Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Reducing financial stress

~ This article was originally published as “How men can reduce financial stress” by Jeremy K. Finkeldey© in PhillyFit Magazine, January-February 2009 ~

Fitness equals a sound mind in a sound body. When we are in good physical condition, the well-being of our mental, emotional, and spiritual life tend to fall into place; however there can be challenges. These challenges, if not responded to effectively, can cause stress.

Stress is an integral part of physical and mental fitness and is not all bad. We get into trouble when our ability to deal with stress becomes less effective. One common form of destructive stress in our modern world is financial stress.

The roots of our financial stress go all the way back to our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Being the ‘bigger’ and ‘stronger’ of the two genders, the burden of the ‘big kill’ has traditionally fallen to the male. In the primitive world we men were the glorious hunters and our female counterparts were the under-appreciated gatherers. Yet, when our spear missed its mark, it was the female gatherer who came to our rescue. The ladies had gathered a basket of proverbial apples, ground the wild grain for the flour dough, and it was apple dumpling time! A romantic tale, but the males were also quite capable of gathering their own apples.

Of course our ancestors were not acquainted with mortgage payments, education costs fossil fuel and food costs, health-care costs, credit card debt, insurance premiums, child-support payments, legal fees, and taxes. Although it appears that we have risen above the basics of “fight or flight” and “eat or be eaten”, have we really? The basic survival needs are still the same as is the threat of not meeting those basic needs.

A recent poll found that since 2004, 16% more Americans worry that they will not be able to maintain their standard of living. The top three items on the worry list are the increasing costs for

  • energy,
  • food, and
  • healthcare.

An older study shows that worrying about money causes many of us to not perform our jobs as well. Fortunately, 75% of those in that study reported that financial education decreased money worries.

What if you could reduce your financial stress and not let it affect your job simply by changing some habits, perceptions, and basic personal accounting practices? If you could, your job performance might increase along with your income!

Dealing with destructive stress comes from within, but external situations do have an effect. You still have to get up off the couch and go ‘make the kill’. The more effective a man is in dealing with his inner stress-related processes, the more effective he will be in producing positive external financial outcomes. Negative emotions that exceed their intended purpose and become destructive habits get in the way.

Fear lies at the core of all negative emotions. Like we’ve added stock portfolios and legal fees to eat-or-be-eaten, we’ve also added thought processes and emotional responses. According to Eckhart Tolle, “An instinctive response is the body’s direct response to some external situation. An emotion, on the other hand, is the body’s response to a thought.”

We have the most control and influence over our thoughts, not our emotions. We can choose to think a certain way more than we can choose to feel a certain way. If we can restructure our thinking, we can influence the way we feel.

So what can we do when those big, scary financial stressors come along threatening to devour us? On the African plains, I am told, lions hunt gazelles strategically. The gazelles start out nervous because they can smell the lions but they can’t quite find them. The old toothless lions have a role in the hunt. They can no longer chase and kill gazelles, but man can they roar! It’s the trim and fit young lionesses that do most of the killing. And so, you guessed it, the old lions roar loudly on one side of the herd driving the gazelles directly into the jaws of the waiting and deadly hidden lionesses. The moral of the story is “run to the roar”! In other words, turn and face your fears – and live to ‘graze’ another day.

That is not to say that there no actual dangers or financial consequences that crop up in life. For those we will need additional courage. As a great military General (U.S. Grant I believe it was) once said, “Courage is an accurate assessment of the danger and a willingness to go through it.” What we are talking about is a positive mental attitude (PMA) which is essential in all survival situations from wilderness to work-life. To develop PMA we need to face our fears, accurately assess the situation, and develop a willingness to change our behaviors to fit the situation as we have assessed it. One of the prerequisites for PMA is ownership and responsibility. I once heard a man admit that he caused 99% of all his problems and from that admission, he realized that he could be 99% problem-free! He took ownership of his problems and responsibility for dealing with them effectively and never looked back. Today he has everything he needs and nothing that he doesn’t want. He is a rich man on an average income.

To summarize, freedom from financial stress is possible through:

  • Facing your fear,
  • Taking ownership and responsibility for the problem,
  • Accurately assessing your financial situation,
  • Being willing to change your behaviors,
  • Developing a positive mental attitude (PMA), and finally,
  • Trusting the process.

What follows are some solid tips and suggestions to use in reconstructing your financial situation and making it more abundant.

1. Don’t try to wish money problems away.

Deal with your finances, don’t ignore them. Admit to yourself and maybe others that you’re having a tough time. Talking openly about it will help relieve the stress and provide you with the opportunity to exchange ideas with friends, families or co-workers about how you can improve your situation.

2. Create a spending plan.

Make a habit of documenting your spending in a way that’s convenient and easy. This could be keeping a piece of paper or index card in your wallet and writing down every dollar you spend or collecting receipts and writing it down into a notebook or computer file every day. If you think you’re not spending a lot, you may be surprised to see how all of the little things add up. Know where you’re spending your money and decide if it’s where you want your hard earned money to go. If it’s not, create a plan for where you want your money to go and keep tracking expenses to make sure you’re meeting your goals.

3. Make managing your money fun.

Create an Excel spreadsheet where you track your expenses or purchase a money management software program like Quicken. You can use Quicken as your checking/debit account register and even download and categorize credit card expenses. After a few months, you’ll be able to easily track exactly where your money is going and create reports and graphs of how your spending changes over time. Balancing your checking account in Quicken is easy because it does all of the math for you.

4. Don’t buy what you can’t afford.

Although the temptation is great to buy on credit, credit can give you a false sense of having more than you really do. If you don’t have the money right now to buy something, don’t buy it. Save up the money.

5. Buy gifts that you can afford.

If money is tight, don’t buy extravagant gifts. Make a list of who you absolutely need to buy gifts for and set a reasonable amount to spend. Then stick to it. Better yet, give the gift of time. Offer a service, like painting a room, hanging blinds, or cooking a nice meal.

6. Don’t give your money away.

Paying unnecessary fees and interest in your bank or credit card account is giving your money away. Don’t overdraw your checking/debit account. Pay down your credit cards and make it your goal to always pay the balance in full each month. (If you can’t do that, consider eliminating all credit cards or keeping one only for emergencies—real emergencies.) Look carefully at your phone, cell phone, cable and Internet bills. Call to see if there’s a different plan that gives you the same service or more for less money. They won’t offer it to you; you have to ask.

7. Call your creditors.

If you owe more money than you have, don’t be afraid to call your mortgage or credit card companies, tell them you’re having difficulties paying your bills and work out a payment schedule. Most will work with you to set up regular payments that you can afford to help pay down your debt.

8. Get help when you need it.

If managing your money is too overwhelming for you, reach out for help. Find a personal finance advisor or consider talking to a professional counselor for support.

Online Resources

The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors:

University of Pennsylvania’s Program for Stress Management:

Pennsylvania Office of Financial Education:

Cell Phone Plan Comparison:

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