Remember when you thought you’d graduate high school or college and land your dream job making at least six figures, right out of the gate? Well, chances are you’re a few years down the road from that, still busting your tail to buy that new jacket you’ve had your eye on. There aren’t many people who can jump right into a high-paying job as soon as they hit the market. It may take some time to get into a position that allows you to afford the things you want and also put a decent amount of money into savings.
Money is a tricky topic and can often leave people feeling stressed. To avoid stress and other difficult emotions when you think about your financial situation, it’s essential that you create a healthy relationship with money. Even if you’re only able to save $100 a month, you’re that much closer to having the backup funds to provide you with peace of mind.
Financial Stress and Anxiety
Worried about money? Feel overwhelmed by debt? Struggling to save even the smallest amount of money? Chances are, you have financial stress. Mentally, financial stress is exhausting. But it can also cause you to have a physical reaction too. For example, you could experience fatigue, trembling, insomnia, stomach aches, changes in appetite, headaches, and muscle tension.
Kelly Kellerman, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker for Thriveworks Counseling in Oakland, MI—specializing in anxiety, depression, grief and loss, life transitions, and stress management—says it’s important to give ourselves a chance to relax when we’re feeling overwhelmed.
“When you feel overwhelmed, stop and take 3-5 deep breaths, inhaling for 4 seconds and then exhaling for 4 seconds. Taking deep breaths relaxes our muscle groups and calms the parts of the brain responsible for problem solving,” Kellerman explains. “When we are calm, we can more easily plan and make good decisions. It’s important to practice breathing when you are not feeling stressed so your body will learn to recognize it as a signal to relax.”
The next time an unexpected financial situation comes up, practice taking a second to relax. Once you do, you’ll be able to start mapping out how to want to move forward with a clear mind, starting with the following steps:
1. First Thing’s First: Set up a Savings Account
The first thing you need to do when you want to start saving is set up a savings account. You need a place to consolidate your savings and separate it from your spending money. Many people open up their first savings account with the intention of saving, but never actually use it. This is a great resource that’s both free and effective.
You can set up an automatic transfer from your checking account to your savings account in your bank’s app or online. If you know you get paid on the 1st and the 15th of every month, set up a transfer for the days following your payday. Start small with what you can, even if it’s only something like $30 a paycheck. You’ll start seeing your savings account climb in no time (which is, is very satisfying to watch. With time, you’ll be able to increase how much you contribute to your savings once you are comfortable with your budget.
Savings accounts are also where you can keep an emergency fund. As Kellerman says, it’ll help you prepare for the unexpected: “Many people have not been taught money management skills so it can really be a trigger for anxiety. A good coping skill is to face your fears—don’t avoid them. My best advice is to make a plan for savings and create a budget,” she continues. “Taking action with a plan will reduce stress, rumination, and procrastination. If you set aside money every month for savings, you have an emergency fund should anything unexpected arise. Knowing you have that money available decreases worrying about ‘what if’ situations. There are many free resources available online and through banks that help with budgets and tracking spending. You focus on controlling what you can, your actions, and behaviors.”
2. Use the Envelope System
The envelope system was created by Dave Ramsey, a budgeting expert. This system is a way to track how much money you have in each expense category every month. When you get paid, you’ll stuff your money envelopes with your budgeted cash. This is good for people who have a habit of swiping their cards and feeling aloof to where their money goes. When you have tangible cash, it’s much easier to physically see what you have, or don’t have, at the end of each month. With the money left over in each category, like gas, groceries, and bills, you can transfer that cash into your savings envelope or box.
You can get creative with the cash envelope system and spend time creating envelopes that are colored and designed the way you want them. There are tons of resources out there and even templates and guides for you to use.
3. Start a Savings Jar
If you work in the service industry or always have cash on hand, this is a great way for you to start saving money. You can start saving up for bigger items like a vacation or a new piece of furniture. All you have to do is create a jar or box that you can keep in a safe space. Every time you obtain a certain bill, such as a $5 bill or $10 bill, put that cash into your jar. Overtime, you’ll be able to watch your jar fill until it needs to be emptied.
4. Participate in the 100 Envelope Challenge
The 100 envelope challenge combines the ideas of the savings jar and the cash envelope system. To participate in this challenge, you’ll need 100 envelopes, a marker, and a box. Determine how much you want to save in a year. A good range to aim for is about $5,000. You can increase or decrease depending on what you’re comfortable with.
On your 100 envelopes, you’ll write a dollar amount between $1 and $100. Monthly, bi-monthly, or weekly you’ll choose an envelope at random and put the corresponding amount of money into it. If you don’t want to keep cash on hand, you can still pull the envelope and put the corresponding amount of money into a savings account instead. Once you’ve filled all of your envelopes, you’ll have saved the amount you decided at the beginning!
5. Take Tips for Your Favorite Bloggers and Influencers
When you start saving money, it can feel a little overwhelming and isolating. But, it doesn’t have to be! There are tons of influencers and bloggers on TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, etc. who have advice on saving money. The Budget Mom, for example, utilizes the cash envelope system and has a Facebook group for her followers. By joining the group, you can get advice and tips from other members and feel like you’re a part of a community.
Find someone you look up to or someone who is around the same age as you. Nothing is more inspiring than seeing someone hit milestones that you can relate to.
6. Budget Without Crazy Restrictions
When you work really hard, you want a chance to enjoy life too. This might mean going out to eat at restaurants, going to the movies, and paying your favorite coffee shop a visit every now and then. Some budgeters will tell you that if you have any ounce of debt, you shouldn’t see the inside of a restaurant or coffee shop until your debt is paid off. This mentality often creates shame and anxiety when treating yourself to small expenses such as these. Instead of setting crazy unrealistic expectations, budget for it.
Think about it. A $5 coffee a couple times a week only comes out to just $40 a month. That much money isn’t going to set you back from the bigger things you want to achieve. If buying a house is on your horizon, don’t let your daily run to your favorite coffee shop put shame into your mind. Instead, refrain from overspending on other items you don’t necessarily need or feel passionate about.
7. Talk to a Professional
If you’re financially stressed, it can take a lot for you to feel more at ease. Within time you will save money, but that doesn’t fix the anxiety you have now. Remember that saving money takes time and you’ll achieve the goals you set for yourself. If the stress and anxiety you have becomes too overwhelming, reach out to a mental health professional. They can provide you with guidance, support, and even help you set up a financial plan.
Kellerman says it’s normal to reach out for help and provide yourself with an emotional outlet. “It’s a good idea to be gentle with the way you talk to yourself. Consider what you may say to a friend in a similar situation. You wouldn’t say, ‘Man, you are a real loser for not knowing how to budget or save your money.’ You would be kinder and supportive, so talk to yourself in the same way. You may say something like, ‘I didn’t learn this before but I am able to obtain information to get better at it.’ Reframing the way you talk to yourself is an opportunity to be positive and create new patterns of behavior.”
Being financially stable is possible. With time, you can afford to do the things you enjoy while also preparing for the future. The sooner you start, the better!