Ways to Manage Money Stress

Inflation has raised consumer prices — and the resulting money stress has probably also elevated a lot of consumers’ blood pressure.

According to the Consumer Price Index, the price of everything, on average, is 8.5% more expensive than it was a year ago. Gasoline and energy prices have fallen a little in recent months, but food prices have continued to rise.

So what’s a financially crunched, stressed out person to do?

Get help, suggests Darren Moore, a licensed psychotherapist in Columbus, Georgia.

“A financial advisor can help develop the most effective financial strategy, and a mental health professional can help discuss the impact these changes might have on the couple and family relationship,” Moore says.

If you’re experiencing money stress these days, there’s obviously good reason for that.

“People are having to think strategically about how to reorganize their budget in an effort to maintain and/or survive,” Moore says.

Of course, if money is tight, you may feel like the last thing you can do is pay for professional help. So if you would rather take a do-it-yourself approach to financial anxiety and solving money stress, follow these tips to practice financial self-care.

[See: Money Moves You Will Be Thankful For.]

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: No one can get out of a financial hole without understanding how deep it is. 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

Revamping your budget — or starting a budget for the first time — is your next step.

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.”

[5 Ways to Survive an Economic Downturn]

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.

He offers up the classic example of not having enough money for 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.”

While empowering language can’t always turn a cloudy day into a bright one, it’s better to try and reframe a situation positively rather than dwell on the negative. For instance, if you’re paying your rent or mortgage every month and feeding your family, you are succeeding. Maybe not as much as you want, but you’re holding your own.

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.”

He adds that it may not make your own money situation any less stressful, but hopefully you can take comfort in knowing that a lot of other people feel the exact same way.

Make Some Room in the Budget to Splurge

Remember to not beat yourself up too much — or at all — if you occasionally spend money on something you don’t need.

If you like to go to the movies, or you refuse to give up a beloved coffee drink or you’re purchasing a toy for your kid just because you want to, and you know the money would be better spent on something else — don’t beat yourself up.

Yes, staying within your budget is important, but so is financial self-care. Nobody’s suggesting that you should be reckless with your money, but keep in mind that being too rigid with how you spend your money can also be somewhat reckless. Even when inflation is high, sometimes we all need to splurge.

[See: 15 Money-Saving Tips for Big Families.]

Consider Getting Professional Help

Professional help is going to cost someone something — but it may not cost you anything.

“Seeking mental health treatment does not always require a lot of funds,” Moore says. “Depending on where a person works, they may actually have access to free resources including mental health as well as financial advisors through employee assistance programs.”

He adds that about 20% of his clients are referred to by their employers, and their employers generally cover anywhere from two to 10 appointments as part of their employee benefits. So if you’re really feeling anxious over money stress, you could talk to somebody about it for free.

And if that’s not in the cards for you? “There are mental health professionals that offer services that are pro bono or at a reduced cost. Also, there are educational programs that offer services that are pro bono or at a substantially reduced cost,” Moore says.

Finding those services will cost time, of course, but at least not money.

“People might be able to gain access to resources through their medical insurance specifically if their medical insurance coverage includes mental health benefits — which could be completely covered or at a significant reduced cost, such as a copay,” Moore says.

And if you feel like it’s professional financial help you need for your money stress rather than a therapist, there are free places to go for that as well, says Howard Dvorkin, a certified public accountant and chairman of the debt education website, Debt.com.

“There’s no shortage of free assistance,” Dvorkin says. “Your bank or credit union probably offer free online budgeting tools that can help you squeeze every last dime from your income. Nonprofit credit counseling agencies … offer you a free, in-depth debt analysis over the phone.”

And if you’re truly stressed over money, Dvorkin says that after experiencing about a year of historical inflation, getting professional help may be your best bet.

“Do-it-yourself solutions are mostly played out,” he says. “There are only so many coupon and gasoline apps you can download.”

More from U.S. News

How to Get Free Money From the Government

How to Save Money When Grocery Shopping on a Budget

Most Common Budgeting Mistakes (and How to Fix Them)

Ways to Manage Money Stress originally appeared on usnews.com

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up