By Lisa Bumble
Are you shocked to know that money is the leading cause of stress amongst Brits? Neither are we. We don't want to overstate it but the cliché that money makes the world go around must have some truth to it. With the current economic state of affairs, the squeeze on household finances is really beginning to bite and with that, stress and money worries are part of the territory. Going further, it's not just the amount of money (or lack of per se) it's more an emergency call on personal finances, for example, when an unexpected bill crops up, this is what can cause the real stress. With the emphasis on speed and quick cash or quick loans to plug that gap the demand for personal loans is high.
Unsurprisingly stressing over money or debt can cause a variety of health issues. This could be from worrying about the economy, to housing costs and job stability, to savings and investments. The physical manifestations are numerous:
Below are three major contributors to financial stress:
According to numerous sources such as the Bank of England, debt levels have risen faster than incomes and assets. We handle debt in all shapes and forms, for example, quick loans or fast loans, mortgages, credit cards and car finance. With this variety and indeed the historically low interest rates attached, comes the temptation to use credit in place of savings. Many commentators have made the point that this high personal debt level is stimulated by consumerism and consumption. Some would even go as far to say that we are practically taunted by the latest electronic devices and "must-have" fashion clothing, touted by the in-favour celebrity of the day. Coupled with this array of shiny new objects, is the increasing need to have them today not tomorrow.
Consumerism is one side of the equation; historically low interest rates are the other. This has 2 effects, the first is that debt is relatively cheap, encouraging more people to leverage themselves, the second is that there is little incentive to save, as the interest rate the bank gives is incredibly low. Putting this in context, 20 years ago you could get double figures for a bog-standard savings account, today rates have drastically decreased and are now hovering around a 0.5% and 2% margin. Not only is this impacting consumerism but it could be building a problem for the future because an individual's financial future is largely dependent on how much is saved during a working career through pensions and long-term investments.
Who remembers being taught about finances in primary and secondary school? Trick question, probably none of us. The closest we learned about money was from basic maths lessons "Bianca, Toby and Karl have £20 in coins. They decided to share it between them, but Bianca and Toby took double than what Karl received. How much does Karl take away from the £20?" You get the idea.
There is little formal financial education in the school system, therefore the majority of us had to learn from friends and family. However, this could create almost as many problems as it solves as bad financial habits may be passed on. Detailed personal financial knowledge, such as about quick loans, will help but really, we need to address both sides of the household budget; spending and saving. Only then can we hope to be able to control the stress that builds up when finances are finely balanced.
There are coping strategies that you can deploy if you think the pressures of your finances are building up:
Whilst setting a budget may seem like an additional effort to your financial stress, it is the best tool you can have to regain control. Once set, the first few months are expected to be the most difficult, however once you gain a deeper understanding on what needs to be cut back from your spending (if you don't already know), it will effectively reduce your time spent worrying about money. Start with budgeting just one month's worth of expenses and from there continue cutting back different areas each month until you reach a reasonable balance.
Emphasis on the word "emergency". An emergency fund is money set specifically aside to cover any unexpected expenses and financial emergencies, for example, a car repair. Having a buffer can take away some of your stress and mitigates the worry that if something were to go wrong you would be unprepared. It is suggested to aim to set aside around £500 to £1,000 to establish this fund.
If you are really struggling to handle your finances and spending, do not feel afraid or intimidated to ask for help. You can take classes on basic money management and investing as it will guide and motivate you to plan a budget and succeed financially. An additional benefit of attending these classes is to reassure you that you are not alone when struggling with debt and loans. Invest in a financial planner and it can help you create a long-term investment strategy that will help you prepare for retirement.
Focus on what is making you feel so uneasy about money, for example, if you want to save for impending retirement but don't know where to start, do some research or talk to other people about their retirement plans and how they are saving money. In this particular case, ignorance is far from bliss. Reduce that stress by getting clued-up moneywise. Consider the suggestions below:
By taking matters into your own hands and getting up to speed with the jargon and concepts, you can help address some of the causes of your stress and turn them into a controllable risk.
Define what is essential spending and what are the luxuries. Obviously, the essentials are that for a reason but make sure to use comparison sites to ensure you are getting the best deals. For the luxuries, you would be amazed about the how small things quickly add up. The single bean cappuccino on your daily commute quickly balloons to £300 a year! Be honest, be harsh and try making some sacrifices and see how it goes. It might seem a non-answer but another way to look at it could be to increase your income. Changing jobs, negotiating a pay rise, retraining, overtime, extra duties are all levers which you may consider pulling to affect this.
Contrary to popular belief, this tip makes a huge difference on the amount of stress you feel. Looking at the positive aspects of your everyday life can help reduce anxiety. These positive aspects could come from anywhere, for example, by tracking your progress towards your financial goals which could include putting £5 into your savings account. Try to find some healthy (and free) outlets to distract your mind, even if only for 30 minutes.
Exercise has been proven to benefit a number of aspects of your life. From better sleep, to more energy, to strengthened relationships and improved mental capacity. Leading on from this, if you feel better and are more alert, you are going to be more receptive to better habits and sticking to your financial goals.
As a matter of fact, picking the right activity does not necessarily have to cost the earth. Try these inexpensive exercises to help relieve any stress you feel:
We all know we feel better after a refreshing night's sleep, however there is increasing evidence out there to suggest that missing out on just a few hours kip each night has serious health implications including the inability to deal with stressful situations. The more activities you do during the day equals the more tired your body will feel to sleep better at night (all the more reason to take on some of the exercises we mentioned above, however, do not do them too soon before going to bed).
If you have trouble falling sleep, try the old classics, such as a glass of warm milk or hot chocolate. The comforting feeling it gives you might be enough to rest your mind and put you to sleep. Otherwise, talk about your stresses to another person, getting out your frustration may be helpful in easing your worries because you are no longer keeping it to yourself.
Live in the real world and be in the moment. Constantly checking your social media to see your connections' holiday shots is not good for the mind or soul. We all know that a person's social media presence is their ideal projection of self and probably not a realistic representation of their entire life. So, it's little wonder that these snapshots can lead to a sense of failure or low self-worth. Try to put into context the social media notifications of your friends and family’s pictures whilst they are abroad, at smart restaurants, in their flash cars and any other clear indicators of wealth and success. Try not to compare your finances or indeed life to others as it causes stress and envy and frankly, it is not a healthy way to live. Be responsible with your social media just like we are responsible with the way we advertise, see here.
Here are some thoughts to remember the next time you feel the urge to binge on social media posts:
We hope you enjoyed this guide and found it helpful for identifying and tackling money stresses. As much as we emphasised the causes of financial stress, we hope you found solace in understanding the different options of how to deal and minimise your stress levels. You do not have to suffer in silence, approach someone for help and learn how to reduce your problems accordingly. Remember, that focusing on your own goals and measuring your own successes will ensure better control over your money, for example, a healthy savings account and an accurate monthly budget. These are greater indicators of wealth and achievements rather than the posts you can find on social media.