National Psychology Week: Stressing about money? You're not the only one.

Reporting on National Psychology Week again today - get used to it, it goes all week - and I'm a little intrigued.  Actually more than a little.  I'm really intrigued.  

According to research on stress and wellbeing just released by the Australian Psychological Society, the biggest stress out for those of us aged between 18 and 45 is money.  They asked questions about work and health and family and the economy and the challenges associated with maintaining a healthy lifestyle and yet most of us said that personal financial issues are our biggest worry.

I get that.  Not getting the bills paid freaks me out too and when you're self employed cash flow can be a particularly big issue.  There's no mystery about money worries and the fact that it tends to stress us out ahead of other things in our lives.  What intrigues me about this is the lack of discussion about it.  I can find a thousand articles about how to manage your health, your relationships, your kids.  There are tips on losing weight, giving up smoking, starting a fitness regime, moving house and holidaying with kids.  There's a whole big chunk of the internet dedicated to dealing with wedding-related stress. So why don't we talk about the thing that we claim is stressing us out the most?

My guess is that money stuff is put firmly in the too hard basket.  We kind of assume that unless we can find more of it there really aren't any other solutions and we'll just let the stress associated with it fester away there in the back of the brain where we put all of the other things that we don't know how to deal with.

So I've done a little bit of research on how to alleviate money worries.  You're welcome.

Firstly I've found an article that I think does present some great ideas for dealing with financial stress without being too 'financey'.  It's from the Women's Agenda site and it makes practical suggestions for getting your financial worries under control like 'Decide right now to adopt a positive mental attitude' and 'Consume less and quit keeping up with the Joneses'.

Next is a little App that I have been using for a few months now to track where my money goes.  It's called Toshl Finance and it's available for iPhone and android.  

This is a Toshl Monster, on a unicorn, with a light sabre.

This is a Toshl Monster, on a unicorn, with a light sabre.

The thing psychologists know is that the first step to managing something stressful in our lives is to get a handle on the size and scope of the problem.  Doing something - anything - is better than not doing anything at all and that's where something like Toshl can be helpful. If we keep a log of where our money is going we're in a better position to make decisions about what to do about it.  It's not the silver bullet but it's a start.

Finally I've got my top three suggestions for reducing money worries. I'm no financial expert but these tips are transferable across most of the stressful things in our lives.

  1. Get it out of your head and somewhere else.  There are plenty of financial counsellors available (you can find out more from Financial Counselling Australia) if you've really got some sorting out to do but if you just know you're stressed about money but it's all still a bit vague, get your thoughts and worries down on paper.  Do a simple budget. Write down the three biggest concerns and start making a plan to address them.  It doesn't matter where you start or how far you get.  Just do something to get it out of your head.
  2. Take action!  Keep it simple, make a plan and make something happen.  Are you going to reduce costs somewhere? Or increase your income somehow?  Pick something really simple and put it into place.  When we did this recently I went through the bank statements and found some of those little regular direct debits that you somehow sign up to (I do anyway) but don't actually need or use.  For us it was movie on demand access.  I was paying monthly but we'd be lucky if we watched three movies a year. It was only small but all those little amounts add up and it was a quick win that alleviated the anxiety a teensy bit.
  3. Stick to your stress management wins.  If you find yourself worrying about money - or anything - do more of what you know helps you to stress less.  If it's exercise, do that. If it's talking to friends, do that. If it's movies or socialising, do that.  Keep looking after yourself because that's the best way to defeat any kind of stress.

I'm interested.  Do you worry about money?  What do you do to stress less?  I'm no expert on finances so it would be lovely for us to share our experience and advice.