Sometimes, you’re just stressed about money. It happens. But you know what doesn’t happen enough? People finding the root of their money woes and creating a plan to move past it.
Fact: Financial stress is not okay. Financial peace is going to become your new normal.
Fact: Overwhelm with money is not okay. Confidence with money is going to become your new normal.
Step 1: Find the Cause
My first recommendation in any period of overwhelm is to WRITE. Finance may involve numbers, but that doesn’t mean you can’t write out your woes. In fact, financial management is more about human behavior than it is math - which means journaling and planning processes are huge keys to success!
Financial management is more about human behavior than it is math.
While I always recommend journaling and writing habits for mental health in general, we’re going to focus right now on how to start identifying the cause of your financial stress.
Honestly, this process will look different for everyone. The key is to have a blank paper in front of you, favorite pen in hand, and just write the first thought that comes to your mind. To help with this, I’ll share the general flow of my own thoughts when I try a practice like this:
I find the easiest way to start a journaling practice is to start by writing about how you’re feeling. “I am stressed, I am afraid to check my bank account, I am frustrated with myself.” Bam, done. You’ve already begun and made huge leaps!
Sure, we sound like the therapist stereotype - “So how does that make you feel?” - but stereotypes exist for a reason. Sometimes, the shoe fits. (That’s coming from a female Asian who sucks at driving. I own it.)
Once I write out what I’m currently feeling, my next impulse is to start explaining things away, as if I were trying to talk out my feelings with a friend (or a therapist?). However, it rarely actually starts as a reasonable explanation.
I’m the kind of gal that reverts to excuses and blame-shifting, so I will almost always see that pattern in my journaling. That’s okay, though. We’re just letting it all out here - if anything, writing out our excuses can reveal a lot about our mental money blocks! For now, just write - even if you know what you’re writing is a little ridiculous.
Once you’ve laid all your thoughts and feelings out, it’s time to make sense of it all. Wrap up your writings with some truth! By this point, I’m sure you’ve discovered quite a few things about yourself and your financial journey.
As I said, this process will look totally different for everyone. Maybe you write 10 pages, maybe you write just one. Maybe you think better in a list format, or maybe you’re a chronic diagrammer. Do what works for you! The key is to have it out on paper in a visual format.
Once you have that, you’ll very likely be able to identify what’s causing you stress - which, yet again, is different for everyone.
You could be having a physical stressor - mountains of debt, low income, unexpected bills, family emergencies, a spouse with a spending problem, etc.
Or maybe it’s more of a mental/emotional stressor - lack of understanding around finances, not knowing how much debt you have or money is in the bank, feeling guilty for spending money, feeling like saving money is just asking to lose it, etc.
There isn’t a right or wrong answer here. What’s stressing you out about money is, quite simply, what’s stressing you about money. End of story. So now let’s learn more about your stressor(s).
Step 2: Explain the Cause
One may expect that we’d jump straight into creating a plan to solve this problem, but alas, that person would be skipping a step!
I find that people (especially women) will experience some intense negative emotions about their financial situations once they finally acknowledge that their money is a mess. They feel angry, frustrated, ashamed, embarrassed - all understandable emotions, but also unhealthy ones.
So before we can truly move forward, we need to be able to heal. To give ourselves grace. And the best way to do that is to understand how you got where you are.
And this means diving deep.
Look at yourself
First, take a look at your life. We’ll return to our therapist stereotype: go back to your childhood!
No, I’m not kidding. This is important! So many of our beliefs about money are formed when we’re children. Odds are, the source of a lot of your money blocks and struggles came from your upbringing.
So spend a minute and think about this! What financial situation were you brought up in? How did your parents handle money? How did they feel about money? What about your friends and their families?
Then, think about yourself as you got older! When you got your first job, how did you handle the money? What kinds of experiences did you have with money as you grew up?
How could these experiences and observations have affected beliefs you have about money?
Here are some real examples from real people I’ve talked to:
My parents were penny pinchers throughout my whole childhood. When I grew up and got my first full-time job, I compulsively ran to the other extreme and developed a really bad spending habit!
My parents drilled the concept of saving money into my brain. Now, I always feel guilty every time I consider spending money on myself for something that isn’t absolutely necessary.
My family and neighbors have always prided themselves on “being scrappy” and hustling hard for every penny. It took me years to realize that I was holding back my own income potential because I thought earning money was SUPPOSED to be hard for me just because of my background!
