We all need money to function, but let's face it: It can be an unwelcome source of tension in our lives. In fact, 54% of Americans claim that their finances cause them anxiety, according to new data from Northwestern Mutual. Specifically, here are the top three sources of money-related stress:

  1. Rising healthcare costs (59%)
  2. Unplanned financial emergencies (55%)
  3. Unplanned health emergencies (53%)

Unfortunately, these expenses are often unavoidable -- but that doesn't mean you can't take steps to alleviate some of the concern that comes with them.

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Lowering your healthcare costs

It's estimated that 20% of Americans avoid high medical bills by not going to the doctor as needed. And that's hardly a smart way to reduce your healthcare spending. On the other hand, there are several steps you can take to save money on medical care and reduce your stress in the process.

For one thing, buy the appropriate plan. This could mean paying a slightly higher premium for a lower deductible and superior coverage. The plan you choose should cater to your personal medical needs and those of your family, so take the time to shop around before defaulting to the lowest-cost option.

Once you find the right plan, make sure you really understand what benefits it offers. Something as simple as not getting a referral could cause a claim of yours to get rejected, and if that happens, you could end up on the hook for a whopper of a bill. So take the time to study your benefits, and if you have any questions, call to speak with a live person.

Another option for lowering your healthcare costs is to order your medications in bulk. You'll often pay the same or less for a 90-day supply of pills than you will for a month's worth. Furthermore, ask for generic medications whenever they're available, as they're often a fraction of the cost of branded drugs.

Gearing up for financial and health emergencies

You never know when you might get sick and wind up with thousands of dollars in medical bills on your hands. Similarly, you could wake up one morning and find that your roof has sprung a nasty leak, or come to work only to have your manager lay you off several hours later. Unfortunately, things like these happen all the time, and the only way to protect yourself from the unknown is to establish a healthy level of emergency savings. Yet most Americans lack the savings needed to buy themselves that protection. In fact, 40% of U.S. adults don't have the funds on hand to cover a mere $400 emergency.

How much money do you need in the bank for emergencies? At a minimum, you should have three months of living expenses tucked away in a savings account. If you typically spend $4,000 a month, you'll want $12,000 available. However, a safer bet is to save six months' worth of living expenses, which will buy you even more leeway in the event of an unplanned bill or extended period of unemployment.

Establishing that safety net won't be a small task, especially if you're used to maxing out your paychecks. But if you cut corners and start putting small amounts away, you'll get there over time. Remember, too, that having a month's worth of living expenses in the bank is better than having no savings at all, so do the best you can, keeping in mind that if you ever happen upon a windfall (whether it be an inheritance, bonus, or other source of unexpected cash), it should go straight into your emergency account.

Furthermore, if you're really stressed about not having savings, you might consider taking on a temporary side hustle and banking the money you earn from it. Working a few extra hours a week could put a few hundred dollars a month in your pocket, which will get you to your target savings number sooner.

Though it's natural to get stressed about money, you can reduce your anxiety by building savings and being smart about healthcare spending. So make that effort, because if you don't, you'll not only put your finances at risk, but your happiness as well.

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