It’s a fact: our finances are one of the things in our lives that stress us out the most. If we’re trying for a stress-free life — with stress-free productivity, working and living environments, waking early, morning routines and the like — then we need to address our finances and find routines that will keep the stress of money to a minimum.
First, identify the financial stressors in your life. For many people, these include: worries about debt, paying bills late, not having a financial security net, not having a sense of control over your finances, and arguments over finances.
Let’s address these each with some simple solutions:
Get out of debt. This is often the first necessary step. But how do you do this? First, monitor your impulse spending urges to stop the bleeding. Use a debt snowball as a plan to get out of debt. Also see: How I save, How to stop living from paycheck-to-paycheck, and How I ended my affair with the credit card.
Pay your bills as soon as they come in. This is one of the easiest ways to eliminate stress over bills. When you get your power bill, write a check, put it in an envelope, and mail it the next day. Or if you bank online (and you should), go to your computer, log in, and send your electronic payment. To do this, you’ll need to develop a bit of a cushion in your bank account, so you always have enough to pay the bills as they come in.
Make your payments automatic. I’ve covered this before … it’s an great alternative to the above method. Instead of paying bills as they come in, you can set up automatic payments and automatic savings payments online, so that as soon as your paycheck comes in, your bills get send out and a certain amount is transferred to savings (or investments). Either method works great.
Develop a financial security net. This is something you should also do right away. First, if you are married or have any dependents, you should get life insurance right away. Do your research and make sure you’re getting the right policy for your needs. Don’t get whole life insurance — it’s not the smartest investment. Second, look at your other insurance to see if it meets your needs, from auto to homeowners to renters and more. Third, make sure you have a will — this might not seem necessary if you are young, but if you have any dependents, this is a must. Fourth, develop an emergency fund — right away. I know, it’s something that everyone advises, but if you don’t have at least a small emergency fund, you will never have financial peace of mind. Build it up to 3-6 months worth, or whatever you need to feel secure.
Review your finances at least weekly. To get a sense of control over your finances, you have to monitor them. Be sure you’re balancing your checkbook at least once a week, to ensure that you don’t have bounced checks or debit transactions. Even if your bills are automatic, you’ll still want to make sure they’re going out. Take the 10-20 minutes every week that’s necessary to look at your budget, your expenses, your income, and make sure you’ve got everything under control. If you’ve got a partner, do this together.
Talk about money with your partner. Money can be a huge stressor on a relationship. It’s important that you talk about money on a regular basis in a non-emotional way, as hard as that may sound. It’s crucial, in fact, to the survival of your relationship. You both have to be on the same page, or you will eventually argue and have major crises about your finances. You need to talk about your financial dreams and goals, your spending patterns, your budget, your income, your savings, debt, financial security, bills and the like. If you don’t already do this, it may take awhile in the beginning, and be difficult. But try to do it as a team, and not accuse each other of anything, don’t blame, and try to be positive and constructive. Over time, it will get easier. At the minimum, devote 10-20 minutes each week to reviewing your finances together, reviewing your goals, and making sure that you’re together and seeing eye-to-eye. It will make a major difference in your relationship and in your stress level.