Anxiety and Money
Let me paint a picture for you. A woman wakes up early on Saturday morning, brews some coffee and powers up her laptop. She sits down at the kitchen table and pulls up her bank and investment accounts. She has been diligently putting some money away with every paycheck and should feel proud and confident about her finances.
She reviews her balances, and instead of feeling proud, she is left with the lingering feeling that it isn’t enough. It’s not ever going to be enough and she is going to end up a bag lady (cue ominous music). She closes her laptop and goes about her day with a gripping anxious sensation in her chest and despair in the future.
How many of us are living our lives like this? Sitting at a baseball game or driving to work and feeling anxiety about never living the life we envisaged? Never paying off our student loans, not having enough money to quit our awful job, not taking that girl’s trip to Bali or save for our kids’ college education? I know I lived like that for a long time.
This issue transcends socioeconomic levels and touches all of us that hope to live a comfortable, memorable life. I can tell you I’ve had clients with seven-figure portfolios and those with six-figure student loan debt express the same level of money anxiety. They feel guilty after every purchase, tell themselves “no“ for things they’ve wanted for ages and generally spend tons of mental energy worrying about their financial future.
I believe we’re living in a time of unprecedented financial stress for the majority of Americans, especially for Gen X and Millenials. Financial progress and job security no longer feel like they’re guaranteed. We’ve seen the aura of the American dream evaporate for many of our family and friends, and are left feeling that there is no way forward. I graduated from college in the spring of 2009, so I understand the struggle acutely. So let’s talk about a few steps to combat money anxiety:
Take an unemotional look at your finances.
This can be a really hard one to do, but it’s so important that you remove emotion from the equation and take a comprehensive look at your money. What do you owe and to whom? What do you own? Tally up your assets(bank accounts, 401k, property) and liabilities(credit card debt, car loans, student loan debt). This can be a scary exercise if you haven’t done it before, but believe me when I say that not knowing is worse than having an accurate picture.
Rather than sitting around worrying that you will never have enough money for some ambiguous point in the future, it’s helpful to set a concrete goal and back into the steps you have to take now in order to achieve that. Let’s say you want to dream big go on a vacation to Italy in 3 years that cost $8,000. You divide $8,000 by 36 months and arrive at the sum of $222 you need to save per month in order to pay for your vacation in full. You can use the same exercise with debt, although you’ll need to take your interest rate into account. Calculators like this are helpful.
Hire a financial planner.
I think comprehensive financial planning is one of the most underutilized tools for alleviating run of the mill financial anxiety.
My industry has gotten a bad rap for a lot of well-deserved reasons. However, there are tons of amazing financial planners out there who are focused on providing unbiased, fiduciary, fee-only services that take the uncertainty out of your financial situation. The CFP Board is a good starting point to find a fiduciary financial planner. They’re worth their weight in gold, and can really make the difference between living with financial stress or moving confidently in the direction of your dreams.