How to deal with financial stress

profile Erin Bruehl  |  August 2, 2021

Your chest tightens. Your breathing becomes quick and shallow. You feel queasy and sick. And when you try to sleep at night, your mind buzzes with fear.

Symptoms of stress are the same, whether you're dealing with a threat from a wounded animal or a low bank balance. But financial stress can seem especially intense, as it's often tinged with guilt.

If we could just make more or spend less, we think, we wouldn't be in this mess.

Rather than expending your energy on feeling worried, sick, and sad, make a plan. These nine steps can help.

1. Know You're Not Alone

When we're stressed, we isolate ourselves from those we love. And sometimes, we believe no one else can possibly understand our concerns.

In reality, more than 70% of Americans feel stressed about money at least once per month.

Knowing that others are worried won't pay your bills or raise your paycheck. But that sense of community can keep you spiraling into depression when you're facing a problem that seems insurmountable.

Talk about your concerns with people you know and trust. Ask them if they face the same problems. You might be surprised to find that you're surrounded by a community of people who feel the same way you do.

2. Create a Rainy-Day Fund

It's easy to focus on debts when you're dealing with financial stress. But setting aside money in an emergency fund could help you deal with the problem heading your way.

Use tools like our Savings Pods to save just a tiny amount from every paycheck you take home. Slide extra change into the account when you can or enable round-ups for automated savings. That could be a lifesaver when you're dealing with a problem like:

  • Unexpected medical bills.
  • Sudden pet illnesses.
  • Car breakdowns.
  • Hidden bills.

A savings fund could also boost your happiness. Researchers say people with just $500 cash on hand have 15% higher life satisfaction scores than those who don't. You aren't required to sock away hundreds of dollars at a time. But as your account grows, so will your confidence that you can handle the next problem.

3. Tackle Your Debt

When you're handling financial stress, it's tempting to stash your bills in drawers and boxes, locking the data out of sight. The fewer zeroes you have to see, the less worried you might feel in the moment.

But when it comes to debt, knowledge is power. You must understand exactly how much you owe, and determine how much you can pay.

Start here:

  • Get a calculator. Add up all of your debts, and write down the total.
  • Prioritize. Spot the account with the highest interest rate, and prepare to give the most to that debt.
  • Pay what you can. If you pay only the minimum, you'll double your debt. Commit to paying more than you're required to every month.
  • Be patient. You won't pay off your debts in one day. But each payment you send in helps. In time, you'll pay off what you owe.

4. Create a Reasonable Budget

With goals regarding savings and debt already set, you're very close to creating a budget. But to round out the process, you'll need to compare your commitments to your income and necessary bills.

Crafting a budget doesn't require hours of time and financial planning. You'll just need to balance what you have with what you want to do. You can easily create a budget in the Current app.

But remember that your budget is a document you must live with. You will raise your stress levels if you make sweeping statements such as:

  • "I will never go out to lunch again."
  • "I will always walk to work and never take Uber."
  • "I will make all of my daughter's clothes from now on."
  • "I will cut my grocery bill in half."

Look for ways to cut expenses. But remember that life can be unpredictable. Make sure your plans involve steps you can really live with.

5. Say Yes (Sometimes)

When we feel deprived of the things we want, we tend to obsess over them. This deprivation mindset can add to your financial stress, as you may find that you're always thinking about money when you're too strict about not spending.

Give yourself permission to buy the occasional cup of coffee, new pair of shoes, or slice of pizza. Better yet, build these treats into your monthly budget.

And if you make a mistake and blow your budget once, don't give up. Forgive yourself with grace, and enjoy what you purchased. Then, adjust your budget accordingly so you're less likely to slip next time.

6. Watch Your Accounts Closely

It may sound strange, but you're less likely to feel financial stress when you know what's happening with your accounts. Knowing that you have money available can keep you from spiraling into worry and fear.

Use online banking tools like ours to understand when money comes into and out of your account. If you spot your balance moving dangerously low, pull from your emergency account to cover the deficit. And if you can, plan to live leanly until your next paycheck arrives, which you’ll get two days faster than with a traditional bank if you use Current.

Paying close attention like this - and getting your paycheck faster - can help you avoid paying bills late. And understanding how your account ebbs and flows through the month can give you insights on your spending habits you can apply to next month’s budget.

7. Practice Self-Care

Financial stress can erode your health and your relationships. Amending your spending and saving habits may help, but using your energy to heal your body and mind may also be wise.

A cardiologist at Harvard Medical School developed a so-called "relaxation response," in which you can trick your mind into a state of calm even when you're feeling very worried. Get there through:

  • Yoga. Find an online video, and let the instructor guide the way you breathe and move for the next 30 minutes. You may emerge from class feeling both focused and energized.
  • Breathwork. Close your eyes, and focus on the breath moving into and out of your body. Take deep and slow inhales through your nose, and push the air out through your open mouth. Repeat until you feel your heart rate slow.
  • Imagination. Use your phone to find a photo of a place you'd love to be. Think about what it would be like to be there. What would it sound like? What would you feel on your skin?

If you don't enjoy alternative techniques like this, find a method that works for you. Perhaps exercise helps you to tire your muscles and slow your mind. Maybe throwing the ball for your dog helps you escape from your worries. Find what seems right to you.

8. Work With an Expert

Sometimes, financial stress is more than a family can handle. If you can't create a budget because you simply don't have enough money, or you're dealing with another issue you don't know how to solve, get help.

Credit counseling agencies can look over your debts and help you create a budget you can live with. Some can also work with your creditors to lower your payments, so you can pay back what you owe on a timeline that works for you.

You can find credit counselors through:

  • Colleges and universities.
  • Military bases.
  • Housing authorities.
  • U.S. Cooperative Extension Service offices.

Look for a group that will meet with you in person to talk about your issues. Some offer services for free, but be prepared to pay a small amount for the help you need.

9. Choose the Right Financial Services.

Some financial institutions amplify your worries. They charge fees you can't afford, process payments in ways that seem unfair, or don't help when you have a problem.

One of the quickest ways to lower your stress is to find a financial partner that understands where you are now and where you want to be in the future.

At Current, we built our financial technology platform to serve people just like you. Everything we do is designed to help you take control of your finances and feel in charge of your situation. We offer rewards, including the ability to earn points for cash back on your everyday purchases and never charge hidden or overdraft fees. We'd love to have you join us. Download our app and create an account in just two minutes.

Current is a financial technology company, not a bank. Banking services provided by Choice Financial Group, Member FDIC.


Speaking of Psychology: The Stress of Money. (March 2015). American Psychological Association.

How Long Will it Take the Average American to Pay Off Credit Card Debt? (June 2015). Huffington Post.

Does More Money Really Make Us More Happy? (September 2020). Harvard Business Review.

Feeling Deprived Can Lead to Some Illogical Behavior. (January 2014). Psychology Today.

Coping With Financial Stress in Your Life. (March 2020). Verywell Mind.

Dealing With Financial Stress. (November 2017). American Psychological Association.

Six Relaxation Techniques to Reduce Stress. (September 2019). Harvard Medical School.

Choosing a Credit Counselor. (November 2012). Federal Trade Commission.

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