According to a 2018 survey by the Financial Planning Standards Council, 40 percent of Canadians list money as one of their greatest causes of stress. Between paying your bills on time, trying to make ends meet, saving for retirement (or just trying to save in general), figuring out how to invest, and always having to see Susan’s fancy vacation photos on Facebook, it seems pretty impossible to not feel overwhelmed and stressed about your finances.
While completely eliminating all the stress you have about money is definitely a hefty task, there are ways you can gain better control of your finances and alleviate some of your daily financial stressors. This Stress Awareness Month, I’m sharing a few of my favourite tips for managing finances and improving financial health, which can, in turn, result in lower stress.
#1 KNOW YOUR MONEY
Not knowing where or when your money is coming and going can be a huge financial stressor for many of us. We’ve all experienced moments where we’ve lost track of our spending for the month and find ourselves in a department or grocery store line anxiously looking at our purchases, hoping we’ll have enough in our account to cover the cost. Having an understanding of your finances doesn’t have to be difficult and it can eliminate stressful situations similar to the one mentioned above.
The first and easiest step to getting to know your money is to figure out when your money is coming in, and what needs to be paid with those funds. A detailed budget might seem overwhelming for someone who is just beginning to manage their finances but it doesn’t have to be. If you have access to a phone or a tablet, free budgeting apps like Wallet and Spending tracker allow you to track your income and expenses at the touch of a button. If you prefer a technology-free option, something as simple as writing your bill-payment due dates on a calendar will allow you to visually see what needs to be paid and when.
#2 LEARN TO SPEND MINDFULLY
Learning how to spend mindfully can not only help you cut costs but can also help you cut down on financial stress. Flyer shopping is a great place to begin your mindful spending journey since food, hygiene products and household items are frequent purchases that can add up quickly. Look through your flyers for specials, promotions and coupons, and when the opportunity presents itself (e.g., you have a deep freeze, a pantry or a cold room), buy nonperishable items and meat in bulk.
Thanks to technology, you no longer have to spend hours scanning paper flyers and risking papercuts to plan your shopping trip. Mobile apps like Flipp have almost all the main flyers and weekly deals. You can still view your favourite stores, but you can also search for specific items and the app will automatically provide you with all sales on that item so you can compare prices. In addition to Flipp, apps like Checkout 51 give you cash back on specific offers through their app.
Mindful spending certainly isn’t limited to food either. For entertainment, check out your local museums to see if they offer a ‘free day’. See if your movie theatre offers a ‘cheap night’ and if your local drama theatre offers discounted tickets to dress rehearsals. Many fitness studios often have ‘Karma Classes’ where you can attend a class by giving a donation to charity, and sites like Groupon often offer entertainment and activities at a discounted price as well. While spending mindfully might take a little more research, it can generate savings in your budget and work to strengthen your financial health.
#3 DON’T GET CAUGHT UP KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES (OR THE KARDASHIANS)
In a society where we are constantly scrolling through social media feeds, it’s hard not to get caught up in the materialistic rat race. But trying to “keep up” by living beyond our means is one of the quickest ways to destroy financial health and stability.
When trying to improve your financial health it’s important to set realistic and achievable goals that won’t break the bank. Turn away from social media for an hour or so before you sit down to create your financial goals. Look not only at your financial situation but also internally at what you want to achieve for yourself, not what you think others expect you to achieve. This can help you break free of the consumer culture clutter so you can better distinguish your needs from your wants.
Remember: This doesn’t mean we have to go without. Mindful spending can help us achieve our more frivolous goals without risking our financial stability. Sites like Kijiji and Facebook’s “Marketplace” are often home to designer deals and great furniture finds for those still looking to splurge on a budget. For vacations, apps like Hopper and Google Alerts can help you save by notifying you when to book your trip for the best prices on flights and hotels.
#4 FIND SOMEONE TO TALK TO
Bottling up any kind of stress for too long can have negative effects. A great way to help alleviate some of your stress is to talk about it with someone you trust. Talk to your partner, a family member or a friend about your financial stress. Often, they will have similar stressors and you will be able to comfort each other. If you are both looking to create a positive change in your life, try being each other’s budget buddies. Keep each other accountable when it comes to spending and saving, and be there for one another when you need someone to talk to openly about your finances.
If you would rather talk to a professional confidentially, visit a counsellor or a financial advisor. If you are worried you won’t be able to afford professional help, check to see if you have insurance coverage or if your employer offers an EAP program (Employee Assistance Program). EAP programs give employees short term access to trained counsellors when they are in need of mental health, family and/or financial counselling.
While stressing over money is nothing new, more and more Canadians are becoming indebted, feeling the added financial stress to their everyday lives. The journey to living mindfully and “stress-free” is personal and unique. It’s important to take the time to figure out the root causes of your stress and research the coping mechanisms that will work best for your lifestyle and goals. If your financial stress is becoming debilitating, reach out to a financial counsellor and/or a Licensed Insolvency Trustee. We will work with you to create a budget and debt relief plan that will help eliminate your stress while you regain control of your financial situation.