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Dealing with Money Stress

So, I’m getting ready for work this morning and I realized I’m stressing. Particularly, I’m worrying about how our lifestyle changes are going to impact our savings rates. I’m also worrying​ about how the political changes will impact our investments. This money stress is not doing me any good though. It’s not like I can really change either issue beyond what I am doing today. Yet I’m sitting there during my shower, running through our net worth numbers and investments. In my mind I’m trying to determine contingencies to fictional boogie men that could derail our financial progress. I go through the numbers, not once, but three times in the course of my shower.   I was experiencing acute money stress. Apparently, I’m not alone.

Money Stress is almost Universal

According to a study in 2015 over three quarters of Americans are stressed about finances. Stress, especially consistent stress can have devastating problems on your health. In the short run it can make you feel fatigued, irritable, cause trouble sleeping, hurt your concentration, headaches, depression, or any number of other issues. In the long run there are links between stress and heart disease. So stressing is not a good thing, and yet so many of us are doing it about finances.

Not just for those in Poverty

Many articles interpret this phenomenon as due to poor finances or the widening income gap. However, I personally can tell you that neither situation particularly applies to me, and yet I find myself stressing about money during major life changes. Never mind that even if 2008 occurred again our retirement needs are so far in the future it likely would not matter. I still, if left to my natural state, stress over every detail of the what ifs until things settle out. Judging by how many blog posts from well to do financial bloggers exist on what will happen to health care over the next 4 years, it’s obvious to me I’m not alone in this respect.

Tips to Deal with Money Stress

I also realize I get this way from time to time. Lest you think it’s a new phenomenon, my lovely wife over the years has helped me devise some methods to run that stress away. Today I’ll explain some of these to you. Note, these will only help if your stress is not related to immediate financial hardship. i.e. you should already have your finances in order, have a decent savings rate, and have a emergency fund.   In the absence of these you have reasons to stress and problems to solve. Putting your head in the sand like an Ostrich won’t remove your stress permanently, and may result in what occurs being more stressful then the initial situation. You need to solve the source of real stress in your life before you can address stress your mind creates.  For all others we can proceed:

  1. Achieve Financial Independence. We talked a few weeks ago that this buys options. Options means more contingencies if something goes wrong and less legitimate reasons to worry. This is a great long term solution to some money stress. As my example shows though it’s not a cure all.
  2. Don’t look at your accounts except at specific times of month. Now I don’t mean start spending hog wild and be surprised by how much you spent on your credit card for the month. I do mean do not log in and look at your brokerage accounts or Net Worth sheets every day. Looking at it won’t change it, but if it’s a source of stress you’ll keep stressing about it.
  3. Automate Financial decisions. Decision fatigue is a real problem. Essentially after making a large number of decisions, additional ones decline in quality. They also tend to become more stressful as a result of the declining quality. Automate some of them. Setup your monthly 401K withdrawals as an easy way to automate savings. If you have excess beyond 401k limits, set auto withdrawals into a savings account or use one of those fintech apps that will do it for you. Setup reoccurring bills so that they auto pay. Remove some of those decisions for less stress.
  4. Setup a plan and follow it.   The Boy Scout Moto is “Be Prepared”. It is important to set a plan with some basic contingencies. However, your plan doesn’t need to outline every potential disaster. I.E. you shouldn’t need a line in your plan that says if BREXIT occurs I sell all my British stock. It should be something like if the market drops by a large percent no matter the cause I will…. I’d personally say buy more but that answer might also be stand pat depending on risk tolerance. Either way sticking to the plan takes the emotion out of the moments decision which leads to better results. It also has the added bonus of removing that money stress we keep talking about.
  5. Reaffirm to yourself that you’ve covered the conceivable contingencies. If the above hasn’t worked thus far then perhaps take a step back. Instead of looking at the tactics of what you will do if the sky falls, ask yourself where you are financially compared to the average person. Unless you’re​ deep in debt, you are probably leaps and bounds ahead. Now this doesn’t mean to put other people down or to keep up with the jones. This does mean if you have a savings of mid 5 figures or higher you’re probably better off than 95% of the people on earth. Realize if those 95% can survive with less contingencies, you can at yours. After all you’re lucky to be living such a privileged life.
  6. Focus your mind elsewhere. I actually did this when the issue occurred this morning. I walked over to my youngest son, sat down and read him a children’s book. Problem solved and it made my son happy as well.
  7. Remember that life is not about Money. Your not here on this planet to become rich, buy fancy things, or even to become financially independent (though it would provide options). You’re here to enjoy the journey of life. By stressing you’re missing the boat. Focus on those things you value and bring you joy on your current journey.
  8. I’d be remiss with adding the final one which I briefly mentioned in the paragraph before. Have a loved one or friend kick you from time to time so you change the topic in your head.

Do you experience Money Stress? How do you deal with it?


  1. When I experience money stress, I stay in and don’t spend any money. Luckily, I haven’t had this experience in quite some time.

    We will see coming up. If I leave my job, I could definitely see a lot of money stress coming on!

    Thanks for sharing

    • March 27, 2017

      Thanks Erik, do you ever experience money stress that is not rooted in real concerns?

