If money woes have you worried, you’re not alone. The pandemic has created very real, persistent financial challenges for many of us.
In the U.S., research shows that 77 percent of households felt anxious about their finances in 2021, a more than 20 percent increase from 2018. For meQ users, 54 percent of our worldwide members reported high levels of financial stress in 2021.
For you, that might stem from any number of unexpected expenses—supporting kids who’ve moved back home, helping loved ones who’ve lost their jobs, dealing with costly healthcare bills. Or it might stem from unmet goals around savings and retirement. In fact, some Americans think it’ll take three years or more to get back to where they were financially prior to the pandemic, according to a 2021 Pew Research Center survey.
While money stress can seem paralyzing, you can write a new financial future for yourself, says Kate Grayson, founder of Beyond Money, a financial wellness company that helps people create those new financial realities. And practicing resilience will help you get there.
These tips will help you feel less overwhelmed and make financial progress.
Move beyond self-blame
Resist the urge to think negatively about yourself, even if you feel responsible for your financial situation. Practicing self compassion will help you to move forward.
When critical or judgmental thoughts come up, remind yourself that plenty of smart, capable people—even those you admire—are also currently experiencing financial stress, says Rachel Kanarowski, workplace stress expert and founder of the Year of Living Better project. “Practicing self-compassion won’t change our financial challenges overnight, but it will make the experience of addressing them feel better,” she says.
For help with recognizing and getting ahead of negative thoughts and emotions, practice Trap it, Map it, Zap it. Meditation also can help prevent negative thoughts from taking control; consider making this 7-minute compassionate meditation a daily habit.
Know your numbers
Taking a closer look at your money can be intimidating, but as numerous studies confirm, avoidance only breeds and perpetuates anxiety. It also keeps us stuck. Learning to develop a growth mindset, in which you believe that you possess the ability to grow and change, can help you get unstuck.
To start, “confront your present financial situation with eyes wide open,” jotting down your account balances, debt items and terms, and any other relevant numbers, says Grayson. Similarly, she suggests tracking your spending for one month, which will likely lead to “some major insights” about how you spend money.
Then to get back on track, formulate an action plan for your financial well-being, says Joyce Marter, a psychotherapist and author of “The Financial Mindset Fix: A Mental Fitness Program for an Abundant Life.” Make your goals SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely, she says. To help you create your plan, consider seeking out a financial advisor, planner, or consultant. (Note: Some companies offer financial well-being services as a benefit, so check with your employer.)
Tie your budget to your values
Budgeting is one way we can take back some control over our finances. For many people, however, budgeting also can be stressful and boring—making it another task we avoid. But, as Grayson notes, “Budgeting becomes a lot more fun when you’re able to use it as a vehicle to fund what matters most to you.”
Begin with the necessities, such as housing and food expenses. Then to make budgeting more pleasant and meaningful, consider your values when it comes to more casual expenses. What is important to you? Or, Grayson recommends, review your spending history and note which purchases light you up and which feel like a drain. “Channel your financial energy toward the value-aligned categories—the purchases that you’re thrilled to make—and cut back in the areas that don’t bring that same joy,” she adds.
This might mean keeping your gym membership and weekly dates with your partner, but canceling your streaming service subscriptions and slashing online purchases.
Adjust your perspective
Every mistake, misstep, and unmet goal can teach us something important to help us make progress—and make better decisions in the future. The key is to not get bogged down by a specific blunder.
Instead, refocus on the lessons you’ve learned and the small wins you’ve accomplished at every turn. When you focus on a positive instead of a negative, your mind gets a positivity boost and triggers a relaxation response in your body.
According to Marter, refocusing might look like:
- While I spent more money than expected helping my brother out, I learned that next time I’ll be more firm about my financial boundaries by clearly stating what I can and can’t do and for what length of time.
- While I wasn’t able to make my mortgage payment for several months due to my partner’s job loss, I learned how to work with the mortgage company and my creditors to stop payments during tough times.
- While I may have only saved $2,000 instead of $5,000, I learned that I can save $300 a month by cutting back on dining out and making my coffee at home.