A little stress is good for you. It keeps us busy, challenges us to improve, and can even lead to healthier brain function. Life without stress would be pretty boring.
But when it comes to money, most people have more to do than just a little stress. At this end of the spectrum, the benefits of stress are being replaced by even more disadvantages – poor sleep, increased anxiety, decreased immunity, and more. Almost everyone could benefit from worrying less about money.
This may be easier said than done, but there are some proven strategies we can recommend. Here are some of our favorites.
Adjust your withholding tax deduction
Emily Guy Birken, author of End Financial Stress Now, said one of the fastest ways to get more money into your budget is to adjust your tax withholding at work. If you’re used to getting a big tax refund, you can change your tax withholding status to increase your regular paycheck.
Talk to your HR department about how to change your tax withholding and use the IRS tax withholding calculator to see what specifics you need to change. Depending on when your employer implements the changes, they can take effect on your next paycheck or the next.
“The only caveat to be aware of is that you will get less or no refund in April,” said Guy Birken.
Start a money journal
Research has shown that journaling your problems can lead to less stress and anxiety. If you are worried about money, take a notebook and start writing down what you are worried about. Think of it as a brain dump exercise; Just start writing and don’t worry about all of the information being perfectly arranged.
When you’re done, go through the entries and prioritize your stressors. Are you more concerned about saving up for retirement or setting up an emergency fund? Are you more concerned about your student loans or credit card balance? Try to list the items in order from most important to least important.
After you’ve prioritized the items, start a new list and break down the steps you need to take. Then you can tackle these tasks and relieve your stress.
Call your credit card provider
If you have a credit card balance, try calling your provider and asking about a lower interest rate. Remind them that you are a long-time customer and have never missed a payment. A lower interest rate will prevent more interest accruing and help you pay the balance faster, which should help alleviate financial stress.
Switch to a lower student loan payment
Lowering your monthly student loan payment can give your budget some slack. If you have a federal student loan, you can switch to an income-based repayment plan (IDR), which can result in a lower payment. IDR plans also offer loan waiver after 20 or 25 years, depending on the plan and type of loan.
Here’s how much of a difference you could see each month. Let’s say you owe $ 50,000 in federal student loans with a 5.28% interest rate and a 10 year term. If you switch to one of the IDR plans, your monthly payment will be $ 256 compared to $ 537 for the standard 10-year plan.
The biggest downside to an IDR plan is that it will extend your repayment deadline and, after the term has expired, you may owe tax on the amount waived. But it’s a good temporary solution if you need a lower payment. You can always switch back to the standard plan if you want to repay your loans faster.
Lower your bills
If you need more wiggle room in your budget, try negotiating with your internet, cable, and cellular providers. You may also be able to lower pending medical bills by calling the billing department and asking for a discount.
“Internet and cable services are an easy place to start because you negotiate with them,” said Guy Birken.
Some tenants have been lucky enough to negotiate their rent during the pandemic, especially if they live in a city where people have moved out in droves.
Investigate your transactions
A 2020 poll by Mint found that 65% of Americans don’t know how much they spent last month. While ignorance feels like happiness, the fear that comes with not knowing your expenses feels more like misery.
Print or download and analyze your credit card and bank statements from the last month. You may find yourself still paying for a makeup subscription or gym membership that you thought you canceled. You may also find transactions that you do not recognize, which could indicate fraud.
Cancel any subscriptions that you no longer use and ask for a refund if the cost was made within the last month. Be persistent with the cancellation. Sometimes it can take weeks for the request to be processed. So set a calendar reminder to check if the subscription has been canceled.
Start a budget
When you find that you are spending more than you make, there are some radical changes you need to make. Start by creating a budget that can help you track expenses and free up money to save, pay off debt, and meet your other financial goals.
You can use mint to help create a budget. Mint suggests categories based on your current spending and shows how much you spend on average. You can then decrease or increase the amounts depending on your goals. If you are almost 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. It takes time to change your financial habits, so be patient with yourself.
Close old accounts
A common stressor is managing multiple accounts. You can forget one and end up with an overdrawn bank account or fraudulent activity. If you have multiple accounts that you don’t need or use regularly, consider consolidating them. After that, set up your bills, credit cards, and loans on Autopay so you don’t have to worry about missing a due date.
“It made it easier to keep the financial side of our lives going because we didn’t have much of a mess to deal with and a lot of the ‘daily’ activities were on autopilot,” said Jim Wang of Wallet Hacks.
Zina Kumok (144 posts)
Zina Kumok is a freelance writer who specializes in personal finance. As 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 how she paid off $ 28,000 in student loans at Conscious Coins in three years.