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Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Stress Management - Your Financial Stress Level and What to Do About It

Financial worry is one of the biggest stress-producers around and it is a multi-level challenge.

Obviously, there is the imbalance between spending and saving, and perhaps heavy debt. Then you are dealing with your emotional frustration and worry about how to make ends meet, whether you are merely living from paycheck to paycheck or fending off collection agents. At the high and severe levels of stress, you are almost certainly experiencing guilt and shame, because you judge yourself for creating this mess. You may also judge yourself through the eyes of your parents, society in general, or God.

At all levels of financial stress, I have noticed people experiencing self-judgment around their decisions, their spending, their lack of discipline, their greed, and so forth. If debts are high, or they are frequently overdrawn, they often seem to have a subconscious guilt related to "stealing," or using money that isn't really their own.

Check out your level of stress related to money and take in the tips below for help with getting your finances under control for less stress.

In these scenarios, stress-reduction will come mainly from solving the financial problems that you face! For each level of financial stress, you will need a step-by-step approach to regaining control of your spending, debt and savings. Taking positive action will begin to reduce your level of stress and consistently following your plan will eliminate most of the financial stress. Your ultimate aim is permanent habitation in the category of Low Financial Stress.

In addition, whatever your level of financial stress, with all of the tips below cultivate an attitude of self-compassion. Be kind, gentle and loving with yourself. Judging yourself and your previous decisions will only make your stress levels worse. Forgive yourself and focus on moving forward with wiser choices. Accept that you got yourself to your current situation and you can get yourself out of it. You might as well be loving with yourself in the process!

Low Financial Stress: Do you save money from every paycheck, pay bills on time, have zero credit card balances each month and have a substantial financial cushion stashed away? Congratulations! Keep up the good work. Encourage your friends in the following categories to follow your good example!

Moderate Financial Stress: Do you worry about how to handle the bills every payday? Do you squeak by with no savings or cushion for unforeseen expenses? You need to take control before finances and stress levels spiral out of control! Here are some tried and true tips:

1. Create a budget and stick to it. At bill-paying time and before shopping, consult your budget. For daily expenses, consider the old-fashioned method of cash in envelopes -- so much for each category for the week and that's it.

2. Each payday, pay yourself first with a deposit to savings. Create separate savings plans for special needs such as a new car, a college fund for kids, a vacation, or Christmas gifts.

3. Write out your spending patterns in great detail. Then find ways to cut your expenses. Involve the whole family in planning and tracking your success. There are a number of great websites with creative tips for frugal homemakers and budgeting strategies.

4. Consider temporarily increasing your income by moonlighting, to build up a nest egg.

5. Create a vision for yourself and your family for the benefits of having money in the bank and spending according to your prioritized plan! If everyone focuses on a mutual goal, you can have fun in the process of creating a solid financial base.

6. If you practice a religious faith, turn your financial intentions over to God on a daily basis.

7. Build in small, low-cost rewards for yourself and family members to celebrate taking control of finances and reducing worry and stress. You should feel significant stress relief knowing you have steadily growing savings and you are in control of spending.

High Financial Stress: Are your credit cards maxed out? Are you making minimum payments and paying high interest? In addition to the tips above, try the following:

1. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that you can get your finances back on track. Imagine how it will feel to be in financial control again -- relaxed, confident, stress-free, peaceful. Get a vivid sense of what that will be like for you and envision this low-stress financial success at least once a day. Focusing on your goal will help you hold true to your intentions while taking the needed actions.

2. Call Consumer Credit Counseling (1-800-355-2227) or another non-profit consumer credit agency if you want help with budgeting.

3. Create a debt-elimination plan and stick to it. The best advice I have seen is to pay off smaller loans with high interest as fast as possible and then apply that amount of money to reduction of the next high interest loan, etc. I did this some years ago and can say that ridding yourself of debt feels great and definitely lowers stress!

4. Cut up all but one credit card and put it somewhere difficult to access, to be used only in case of a genuine emergency.

5. Change your thinking about money. If you have spent freely without keeping track, begin to track your spending ruthlessly. Carry a small notebook and write down every penny you spend. Ask yourself before making a purchase if it is something you really need. If not, walk out of the store (or away from your computer!) and cool off. Again, reward yourself for these small successes and savor the instant reduction in stress with each wise decision.

Severe Financial Stress: Are you behind in payments and getting calls from collection agencies? Are you facing foreclosure?Are you considering bankruptcy? In addition to all the tips above, you need to do major problem solving to get back on track.

1. Check with a couple of bankruptcy attorneys to get their opinions and fee structures. But before you file . . . .

2. By all means, call Consumer Credit Counseling (1-800-355-2227) for assistance. They may be able to help you prevent bankruptcy.

3. Depending on your income level, there may be local agencies that can help your family avoid homelessness, keep the utilities on, etc. Call your local United Way or social services agency for referrals.

4. If you are a shopaholic, join a support group or get professional counseling. If you gamble, join Gamblers Anonymous.

5. While relaxing may be the last thing you think possible, it is important right now to relax as much as possible. So, go for a walk, take a hot bath, watch a movie, have a nap. When you relax, you are usually able to see more solutions and have energy to take positive action. When you are doing all that you can to meet your challenges in good faith, you will feel less stress.

You will begin to create a positive, upward-spiraling effect.

6. If you experience Severe Financial Stress, probably the most important thing you can do is reach out for help. In this time of advertising hype promoting credit over-use, you are far from alone in your dilemma. Act now to get assistance, so you know exactly where you stand and exactly what you need to do to turn your financial situation around. The National Foundation for Credit Counseling has a 24-hour automated line (1-800-388-2227) with office listings around the country. When you realize help is available, and you can see a workable plan, your stress load will lighten.

Depending on your level of financial stress, try the tips suggested here to create new directions for less stress and greater enjoyment of life. Resolving your money issues is almost guaranteed to lower stress and increase your sense of fulfillment and personal peace. Remember to be compassionate with yourself as you go forward, as this will also help to lower stress while you work through the practical steps to financial well-being.

Meanwhile, if you want more stress reduction tips, I invite you to sign up for my free 17 Simple Stress Solutions, at http://www.powerofpersonalpeace.com/optin.htm Check out my articles on success, less stress, and my Ask Dr. Ilenya advice column at my blog, http://lovingyoursuccess.blogspot.com

Dr. Ilenya Marrin is a spiritual counselor, inspirational speaker and author of ebooks The Power of Personal Peace: Reducing Stress by Loving Yourself from the Inside Out and 77 Loving Steps for Success.

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