  2. Mustard Seed Money
    Mustard Seed Money March 27, 2017

    Since my wife and I have gotten out of debt we hardly think about money at all. It’s a wonderful feeling but before we paid off our debt it was something that weighed on our mind all the time.

    I remember checking my accounts all the time trying to optimize them and see if I could throw extra money towards the debt.

    Now that the debt is paid off we only have to worry about throwing extra funds into the market 🙂

    • March 27, 2017

      Being Debt free, like financial independence, sounds like another great way to mitigate money stress.

  3. SMM
    SMM March 28, 2017

    “Don’t look at your accounts except at specific times of month”

    I am so bad at this one. Sometimes I’ll look at my account(s) if I’m bored and try to find more ways to save or achieve a round number via savings. I can make the excuse that viewing it makes me more motivated, but I’m not sure if it’s motivation or stress. Either way, I need to deliberately leave it alone more often and keep myself occupied with other things to do. Great list by the way!

    • March 28, 2017

      Thanks SMM. Personally I’ve found looking at it too often does nothing more then create more stress. There are only so many ways you can save.

  4. Jen Smith
    Jen Smith March 28, 2017

    I feel like this is so relevant for me right now. Since we moved into our house last month I’ve been spending more than usual and it’s giving me anxiety. But I’m so glad when I read I’m not the only one with money stress.

    • March 28, 2017

      Thanks for the comment Jen. I’ve found major life changes makes the money stress more intense. There are very few changes bigger then a home move.

  5. Mr. Need2save
    Mr. Need2save March 28, 2017

    We definitely check Mint and SigFig too much, but more out of habit than concern over the account values.

    Mrs. Need2Save took around 6 years off of work a little over 10 years ago after our sons were born. That was a stressful time for us relying on one income… not to mention this was right when the .com bubble burst.

    With our sons essentially adults now (just about 18 and 19), our house just about paid off, and a good amount of money saved, I feel like we are ‘almost’ at FI. If a series of bad things happened, I think we could sell our house, move to someplace less expensive, and be fine. As you said in #7, it’s not about the money – I”m confident we will always have enough to get what we need.

    • March 29, 2017

      We’re in a not dissimilar position, and yet I still find myself worrying from time to time. It might just be in my disposition.

  6. Leo T. Ly @
    Leo T. Ly @ March 29, 2017

    For me, the one tracked mind is an issue. When I have some financial stress, it’s very difficult for me to diver my attention to other things. This becomes an issue when it’s closed to bedtime. I will most likely have a hard time falling asleep. I think that diverting my attention somewhere else would definitely help or just do something to prevent myself from going back to that money issue. I sometimes thing that my money stress is a case of over thinking on an issue.

    • March 29, 2017

      I can see that. I often find any thoughts and worries are typically tied to an implausibility. Sometimes you just have to step back and play the cards your dealt.

  7. Mr Defined Sight
    Mr Defined Sight March 29, 2017

    Good list here. I sometimes am guilty of getting wrapped up in finances as well. It’s not always stress but more so thinking of strategy towards financial independence. My wife has to get after me once in awhile to snap me out of my haze 🙂

    • March 29, 2017

      That’s really what I’m thinking about here. There are very few things at this point that would derail our finances, but sometimes stressing about the strategy can be harmful.

  8. Jax
    Jax March 30, 2017

    When I feel money stress, I sit down and hash out a plan. About 50% of the time that relieves my stress. But the other 50% I find myself still anxious even though I just made a reasonable plan! During these times I just have to trust myself more and take a break thinking about money.

    I like your list of things to do to try to feel less stress. It’s always a good reminder that money isn’t everything. My partner likes to remind me that there will always be another paycheck (we, luckily, have pretty stable jobs.)

    • March 30, 2017

      Planning can sometimes make it better, but other times it makes it worse for me. Thanks for the comment.

  9. Finance Patriot
    Finance Patriot March 30, 2017

    I think about money but we don’t stress about it at all. We invested about 47k last year and that makes life easier. When I start withdrawing soon it will be bizarre.

    • March 31, 2017

      I imagine post retirement there might even be a higher tendency to stress a bit. Honestly a big driver of my recent stress is us going to a one income family. It’s less about how do we afford something, and more about accepting it’s ok if I save 15K less this year then last. I.E. the savings is still occurring, it’s just at a slightly reduced rate.

  10. Rich @
    Rich @ March 31, 2017

    The only time I feel money stress is when I get impatient that I can’t achieve short term goals as quickly as I’d like to.

    The way that I overcome this, first step, is to look at the long term plan vs. the short term plan. Long term I have a very conservative calculation for retirement. As long as I stick to that, I’m ok. If I start to fall behind, well worst-case scenario is I’ll need to work another year.

    The next step is perspective. Working another year, of course, is not like living in a slum in India. My worst case is still pretty cushy.

    Short term I hate to fall behind but if it’s keeping me up at night I either have too much risk on the table or too little appreciation for my actual financial stability (compared to much of the world). Not moralizing here just explaining my process 🙂

    • March 31, 2017

      I believe this is a lot of what it comes down to for me: “too little appreciation for my actual financial stability”. It’s easy to get in your own world and wander what if X occurs. But the reality is you are probably compared 20x better then your neighbor. “You only have to run faster then your peers to not get eaten.”

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