Whether you’re a current student, a recent graduate, a parent, or just trying to navigate life, money is a touchy subject. “Money can’t buy happiness,” but it can absolutely buy you access to food, housing, healthcare, education, stability, and peace of mind. If you’ve never experienced that moment when the number in your bank account has a minus sign in the front, you’re in the minority… Most people these days know exactly how it feels to watch your paycheck disappear toward rent and bills as soon as it deposits. Living paycheck to paycheck is the norm for most US citizens in 2023. Even before the pandemic, a 2019 study showed that 59% of us were just one missed paycheck away from homelessness. And how does that feel? Stressful. It’s a constant weight on our shoulders, an ever-present worry at the forefront of our minds.
What Are the Symptoms of Financial Stress?
Feeling stressed all the time, whether it’s because of money or something else, isn’t good for our health. Regardless of the source, chronic stress can become debilitating over time, making it increasingly difficult to overcome whatever issue is causing the stress in the first place—a vicious cycle. Some of the common symptoms of chronic stress are:
- Decreased energy
- Aches and pains
- Trouble sleeping
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling helpless or stuck
- Tummy troubles
- Weakened immune system
- Turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms like drugs and alcohol, gambling, shopping addiction, disordered eating, etc.
Sound familiar? If you’re worried about money, and you recognize these symptoms, you may indeed be dealing with financial stress.
8 Tips for Dealing with Financial Stress
1. Stop shaming yourself. There is such a stigma around finances that our culture often convinces us that those with less money must be lazier, more careless, or less intelligent than those with more. Because of that, it’s very, very common to feel embarrassed or keep it to ourselves when we are struggling financially, and as we know from other articles we’ve written on shame, isolating in our struggle is never the answer. That shame can cause us not to pursue avenues for assistance because we don’t want to be perceived as failures. We may turn down help when it’s offered because we’ve internalized the idea that it’s an admission of defeat, or we may try to keep up appearances that everything is fine with spending we can’t afford.
Read this carefully: Money is morally neutral. Read it again. The number of bills in your wallet or zeros in your bank account is not in direct relationship to your worth as a human being, nor is it a reflection of your character. Do not let the shame gremlin convince you otherwise. Understand that while it’s reasonable to feel guilt about certain actions that may have caused your financial distress, so much about our financial statuses is tied to factors beyond our control—inflation, our parents’ socioeconomic status, where we come from, where we live, etc. Shame wants to make you feel stuck where you are, not help you find solutions. Please, please, please check out our resources on fighting shame for more on this—it’s so important!
2. Be mindful of your mental health. Acute Financial Stress has been (unofficially) compared to PTSD, so it’s critical that you take your mental health seriously when you face money troubles. In our culture, money is necessary for meeting every single one of our needs, so when you’re struggling to make ends meet, your brain realizes that even your most basic needs may be at risk—that’s stressful! If you notice symptoms of anxiety or depression, don’t hesitate to reach out for support. You can start by chatting with one of our Hope Coaches, sharing with a trusted friend or parent, and talking to your doctor or a licensed therapist about how you’re feeling.
3. Be mindful of your physical health. Prolonged stress can actually make you sick, so it’s incredibly important to make sure you’re taking care of yourself when you’re going through a hard time financially, especially since getting sick could cause even more money stress. You don’t want to be staring at a medical bill or lose out on work shifts at a time when you are already feeling stressed about money, so make sure you’re getting enough sleep, eating nutritiously, getting some exercise, and trying to relax now and again.
4. Assess your habits. It might seem like the right thing to do is to cut back on every possible expense, but first take a moment to understand yourself and where your money is going. Look at your last month of expenses—where does your money go? Let’s say it goes to one pack of cigarettes a day, a membership to the gym, smoothies, ordering food in, rent, and bills. Assuming that you have a little bit of money left over once rent and important bills are paid, ask yourself, which of these habits is serving me well?
As much as those cigarettes may serve as a stress reliever for you, they’re incredibly expensive, and they’re contributing to even more expensive health issues down the line. That’s a habit worth cutting out of your budget. The gym may be the most expensive item in your budget, but it’s also a healthy habit that could help manage your stress. If it’s a really pricey gym, perhaps look into switching to a cheaper one, but think about whether it’s actually good for you to drop that expense from your budget entirely. If you completely deprive yourself of everything you enjoy, chances are you’re going to cave and spend on something impulsively, setting yourself back even further. The key is to choose wisely which of your routine expenses are keepers and which ones are weighing you down.
5. Ask for help. Did you know that you can actually find therapists certified specifically to help you cope with financial stress? It’s called financial therapy. That said, paying for therapy may not be accessible to you if you’re already at rock bottom with money. It’s always worth calling a therapist’s office to ask if they offer reduced rates for patients experiencing hardship, but if you still can’t afford it, there are plenty of ways to ask for help that won’t cost you money.
Talk to a trusted friend or parent and ask them to sit down with you—accountability and body doubling can be an incredible help when you’re facing an overwhelming task like solving a financial puzzle. Offer to help them with their budget in return and set up a regular time for y’all to meet up and chat about finances. There’s no reason to treat our money with secrecy when everyone around us is dealing with it too! Fight that shame gremlin telling you to keep quiet and reach out for support.
6. Work on your financial literacy. What is financial literacy? Just like literacy for reading, it’s an understanding of money, how it works, how to manage it, and feeling confident that you know how to interpret financial situations and navigate financial institutions. Were you taught how to do your taxes in grade school? Probably not, but as it turns out, it’s a pretty crucial skill. Depending on where you come from, you may not have received much of a financial education, so take control of that for yourself now. There are so many books, podcasts, and websites dedicated to teaching people the money basics. Educating yourself about money can help you feel more confident about your finances, be less terrified of the unknown, and empower you to make good decisions in the future.
7. Debunk common financial myths. This goes hand in hand with financial literacy. When shame and lack of access to financial education shape our ideas about money, it’s no wonder that we’re stressed. Many of our culture’s colloquial sayings about money simply aren’t true… a few examples:
- “Money is the root of all evil.”
- “Renting means you’re throwing your money away.”
- “You can’t save if you have debt.”
- “You can’t invest until you’re debt-free.”
- “Having debt means you’re bad with money.”
- “I’ll never dig myself out of this hole, so why even try?”
Always investigate further before you accept money advice at face value.
8. Utilize free tools! Check out this list of websites, podcasts, and apps that can help you learn about or manage your money:
- MyMoney.gov provides financial literacy education and resources put together by the federal government.
- Financially Naked
- Google Sheets offers a template for an annual budget that’s free if you already have access to Google Suite for school or work.
- Sites like Experian and Credit Karma allow you to check your credit score for free, along with offering their own educational resources and tips for improving your financial situation.
How Can Your Faith Help You with Financial Stress?
Your faith can be an invaluable resource in times of trouble, always. When it feels like there is nothing left you can do, asking for understanding and support from your faith community and relying on the promise that God’s with us can be a great comfort. You can also try out this prayer designed for times of financial difficulty, and look to these Bible verses about anxiety.
If you’re in crisis, your local church most likely offers some kind of assistance to families who are struggling, whether you’re in need of a meal train or a place to sleep. It’s our calling as followers of Jesus, who led by example in sharing resources when He had them and accepting hospitality when He needed, to help others without judgment. If you’re not sure your church would be willing to help you, or if you don’t have a church, please reach out to a Hope Coach today—we may be able to connect you with organizations who can.