Financial Stress

24 Dec, 2009 || by

Those of us who are old enough to remember “Popeye”’, also remember the quote made by hamburger-loving Wimpy, “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.”  This notion of having what we want now, with the intention of paying for it later, seems to have become a mainstay of American life.

For many people, money (or their lack of it) is a major cause of stress.  The details of each person’s situation may vary, but most people know what it’s like to feel anxious about money.  For some people, the daily challenge of earning enough money to pay a given week’s bills is the biggest source of financial stress.  Others feel financial stress because they are unemployed or because they are in jobs they dislike and are trying to save money for things like a new home, their children’s college, or for their own retirement.  Sometimes, too, unfortunate experiences such as family illness, natural disaster (i.e., hurricanes), and economic fluctuations can precipitate major shortfalls in the money we tend to spread so thinly.  In some families, people argue constantly about how to spend the money they have, who controls it, and how to earn more.  These stresses can cause marital conflict and often play a part in divorce.

People who feel financial stress tend to be in worse health than those who are in control of their finances.  Financial stress can result in insomnia, mood disorders, inability to concentrate, and cardiac problems. Warning signs that point to current or future financial stress include the following:

  1. Finding it nearly impossible to meet basic financial agreements; living from paycheck to paycheck.
  2. Being confused about your financial circumstances, such as being unaware of monthly expenses, account balances, and other financial obligations.
  3. Being in a constant financial crisis, such as bouncing checks, making only minimum payments each month on a credit card, and/or using one credit card to pay another.
  4. Having a pattern of taking personal risks, such as by letting health and auto insurance coverage lapse because you lack the money to pay them.
  5. Focusing on today and ignoring tomorrow, such as by lacking a plan for retirement savings and one for tax and other inevitable expense payments – and feeling surprised when these expenses are due.
  6. Spending compulsively, such as buying things you don’t need.
  7. Feeling as though you must buy everything your children want.
  8. Wanting to keep pace with your relatives, friends and neighbors.
  9. Worrying constantly about your bills.
  10. Developing physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, and nervousness, as a result of money worries.
  11. Arguing frequently with your partner about money and spending.
  12. Avoiding any discussion about finances because of the anxiety it causes you.
  13. Attempting desperately to earn more money by working overtime.

What Causes Financial Stress?

Financial stress can be caused by several factors, the most common of which are the following:

Not planning ahead. Living day-to-day seems inevitable to many people, and planning ahead may be difficult.  But when emergencies and unexpected losses happen, the person who has no emergency fund to fall back on will experience much greater stress than the person who has planned ahead.

Spending too much. In our culture, we are under tremendous pressure to spend money on things we don’t really need.  Because it is easy to confuse acquiring things with happiness, plenty of people get caught up in spending habits that can quickly spin out of control.  When one person in a relationship indulges in this behavior, it places enormous stress on the relationship with his/her partner and other family members.

“It is easy to confuse acquiring things with happiness.”

Spending to satisfy self-esteem needs. Most of us know people who have plenty of money but whose lives lack satisfaction and joy.  Perhaps you’ve experienced a time in your life when you felt empty or dissatisfied and bought things in an attempt to feel better.

What Can You Do To Put An End To Financial Stress?

  1. Explore your values – those basic beliefs that guide your life.  Write them down and discuss them with your partner and family.  Compare your values with your spending behavior.  You are likely to feel anxious and disappointed in yourself where the values are out of synch.
  2. Make a plan to change your behavior in relationship to money.  Identify the specific steps you need to bring your spending and saving behavior in line with your values.
  3. Develop a budget.  Include all the money that comes into your household as well as all of your obligations and necessities.
  4. Don’t buy anything on credit except in an emergency.
  5. Discriminate between what you want and what you need.  Only buy those things you really need.
  6. If you buy something on impulse that you really don’t need, return it to the store for a refund.
  7. Avoid buying items that require maintenance or additional items that will lead to additional expense.
  8. Admit that you can’t afford to buy certain items, and don’t buy them.
  9. At holiday time, make an agreement with family and friends to place a limit on spending for gifts.  Don’t get caught up in the buying frenzy that seems to have become a part of the holiday season.
  10. Take time to think about and appreciate what you have.  Just like a child, many of us have items lying around we forget to use.  Pull those things out and consider new ways of using them.
  11. Collect all of the items you no longer use, perhaps because they were bought on impulse, and have a garage sale.  Take the money earned from the garage sale and start and emergency fund/savings account.
  12. If you are so far in debt that it’s too difficult to get out of the hole yourself, contact a nonprofit credit counseling agency or Debtors Anonymous (

“If a person gets his attitude toward money straight, it will straighten out almost every other area of his life.”  –  Billy Graham

According to Polly LaBarre in “How to Lead a Rich Life”, “Between 1970 and 1999, the average American family received a 16% raise (adjusted for inflation), while the percentage of people who described themselves as ‘very happy’ fell from 36% to 29%.  We are better paid, better fed, and better educated than ever.  Yet the divorce rate has doubled, the teen suicide rate has tripled, and depression has soared in the past 30 years.”  It’s time to realize that happiness is not about having more money and more toys.  This attitude only creates more pressure and takes away from the quality time we have available to spent with our family and friends.  As Billy Graham has said, “If a person gets his attitude toward money straight, it will help straighten out almost every other area of his life.”

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