finances at least once a day, and 67% say financial stress affects other aspects of their health.
If your finances are causing you an undue amount of concern, it's time to address the problem before it gets worse. Here are a few moves that can help.
1. Create a budget
Part of the reason so many folks get overwhelmed by their finances is that they have no idea where their money is going. And that's where a budget can help. Following a budget is one of the easiest ways to keep track of your spending and make sure you have enough money available to cover your various bills.
To start, map out all of your monthly costs, from your rent or mortgage payment to that $10 subscription. Next, factor in one-time expenses, such as the auto insurance renewal you pay for once a year, and divide them evenly across 12 months. From there, it's a simple matter of making sure the amount you're planning to spend each month doesn't exceed what your paychecks allow for. If it does, or if you find that you're dangerously close to the edge, you'll need to make some adjustments to avoid going over your budget.
2. Live below your means
You've paid the mortgage, restocked the fridge, and covered your remaining bills. But no sooner you do spend your last dime when your dog gets sick, or your kitchen sink breaks, or you encounter some other scenario that costs money and needs to be addressed immediately. These things are unavoidable, but you'll be far less stressed about them if you have the cash available to pay for them.
So let's take a step back. Imagine your mortgage payment is $200 lower, and that your car payment costs $100 less as well. Suddenly, there's $300 left over in your budget to cover that vet visit or plumber, and what you don't spend, you have the ability to put into savings.
Such is the value of living below your means. Just because you can technically afford a certain monthly expense doesn't mean you should max out your budget on it. If you want to reduce some financial stress, take a long, hard look at your expenses and identify ways to lower them. You can achieve this goal by either making a series of small changes, such as scaling back your phone plan, cutting your cable package, and eating out less, or you can make one major adjustment, such as moving to a more affordable home. Living below your means will offer you more flexibility to cover those pesky bills that pop up, or even have extra money left over to spend on leisure, so it pays to work on cutting corners.
3. Establish a solid emergency fund
Though small, unexpected bills are never fun, what tends to really cause Americans financial stress is the notion of facing a large, unanticipated expense, such as a costly injury or home repair. Furthermore, you never know when you might get sick, lose your job, or run into a similar scenario where you're unable to work for an extended period of time. That's why it's critical to have an emergency fund with enough money to cover three to six months' worth of living expenses.
Not only can an emergency fund help you avoid debt or financial ruin, but it can also give you some much-needed peace of mind. After all, if you know you have $15,000 in the bank, you'll lose less sleep wondering when your car is going to need its engine fixed, or when your kid's braces will need to be paid for in full. Most Americans aren't even close to having a fully loaded emergency fund, but if you work on building your savings over time, you'll get there eventually.
4. Be properly insured
Sometimes, even the healthiest among us get sick. And despite the best-laid plans, many people wind up passing away sooner than expected. That's why it's crucial to have the right sort of insurance in place -- for your sake, as well as that of your family.
Though you may be inclined to purchase cheap health insurance in the hopes of saving money, buying a low-cost plan could come back to bite you if you require a service that isn't covered or are forced to shell out a huge deductible before your coverage kicks in. Similarly, you might think you don't need life insurance because you're relatively young and healthy, and that you're better off saving the money you'd otherwise spend on a premium. But if you're the sole breadwinner in your family and something happens, your survivors might suffer financially.
That's why it pays to spend some money on the right insurance, whether it's a better health plan or a modest life policy. Knowing you have these protections in place can help alleviate some of the financial anxiety you might otherwise be experiencing.
Financial worries are a part of life, but you can do your part to minimize them with a few smart money moves. If you stick to a budget, live below your means, build an emergency fund, and get yourself properly insured, you'll relieve much of the annoying stress that's been causing you undue grief.