Q: I’m really worried about my brother and want to help him reduce financial stress in his life. About two years ago, he and his wife looked at the cost of daycare for their three young kids and concluded that they’d be better off if she stayed home. They really crunched the numbers to see if they could swing living on one income. They made some changes, including taking in an international high school student, and seemed to be doing fine. But my brother seems withdrawn, he backs out of family and social commitments, seems exhausted all the time, and he is forever talking about how he regrets his spending decisions. He has some money owing on his line of credit that he says he just can’t manage to pay off, and he did refinance his mortgage not long ago. Is there anything I can suggest to help him reduce his financial stress? ~Theresa
A: When asked what causes them stress, the majority of Canadians rank money as their biggest concern. There are many causes of financial stress and much of the time money worries are due to the stress of trying to make ends meet when there isn’t quite enough income to pay all the bills and meet your other obligations. For some, addictions to drugs, alcohol, gambling, or shopping may compound the stress. Other times someone finds themselves dealing with financial difficulty due to circumstances beyond their control, e.g. a layoff from work, an illness, or an accident.
The symptoms of stress on someone can sometimes be easier to identify than the true cause of the stress. Your brother’s family might have chosen to be careful with their spending, but the cause of the stress could be due to any number of other factors, e.g. your brother’s worries about what will happen to his family if he, as the key bread-winner, is not able to work; the change in family dynamics that happens when one parent stays home full time; or your brother’s fear of missing out on spending time with his kids.
We almost never know the true state of someone else’s financial affairs. We can also feel quite helpless as we stand by and see the effects of stress and worry burden on someone we care about. With this in mind, here are some tips everyone can use to reduce their financial stress and handle it better:
Think about how you handle an emergency situation
When an emergency arises, some people remain calm, cool and collected while others do not. Financial stress is much the same; when faced with financial difficulty it’s easier to consider your options and create a plan to deal with your finances if you can remain calm enough to think things through and seek out the help you need. This doesn’t mean that whatever is causing you stress and worry goes away. It simply means that you stave off the effects of stress and find a way to deal with what you are able to deal with to resolve your situation.
Focus on what you can do rather than on what you can’t
Some situations in life leave us with more control than others. While it might seem that your financial stress is caused by something you aren’t able to control, how you react is still very much within your control. It’s like placing a potato and an egg into a pot of boiling water. Both are subjected to the same boiling water, yet one becomes soft (the potato) and the other hard (the egg).
When it comes to your finances and doing what you can control, here are some ways to regain control:
Create a household budget — start from scratch with seven steps to a budget made easy if you have one that isn’t working or if your situation is vastly different from when you created your original budget.
Pay down debt — once you know what you can afford to pay towards your debts, create a debt repayment plan. If there just isn’t enough money to make all of your payments, you need help. Contact a licensed, not-for-profit credit counsellor who will give you the information you need to deal with your creditors effectively.
Reframe how you think about your money troubles — long before we do something about our worries, we think about them. If your mind is filled with thoughts of stress, failure, doom and gloom, that leaves little room to come up with solutions. Make a conscious effort to think about what you can do versus what you can’t; then look for ways to turn plans into actions.
Become informed — seek out information from a variety of reliable sources, e.g. your financial institution, books, blogs, successful family members or trusted friends, your doctor, or a clinical counsellor. If your stress is compounded by an addiction or illness, it will likely be necessary to deal with that first. In order to do that, communicate effectively with your creditors to let them know what is going on. One of our credit counsellors can explain to you the best way to do that, or even refer you for a specialized credit report counselling appointment.
Avoid doing nothing — take steps to remain in control.
Stress is a leading cause of illness and has become a major health concern. It has been identified as the cause behind countless missed days at work, repeated visits to the doctor, sleep disruption, anxiety, depression, distraction that leads to injury, and the breakdown of personal and work-related relationships.
Financial stress, because we reluctantly discuss personal finances, can cause someone to isolate themselves from those who can provide support, namely close family or friends. If this is you, resist the urge to do nothing, or sweep your worries under the rug. This will ultimately make you feel worse because when it comes to our money, doing nothing could mean that others take over control of our finances. This leads to further uncertainty and stress because we don’t know what they will do.
After a longer period of time, when someone doesn’t communicate with and/or actively avoids their creditors, some of the more severe remedies that creditors resort to include wage garnishments, legal actions, off-setting money in a bank account against money owed at that financial institution, with-holding income tax refunds and government benefits, or mortgage foreclosure.
The longer someone in debt does nothing about their situation, the less options they will have available to them to resolve their situation. Get help sooner than later and avoid the additional stress of uncertainty.
The bottom line on coping with financial stress
One factor that ultimately makes coping with financial stress easier, regardless of your age or gender, is being open to talking about personal finance issues. Moreover, while it can be easy to assume that financial stress is due to a lack of money or resources, those who have enough or who may even be considered more affluent, can feel equally stressed about their finances. Regardless of the cause of your financial stress, take steps to get advice and seek reliable guidance. Then implement a realistic plan to deal with your money troubles and keep your stress at bay.
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