By Michael Forney
Investment Advisor and Financial Wellness Specialist
Newfront Retirement Services, which partners with ALLtech to offer the EVOLVE 401(k)
Half of Americans say they are stressed by finances . And more than three-fourths of Americans have experienced health impacts due to stress . It’s no secret that one of the leading causes of anxiety is personal finance. Money may not be the root of all evil, but it does cause its fair share of tension. May is Mental Health Awareness month, and we’re exploring how mental health and financial wellness are intertwined — and sharing some steps you can take to alleviate financial stressors.
It can be intimidating at times to think about or attempt to manage our finances. Sometimes it seems like the bills keep piling up with no end in sight. At other times, our bank account just seems to get smaller and smaller, and we aren’t sure of a way forward. The stats are telling:
- 73% of Americans in debt are stressed about money, and one in 20 are fearful they will be unable to pay their debt off, ever! 
- 76% of Americans experienced health impacts due to stress 
- 27% report being so stressed they cannot function most days 
Some fairly common “bad money habits” often lead to more stress, anxiety, and fear around money, such as:
- Not opening bills and telling yourself you’ll deal with it later
- Ignoring one’s bank account in order to avoid the anxiety it causes
- Avoiding student loan payments and letting debt get out of hand
- Racking up credit card debt (i.e., impulse buying to satisfy a void)
- Avoiding investing for the future because of fear of market volatility
If you thought these were just your bad habits, think again. Almost everyone has fallen into one of these traps at some point. Almost all of us are dealing with some form of financial anxiety.
With that said, let’s get to the good news.
The fact is that, with some intentionality, mindfulness, and education, you might find yourself more aware, in control, and less stressed about that next bill coming due.
Let’s start with intentionality.
One practical step to managing your finances with greater intentionality is to create a budget. If you create a budget and stick to it, you are more likely to sleep peacefully at night. How many of us walk away from a purchase we can’t afford and then end up patting ourselves on the back later because of how good it feels? If you don’t know where to start, consider utilizing free budgeting resources like mint.com or creating a spreadsheet and tracking all or your income and expenses. If you want to pay for something more technically robust, consider a platform like You Need A Budget, Quickbooks, or Quicken. Any one of these can help you increase awareness and guide you in future decision-making.
Next is mindfulness. Consider starting a gratitude practice and making decisions from a place of contentment. Mindfulness is a way to keep one’s focus on the present moment, and often includes practices like meditation and yoga. But you don’t have to become a yogi to be mindful. You only need to keep your attention on the present. By being aware of our thoughts and emotions, we can avoid being overcome by them and can even manage them more effectively. One important thing to be aware of is what we do have in life, not what we’re missing. It is easy to pile up negative thoughts particularly as relates to personal finances. But we shouldn’t forget that very often our basic needs are met, and we have a number of things to be grateful for. Take some time to consider what your values are and identify whether you already have what you’re seeking in life. You might find yourself in a completely different state of mental health, which could aid in your financial decision-making.
Lastly is education. Many of us did not learn about finances growing up (at least in the formal education system). So, we’re left to rely on ourselves, family and friends to put the pieces together. If you feel under informed when making financial decisions, you’re certainly not alone. And knowing that may be enough to ease some of the anxiety. To help, consider free resources like Nerdwallet, Investopedia, or Fidelity. Each has great tips on saving, investing, and how to budget. You could also check out my other blogs discussing financial wellness:
- Behavioral Biases and Finance: How Our Attitude Toward Finances Can Impact Our Overall Financial Wellbeing
- Financial Literacy Month: How to Control Your Money Instead of it Controlling You
- Prep for a Recession: Get Back to Money Management Basics in Five Steps
Additionally, consider working with a professional like a CFP® to help guide your decision making. CFPs are fiduciaries who provide holistic advice on the full scope of your finances and provide cash flow analysis to help you identify areas of opportunity. You can go to letsmakeaplan.org to find a CFP in your local area. Understand that not all advisors have investment minimums, and you can work with an advisor of your preference.
As you can see, mental health and financial wellness are intimately related. Americans in general are stressed about their finances and this is having an adverse impact on overall wellness. But with practical steps like intentionality, mindfulness, and education, there is a path forward that can help us decrease stress and increase our mental well-being.
-  Bankrate, More than half of Americans say money negatively impacts their mental health, up sharply from a year ago, May 2023: https://www.bankrate.com/personal-finance/financial-wellness-survey/
-  Benefits Pro, Inflation pain: 44% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, April 2023: https://www.benefitspro.com/2023/04/19/inflation-pain-44-of-americans-are-living-paycheck-to-paycheck/
-  American Psychology Association, Stress in America 2022
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