Americans are stressed out about money. Nearly three-quarters (72%) of U.S. adults say they stress about their finances at least once a month, according to a study by Empower. And 17% say they worry about money every day.
That kind of constant stress is no way to live, and it doesn’t have to be something you go through forever. There are some simple strategies you can follow to feel more comfortable and worry-free about your personal finances.
Set realistic financial goals
We’re told throughout life to think big and set ambitious goals for ourselves. There’s nothing wrong with that, if they’re also realistic goals.
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The problem is when you set goals that are so ambitious, they’re impossible to achieve. If you’re 25 years old with a $60,000 salary, and you want $2 million by the time you retire at 65, that’s an achievable goal. Invest regularly, and you could do it. If you want to have $2 million and retire at 30, that’s impossible without a massive salary increase (or winning the lottery). You’d need to invest over $300,000 per year.
Impossible goals aren’t helpful, because they make you feel bad about yourself when you don’t accomplish them. Set goals that will require hard work, but are realistic if you do the work.
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Plan how you’ll use your income every month
It’s stressful when you feel like you aren’t in control of your financial situation. By having a plan for how you’ll use your money, it puts you in control.
One of the best methods I’ve found is Ramit Sethi’s conscious spending plan. Start with your monthly take-home pay. Then, decide how much of that money you’ll use for fixed costs (your regular bills), savings, investments, and guilt-free spending. Here’s what Sethi recommends:
- Fixed costs: 50% to 60%
- Savings: 5% to 10%
- Investments: 10%
- Guilt-free spending: 20% to 35%
Feel free to adjust those as necessary for your expenses and goals. What’s most important is that you have a spending plan to follow.
Automate as much as you can
Another common source of financial stress is managing everything. Did I remember to pay my credit card bill? If not, I’ll get charged a late fee — there’s $29 down the drain. Am I going to be able to save $500 this month like I planned, or did I spend too much?
You don’t need to remember all this. Your bank, credit card company, and stock broker will do it for you. You can:
- Set up an automatic monthly transfer to your savings account to ensure you’re saving money regularly.
- Put all your bills on autopay from your credit cards or checking account.
- Schedule automatic payments on your credit cards (set it up to pay the full statement balance, and you’ll never get charged interest).
- Make automatic monthly investments with your stock broker.
Be careful about taking on big expenses
Once you commit to a big expense, it can be hard to get out of that later. If you finance an expensive car and take on a huge monthly payment, you’ll be dealing with that for the life of the loan. Two years in, that car might not feel so special anymore, but the monthly payment will be just as expensive. And if you want to get out of it, you may need to sell the car and take a loss.
Try to avoid taking on large monthly bills that you’re not sure you can afford. The two that people tend to regret the most are expensive home and car payments. But it’s good to be careful before committing to any major expense. Make sure you can really afford it, and that it’s not going to be a constant source of stress later.
Social media has its pros and cons. On the bright side, it can help you keep in touch with friends and family.
But it’s also where you can’t escape your uncle’s latest conspiracy theories. It’s where you get bombarded with the fabulous, expensive lives seemingly everyone else is living. And it’s where shady “entrepreneurs” try to sell you their systems for making $1 million a month, while telling you how stupid it is to have a job or go to college.
It’s natural to feel worse about your own financial situation after seeing all these people who supposedly have it made. Now, appearances can be deceiving, so don’t trust everything you see on social media. Better yet, cut back on how much you use it, and avoid any content that makes you feel stressed after you view it.
Financial stress doesn’t have to be the norm. All those methods are ones I’ve used in my own life. Give them a try, and you’ll likely start feeling a lot better about money.
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