And those examples barely even scratch the surface for some people’s situations. But I promise, owning up to this part of your story is invaluable to your healing process!
Look at your society
But hey, maybe it’s not all on you or your family! The fact of the matter is, most of us have grown up in the age of consumerism. Which basically means that, when it comes to money, we were brought up to fail.
I wrote an entire blog post about this, Your Finances Aren’t Your Fault, which I really encourage you to read!
For this post, I’ll just offer you a quick list of all the messages (read: LIES) that are constantly bombarding our brains:
Growth is good, and we should always desire more for our lives.
Buying new things increases our quality of life through comfort and convenience.
You deserve to spend your money on whatever things will make you happy - after all, it’s disposable income, right?
If you can’t afford something in cash, that’s just because prices are crazy. Use financing options to make it more affordable.
Don’t think of this as an expense, consider it an investment in your future!
And that’s just the first few I could think of. If you spend any amount of time A) watching TV/Netflix/Hulu, B) scrolling through social media, or C) watching Youtube on a daily basis, I’m willing to bet you’re exposed to these messages.
I’m really not trying to be dramatic - we are hounded by these messages, constantly.
So take a second to think back over what kinds of media you’ve consumed over the last year or two. Or maybe go deeper! What kinds of media have you consumed throughout your life?
Write out some of the messages that you suspect you may have been falling for!
Some of you may run through this exercise and uncover messages that you never even realized were unhealthy - we call this progress.
Step 3: Solve the Cause
Once you’ve identified the cause of your stress, and allowed yourself to explain and heal your stress, we can finally move into a plan.
I say finally, but honestly, this process may have only taken minutes up to this point. Sometimes, it’s not that complicated! You just needed to see it out on paper.
Regardless of your time investment up to this point, step 3 is critical, so don’t stop!
If your issue is primarily mental/emotional, your job is to write out some new truths and habits you can implement into your life to help reverse this way of thinking.
For example, if you feel guilty about spending money (even though the truth is that there is plenty of money to support you/your family), you can try some daily affirmations along with a couple new habits! I have a post here with some suggested affirmations to solve common financial struggles: 56 Healing Money Affirmations for Struggling Solopreneurs.
But, in addition to that, I would recommend that you start a simple budget! Create a written plan for the dollars in that bank account, and include a “fun money” category for yourself. With this, you’ll be giving yourself permission to spend money, which will alleviate a lot of the guilt!
If you have more of a physical, tangible financial stressor, we may need to hash out a more in-depth plan.
For example, you want to be able to move out of your small apartment, but you also have a lot of debt that you’re struggling to make payments on. What do you do?
Well, you list out your priorities! The first question is, how badly do I need to move? If there isn’t an absolute necessity (considering financial sense, safety, location in relation to work/other obligations, etc.), then this can wait. From here, I would recommend:
The first priority is to make sure you can cover your daily living expenses. You can put food on the table, clothes on your back, keep a roof over your head and the lights on.
Build up a small emergency fund ASAP. Aim for $1,000 just so you can have a small cash cushion in place for the unexpected. This will help break the cycle many often experience when a bad month throws off the whole plan!
Make the minimum payments for all of your debts. Then, whatever other money you can spare, throw all the extra at the smallest debt balance until it’s paid off. Then, roll all the money you were putting towards the small balance up to the next smallest until that one is paid off. And keep on going! This is known as the Debt Snowball Method, which leans on the idea that finances are behavior-based, so the best debt payoff plan incorporates motivation and momentum.
Somewhere in this process, you’ll find the best time to reach your moving goal. Maybe you wait until you’re debt free, or maybe you wait until you can at least make the minimum payments on everything comfortably. The intensity of your plan depends on you - but because you’ve worked a plan in order, you know that everything else is covered once you move into this stage!
And that’s just one example among so many! My hope is that you can see the value of creating a structured plan like this - whether you’re facing a mental or physical stress.
So how do you feel? Are you ready to create your plan? Are you ready to act on it?
At the very least, my hope is that you’re feeling inspired to sit down and make a change with your money. That spark of motivation is huge. Many, many people will go their whole lives without that spark.
So let’s act on it. Your situation is unique, and there are likely going to be nuances to it that I couldn’t cover in a simple blog post like this one. If it’s time to get a handle on this and create a real plan you can follow to free yourself from financial stress, let’s sit down and work on it together!
Until next time!
- Katie Scott