You've checked your bank account and found you have only $42 left in your savings account. You've received at least three phone calls this morning from creditors who are wondering why your payments are late. Your car payment is due in three days and you're not sure how you'll pay the bill. Last month, your landlord threatened to evict you when your rent check did not arrive on the first of the month.
If this scenario sounds familiar, you may be experiencing finance-induced stress. From time to time, all of us suffer from it, to one degree or another. Financial stress is simply a fact of modern life. No matter how hard we work, no matter how diligent we are at trying to save our money, we may find that we have great difficulty paying all of our bills. This can be particularly true if we've been hit with a major traumatic event, such as the death of a spouse, a divorce, or a serious illness.
Financial stress can be felt in a number of ways. For example, you might have difficulty sleeping at night because you are worrying about your finances. You might find yourself short-tempered and, as a result, you might be experiencing conflict with your spouse. You may find yourself yelling at your children for minor infractions, or you may even be hit with panic attacks at work.
The fact is, financial stress can cause you tremendous physical and psychological discomfort. It can lead to anxiety, depression, high blood pressure—even stroke. As a result, financial stress is actually a serious, though often unrecognized, health concern. In essence, your financial problems may be making you sick.
But how do you address what can seem to be an insurmountable problem? To begin with, it is important that you go to your doctor and have a complete physical. State your symptoms, and note that you believe that financial stress may be the cause. Your doctor might then refer you to a psychiatrist for anti-anxiety medication, or to a therapist who can help you work through your problems.
Next, consider consulting a certified financial planner. He or she can help you to realize your short-term and long-term financial goals. Don't be embarrassed to let the planner know the extent of your financial problems. Remember that the only way to really attack finance-induced stress is to meet the difficulty head-on. Trying to dodge the problem…pretending that things are not as bad as they are…will only exacerbate your troubles in the end.
Your financial planner will probably want you to come up with a workable budget. It is important to be realistic when crunching numbers. It does little good for you to come up with a budget that looks fine on paper, but that doesn't work in the real world. Make sure that you budget for all the essentials—food, shelter, clothing, medical care. And also try to budget for long-term priorities, such as college savings or retirement. Also, don't forget to allot at least a small portion of your budget to recreation and entertainment. You'll need a few diversions in order to be a less stressed individual.
In the beginning, you might want to track every single expenditure that you make. This can be difficult, especially if you're not used to that kind of record-keeping. But it can be quite instructive. You might not realize, for instance, just how much money you're spending each month on lattes, or how much you're devoting to the daily lottery drawing. By doing the record-keeping, you might discover ways that you can trim your budget without really feeling the pinch.
It is also highly important that you save a portion of your money in order to pay for the unexpected. From time to time, all of us are hit with bills that seem to come out of the blue. Your savings will act as a kind of insurance policy against disaster. With some money in the bank—even if it is a small amount in the beginning—you'll be better able to weather the financial storms that come your way. And you might find those middle-of-the-night worries disappearing, knowing that you are doing all you can to get your finances under control
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