A little pressure is a good thing. It keeps us alert, challenges us to improve and can lead to healthier brain function. A life without any stress at all would be very boring.
But when it comes to money, most people deal with more than just a little stress. At this end of the spectrum, the disadvantages of stress are replaced by more negatives – lack of sleep, increased anxiety, decreased immunity and more. Almost everyone can benefit from less stress on money.
This may be easier said than done, but there are some tried and true strategies we can recommend. Here are some of our favourites.
Set your deduction
One of the quickest ways to add more money to your budget is to adjust your withholding tax at work, said Emily Jay Birkin, author of End Financial Stress Now. If you’re accustomed to a large tax refund, you can change your tax withholding status to increase the value of your regular salary.
Talk to your human resources department about how to change your tax withholding and use the IRS withholding calculator to find out exactly what you need to change. Depending on when the employer implements the changes, they could take effect during or after the next paycheck.
“The only caveat you have to remember is that you will get paid less or no refund in April,” said Jay Birkin.
Start the money newspaper
Research has shown that journaling about your problems can lead to less stress and anxiety. If you are worried about money, take a notebook and start writing down what worries you. Consider it a brain draining exercise. Just start typing and don’t worry about placing all the information perfectly.
Once done, review the entries and prioritize stressors. Are you more concerned about saving for retirement or setting up an emergency fund? Worried more about student loans or your credit card balance? Try to arrange the items in order from most important to least important.
After prioritizing the items, start a new list and break down the steps you need to take. Then, you can begin to tackle those tasks and reduce your stress.
Contact your credit card provider
If you have a credit card balance, try calling your service provider and request a lower interest rate. Remind them that you are a long-time customer and that you have never missed a payment. A lower interest rate will prevent you from accumulating more interest and help you pay off the balance faster, which will help relieve some of the financial stress.
Switch to a lower student loan payment
Lowering your monthly student loan payments can save some space in your budget. If you have federal student loans, you can switch to an Income-Driven Repayment Plan (IDR) which may result in a lower payment. IDR plans also offer loan forgiveness after 20 or 25 years, depending on the plan and type of loan.
Here’s how much difference you might see each month. Let’s say you owe $50,000 in federal student loans with an interest rate of 5.28% and a tenure of 10 years. If you switch to one of the IDR plans, your monthly payment will be $256 compared to $537 on the Standard 10-year plan.
The main downside to an IDR plan is that your repayment period is extended, and you may owe taxes on the amount that is exempt when the term expires. But it’s a good temporary solution if you need a lower boost. You can always go back to the Standard plan if you want to pay off your loans faster.
Lower your bills
If you need more breathing room in your budget, try negotiating with Internet, cable, and cell phone providers. You may also be able to reduce any outstanding medical bills if you contact the billing department and request a discount.
“Internet and cable are an easy place to start because they’ve been negotiated,” said Jay Birkin.
Some tenants have had luck negotiating rent during the pandemic, especially if they live in a city where people have moved in large numbers.
Check your transactions
A 2020 survey found that 65% of Americans don’t know how much they spent last month. While ignorance may seem like a blessing, the anxiety that accompanies not being aware of your spending feels more like misery.
Print or download your credit card statements and bank statements from the last month and analyze them. You may discover that you’re still paying for a makeup subscription box or a gym membership that you thought you canceled. You may also find transactions that you don’t recognize, which could be evidence of fraud.
Cancel any subscriptions you no longer use and request a refund if the expenses have passed within the past month. Be persistent about canceling. Sometimes it can take weeks for an order to be fulfilled, so set a calendar reminder to check back in for opting out.
If you find that you are spending more than you earn, you need to make some drastic changes. Start by setting a budget, which can help you track spending and free up money to save, pay off debt, and achieve your other financial goals.
You can use mint to create a budget. Mint will suggest categories based on your current spending and show how much you spend on average. You can then reduce or increase the amounts depending on your goals. When you are close to going over budget, you will receive an email notification.
If you’re new to budgeting, don’t be surprised if you keep going over budget in certain categories. Changing your financial habits takes time, so be patient with yourself.
Close old accounts
A common stressor is having to manage multiple accounts. You can forget about something and end up with an overdrawn bank account or some fraudulent activity. If you have multiple accounts that you don’t need or use regularly, consider merging them. After you do that, set up your bills, credit cards, and loans to autopay so you don’t have to worry about missing the due date.
“It made it easier to maintain the financial side of our lives because we didn’t have a sprawling clutter to manage and many of the ‘day-to-day’ activities were on autopilot,” said Jim Wang of Wallet Hacks.
Zina Kumok (144 posts)
Zina Kumuk is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance. A former reporter, she has covered murder trials, the Final Four, and everything in between. It has been featured in Lifehacker, DailyWorth and Time. Read about how she paid off $28,000 of student loans in three years at Conscious Coins.