What stresses you out?
The list is pretty long. Causes of stress—that health-sucking demon—are seemingly limitless. And although everyone has different triggers—and different methods for coping—if there's one thing that stresses out even the most resilient and easiest-going among us, it's this: money.
Money: Time and time again it appears at the top of the list of causes of stress for Americans, regardless of economic climate, reports the American Psychological Association.
Money: A loaded topic, filled with emotion, both good and bad (and ugly). We all have different amounts of it and different philosophies on ways to save it, share it and spend it.
"Money issues are the number one cause of stress in this country," says Diane Harris, editorial director of Considerable.com and former editor-in-chief of Money magazine.
You probably already know that stress is just plain bad for you. Besides aging you, it compromises your emotional, mental and physical health. Stress contributes to depression, headaches, insomnia, productivity and muscle tension and pain and so many more things we'd rather do without.
Learn more about How to Manage Common Causes of Stress.
We need to get a grip! Just as we mindfully and dutifully practice wellness to keep our bodies functioning well, we must find ways to keep ourselves financially healthy. Managing your money is not just a financial issue—it's a health issue, stresses Harris.
I recently attended a wonderfully informative and fun Women in Wellness Leadership Conference in New York City organized by American Spa magazine, with a jam-packed agenda including sessions like Leading With Integrity and Purpose to Create a Culture That Inspires Commitment to Doing the Right Thing; Women, Health and Age; and Protect Your Energy and Let Go of Perfectionism.
Harris's session on women and money was so inspiring and filled with no-nonsense, logical approaches to money that I sat down and spoke with her for a deeper dive into that five-letter word—money—that easily morphs into a six letter word—stress—if we're not careful and mindful.
Harris offers these tips on how to handle money and be OK for the rest of your life, no matter your money personality or style.
Have emergency savings.
One thing we can all count on is that we will get those unexpected "surprises," like a hole in the roof or a major auto repair. Research shows that people feel that they're one step away from financial disaster; afraid that one unexpected expense will topple their financial security.
And, indeed, it can—if you don't have an emergency fund.
Financial advisers will suggest you aim to save three to six months of living expenses in case of an emergency, but Harris says that for most people, this feels impossible to achieve. What to do? The typical emergency costs about $2,000, so aim for that first.
No matter how much a person earns, research demonstrates that families with emergency savings were 14 times more likely to be financially healthy than people without emergency savings, regardless of how much money they earned.
"The single best way to save for anything—retirement, a bucket list trip, college, any goal—is to put money aside automatically," says Harris. That means set something up with your employer or your bank to make a scheduled automatic deposit into a fund earmarked for that purpose. You'll never see the money, and you'll never miss it, either.
This works so well because it fights against two quirks of human nature that get in the way of doing the right thing with our money. One, it protects against something known as "present bias," only focusing on what's happening right now and not the future. And two, it protects against inertia, the tendency in the course of our busy lives to take the easy way and be more passive than active.
It might be a buzz term and make you think of sitting and meditating, but mindfulness goes beyond that. Some ways to be mindful with money:
Pause before you buy. "It's good that there are usually three-day sales," says Harris. This way you can slow down before you make a purchase (even if it's on sale, you ARE still spending money!) and think about if you really want/need/must have it. "It's OK if you decide to spend," she says, "just think about it and make sure that it matters." Asking yourself that question puts a little obstacle between the decision to spend and the actual spending.
Unsubscribe to retailer emails. Once you buy something, those emails come in fast and furious (if you haven't already noticed). And then you're automatically tempted to buy— or at least look (and you know where that can lead).
Remember that whatever you spend on one thing is money you don't spend on something else. For instance, if you buy those shoes, will you have to give up that dinner out? Which is more important to you? (If you say both—that you want those shoes to wear when you go out for dinner—sorry, not allowed.)
If you think you can't live without those retailer emails, at the very least do this: Do NOT save your credit card to check out. This makes it way too easy to buy things. It should be hard, rather than easy, to check out.
Think about the consequences. This is similar to what many people might do when they're watching their weight. They ask themselves: "How many hours on the treadmill will it take to burn off that chunk of cheesecake?" This tactic (usually) works when they realize they'd have to stay on the treadmill FOREVER for a piece of cake that takes MINUTES to eat.
The next time you're tempted to make a purchase, ask yourself how many hours you'd need to work to earn enough to pay for that item. Case closed.
Use cash wherever possible. This introduces some pain, says Harris, who points to research showing that when we use plastic or digital payment systems we spend more; it just about eliminates the pain of what we are doing. In fact, the top regret people have for spending is eating out, according to one study. (I can't agree enough. That's why I try, as much as possible, to pay for dinners out with cash so that I don't lose my appetite a month later when I see my credit card bill.)
Of course, there are practical obstacles for using cash. It's not always possible, like when you purchase big-ticket items like a car or an airline ticket.
Keep your hands off. The second you touch it, you feel ownership, research shows. Touching even leads consumers to pay more for that item than for those they cannot touch. This theory relates to online purchases, too. The study it's based on found that just imagining owning a product increases your feelings of ownership and what you'd be willing to pay for that item.
Spend money on experiences, not "stuff." Millennials are fond of buying "experiential" gifts rather than actual items. Maybe they're onto something. In your memory, experiences grow more valuable over time, while in reality, items depreciate the minute you buy them (similar to when you drive your new car off the lot.)
"Money can buy happiness, to a certain extent, but that has to do with what you spend it on. Experiences and good causes brings much more happiness than spending on tangible items," says Harris.