Money anxiety is common in normal times, so it shouldn’t be surprising if you’re feeling overwhelmed by your finances during this pandemic-challenged and politically charged era.
Holidays can make matters worse. If you’re already struggling to manage your money, the pressure to spend and to buy family and friends that perfect gift can amplify those feelings.
How can you avoid cracking under all the money stress? Fortunately, we have a game plan with these tips to practice financial self-care.
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Run Toward Your Financial Problems, Not Away From Them
Sit down with your bills and a calculator and start trying to see just how big of a financial hole you’re in.
“In my experience, the greatest source of financial stress and anxiety is the fear of the unknown. We’re often terrified of digging into our numbers and finding out bad news,” says Chris Janeway, a certified plan fiduciary advisor and the founder and president of Fourth Point Wealth, a financial management firm in Newport Beach, California.
“The reality is, the truth is a liberating thing. More often than not, the fear is worse than the facts of anyone’s situation and once we pin down the facts, we can create the steps to progress forward,” he says.
None of this is to say that once you crunch the numbers, you’re going to feel great. If you’re really in a financial bind, being more aware of how bad things are may make you feel even worse. But Janeway is right that no one can get out of a financial hole if they don’t understand how deep it is, and our imaginations often take us to some dark places. If you can figure out just how bad things are, that knowledge can often serve as a pretty good flashlight.
Create a Financial Plan and Share It With Your Household
You may also need to start a plan to pay down your debt. That might mean getting help from a professional, like going to see a credit counselor. It could mean hiring a financial advisor or working with the IRS to pay back taxes.
Maybe your financial plan is simply that you’re going to look for a new job, one that pays more money.
But assuming your financial plan involves cutting back on expenses, you need to make sure that you’re not the only one in your home fighting what can be a very lonely battle. If you have a spouse, partner or teenagers, looping them into the financial picture could help combat your stress – and keep everyone from blowing up your budget.
“My wife and I, each year, use a date night to sit down with our computers and map out holiday travel, shopping lists and a budget,” Janeway says. “It can seem tedious, and it is, but we leave that date night with a plan that builds trust and reduces an incredible amount of stress as we head into the holidays.”
Use Positive Language When Thinking of Your Financial Situation
Look at the bright side. Kelan Kline, who runs the personal finance blog The Savvy Couple with his wife Brittany, says positive talk is part of financial self-care. He says that it’s very important to not beat yourself up, especially during the holidays.
“If you don’t have as much money as you’d like to spend on gifts, decorations and other holiday purchases, don’t get down on yourself,” Kline says. “When trying to cut down on spending, focus on the positive. For example, instead of saying, ‘I can’t afford that Christmas gift I want to give,’ reframe it as, ‘I have the opportunity to give a homemade gift from the heart.’ This change in language can help you remain relaxed and gain a sense of empowerment.”
True, your holidays may not go over too well if you give your teenagers a handmade stick-figure drawing in a frame instead of that Nintendo Switch they’ve been asking for. But some of your family members and friends would probably appreciate homemade gifts. And certainly, more empowering language might help you from overspending. Kline is spot-on that the inner dialogue we use when thinking about our financial circumstances can either help or hurt psychological well-being. And right now, if you feel broke, you need help.
Remember: You’re Not the Only One Experiencing Financial Problems
If you spend a lot of time on social media, some people you follow may occasionally mention a scary health issue or a frightening moment, like a car accident, but it’s rare that you see posts saying, “Wow, I have $18 in my bank account, and I’m not getting paid for another three days.”
So heed some advice from Joshua Zimmelman, managing director of Westwood Tax & Consulting, a New York City-based accounting firm that has recently gone virtual.
“Remember that you’re not alone,” he says. “Financial anxiety is super common. According to the American Psychological Association, money issues are a major source of stress for most adults. That may not make the holidays any less stressful, but you can take comfort in knowing that a lot of other people feel the exact same way.”
Start Holiday Budgeting and Shopping Now
Planning to shop may not seem smart if you’re in financial straits.
Of course, you shouldn’t prioritize holiday gifts over essential expenses, but if you do a little shopping sooner rather than later, you may feel better. That said, if you at least figure out your holiday shopping budget now, that may ease some of your financial anxiety.
“If you know where your money will be going, it can help you avoid stressful surprises,” Zimmelman says, and he adds that it’s a good idea to estimate the cost of all of your holiday spending – and not just gifts but other expenses such as travel or meals.
“You may want to pad the budget slightly with price ranges, just in case something is more or less than you’re expecting, but once you’ve got your budget, stick to it, no matter what,” Zimmelman says. “It will help you feel more in control and make the tough choices easier.”