3 Tricks For Overcoming Money Anxiety
Student loans. Rent. Health insurance. Car payments. Did-I-Actually-Spend-That-Much-At-The-Bar payments. Money anxiety affects all of us, no matter what tax bracket we’re in. Look at Kanye West – the guy’s one of the biggest artists in the world and claimed to have gone into $53 million in personal debt after funding his Yeezy fashion line. Granted, digging his way out from under this enormous debt likely just means going on tour and chartering one private jet per week instead of two, but still. At some point, all of us experience money anxiety. The problem is, few of us ever talk about it.
My own personal low point…
My own personal low point, financially speaking, came a year after grad school. I’d just gone through a bad break up, I’d left a waitressing gig to move from New York back to California, and was temporarily staying at my parents’ house in Texas. I was heartbroken, rootless, and broke. Very broke. I called Sallie Mae in a panic, asking the customer service person if she could “help” me with my debt. What I was really asking, in retrospect, was for her to help me ease the mounting money anxiety I was feeling. I’m not sure how – maybe by magically lowering my interest rate or saying, “Hey, you seem nice. I’ll cut your debt load in half out of the kindness of my heart.”
Naïve? Yes. Ridiculous? Absolutely. But I was in a state of shock about the amount of student loan debt I had accumulated. It felt like I’d be in Sallie Mae’s clutches for the rest of my life (I went to film school, not medical school). I knew I was taking out loans during school and it was my choice, but when the reality hits and you’re jobless, it can be paralyzing. That Sallie Mae call was a real moment of realization for me. I realized that I had to manage the anxiety I was feeling and get my financial life in order. Fast.
So if you’re stressed about loans or rent or last night’s dinner bill and you haven’t found ways to cope with the pressure or take action and get your financial life in order, here are three tricks that’ll help when you need to ease your anxiety about money:
We all love to ignore our bank balance or pretend our credit card bill is a coaster. But avoiding reality is much more anxiety inducing than sitting down and actually figuring out what you have, what you owe, and how you need to budget. Force yourself to check your account balance. Stop fantasizing about Beyoncé sending you a check to pay off your loans. The sooner you sit down and face your financial situation head-on, the sooner you can start remedying the situation. And whatever you do, do not ignore those credit card bills. Getting real might be daunting at first, but you’ll feel much more Zen in the long run.
You Do You
It’s easy to feel pressured to shop at a certain store, have a certain car, or splurge on dinner with your $100K-a-year friends. This is especially true in your late twenties and thirties, when the rift between the friends who’re making six figures and those who’re still hustling to make ends meet widens. It can make you feel insecure, like you screwed up along the way and will never catch up. But that’s not true. As long as you’re hustling and you’re smart about your money, there’s nothing to feel insecure about.
Let go of social pressure and stop trying to keep up with the Joneses. If you can’t afford that $350 a night room for your friend’s bachelorette or bachelor party, talk to them about it and be honest about your situation. They’ll understand – unless they’re jerks. Social pressures can cause us to live beyond our means, so don’t succumb to the pressure. Just do what you can do. It shouldn’t feel embarrassing to speak up about these things; you should actually feel more confident if you’re living within you means and being honest with yourself and others. It means you’re being smart. There’s nothing embarrassing about that.
It’s easy to think of retirement is a faraway abstract concept that can be ignored until you’re, say, 35. Or 45. Or in a nursing home. Eventually, though, you’ll be 35 and suddenly realize that you have zero savings – and then the true money anxiety kicks in. Even if you just graduated college and your entry-level gig pays peanuts, it’s smart to start planning for that magical day when you’re old and grey and ready to spend your days sitting on the couch watching Dancing With the Stars instead of working.
Say you’re only able to put away $50 a month at first, or $100 here and there. It seems paltry but over decades it’ll add up (especially if you can increase the amount over time), and it’ll also get you in the mindset of saving for retirement early, which is important. If putting a little away each month isn’t in the cards just yet, what you can do is make a plan and start thinking about where you want to be in five, 10, or 20 years (write it down too if that helps). Try to ask yourself questions like:
- When do I want to retire, if ever?
- Do I want kids? How many?
- Do I want to own a house?
- What are the three material things I feel are crucial for my future?
- Will I need to care for parents or siblings?
It’ll give you perspective and it’s also a great motivator. If your goal is to live in a three-bedroom house and travel the world by the time you’re 40, you might want to get on that, financially speaking.
So there you have it. Three simple changes you can make that will help ease your money anxiety and allow you to face your finances calmly and rationally, instead of experiencing a panic attack every time you glance at your ATM receipt or credit card bill. If you’re honest with yourself and create a game plan, you’ll be way ahead of the game, even if your bank statement doesn’t look like it just yet. You’ll get there.