Managing your finances is a stressful process. Especially when you’re in your 20s and your spending and income are not consistent yet, and you feel anxious about the rising costs of living.
It’s very common: Many of us are afraid of looking at our bank balances, especially after the holiday season, and so the uncertainty about our financial situation affects any and all aspects of our lives. Researchers at Cambridge University have found that financial phobia is a condition that could be affecting up to 20% of the population, making it a real obstacle for some.
Understanding why you feel this way can help alleviate the stress, which puts you in a better position to take practical steps towards a healthy management of your finances.
Where does the stress come from?
The most obvious cause is your background. Some of us are in less fortunate situations, which makes us feel more anxious than most about common financial challenges like debt or budgeting.
In addition to having to find a way to sustain ourselves and our future families, we might have dependents such as siblings or parents, making it hard to decide how to allocate our money, splitting hairs between current needs and investing for our future.
How to handle: Try not to feel too overwhelmed and acknowledge that it is possible to lead a fulfilling life even if you are not wealthy. Taking small, practical steps can boost your bank account and alleviate this stress.
As a rule of thumb, you should look into optimising these 4 areas of your finances.
You might consider taking on a part-time job to cover your daily expenses and boost your savings, which you can then use to invest or for a rainy day.
Building frugal habits is crucial; check out the different ways you can be frugal here.
Exercise more caution when investing as you may not be able to afford to lose it in riskier assets. Choosing safer, long-term assets such as ETFs and bonds and consistently investing can be a good option.
Preventing debt and minimising potentially catastrophic expenses by purchasing insurance can protect you from a personal financial crisis. If you are not sure where to start with insurance, read this article.
Family and Social circle
Our attitude towards money is largely shaped by our family. Whether your family had a sensible attitude towards the touchy subject of money has lasting impacts on your own attitude.
You might also find yourself in the company of people who tend to be from wealthier backgrounds, or expect themselves to be above average in wealth. This may inadvertently lead you to put pressure on yourself.
Your friendship circle matters as well, if you have friends that always brag about their salaries, insist on going out to expensive restaurants every time, then you might compare yourself needlessly to them. Such comparison is often a key driver of financial anxieties.
How to handle: External pressures can be managed first by communicating with the parties and setting appropriate boundaries. Such boundaries may include acts like probing into your finances, giving unsolicited advice or unhelpful criticism, or making unrealistic comparisons.
It should also be managed internally, which means you can choose not to let others’ expectations and pace of life dictate how yours should look like.
Perhaps you are unable to obtain a BTO apartment, or you have dependents such as siblings, parents, grandparents and relatives, or you could be left with debts from illness. All these add additional stress, especially when your current financial state is already uncertain.
How to handle: When doing financial planning, take into account your set of circumstances to get a more achievable and personalised plan. For instance, if you are unable to secure BTO housing, you should plan ahead for other options such as private housing, renting, or opt to buy a HDB flat when you’re 35.
Be proactive in searching for any aid or alternatives that can relieve some monetary pressures when it comes to your dependents. Browse this site for financial aid if you fall under certain groups such as low income individuals or families, or require long term financial support for dependents that are unable to work due to illness, old age or disability.
Beliefs about financial situation
You might be over-sensitive about your financial status if you hold certain beliefs about money.
How to handle: This Forbes article outlines 4 categories of money beliefs that we can put to question:
- Money avoiders view money as a source of anxiety, and this can lead to poor financial planning. Avoiders can reassess their fears by breaking down the daunting aspect of financial planning, or talking to someone they trust about any money problems that they are facing.
- Money worshippers believe that having more money will solve all of their problems and will fanatically pursue it. Worshippers are at risk of compulsive spending and workaholism, and should be aware that money does not, in fact, solve everything.
- People with money status belief systems define their self-worth by their financial net worth. Thinking that you need to earn a certain amount to be deserving of a relationship, or believing that without a sufficient amount of savings by X years old are some money status related beliefs. Such narrow-minded beliefs are unhelpful, so letting go of them can free you of the unnecessary financial stress.
- Money vigilance can be a positive thing when it relates to frugality, but may also cause anxieties if paired with any of the other harmful money beliefs. Take note of whether you have excessive thoughts about spending or saving, and indulge in your favourite activities or purchases once in a while.
Whatever your financial situation is, reflect on whether your fear of finances is influenced by other people or circumstances in your life. This will help you come to terms with your situation more realistically, rather than over worrying or under worrying about it.
What you feel and how it can affect your life
Feeling of Deprivation and Impulsive purchases
Anyone who has tried to restrict themselves on a strict diet likely find themselves binge eating the next week. In the same way, some skimp so much on their spendings that when sale season rolls around, they become impulsive shoppers. Understand that constantly feeling stressed about spending can make you more likely to spend more as a form of retail therapy to cope with that stress, which is counterproductive.
Read more: 5 Tips for Overcoming Emotional Spending
Lack of trust in yourself to make savvy financial decisions
Adopting a very conservative approach to money might cause one to be overly cautious when it comes to investing, or choosing the budget option without proper consideration of longevity of the item. Inflexibility when it comes to financial management can restrict one’s ability to take advantage of new opportunities with better payoffs.
It is no secret that going out in Singapore can get expensive. Someone who is concerned about money might avoid most social opportunities as they might not be comfortable with spending. If you’re on the other side and know about a friend’s financial situation, check in with them and suggest hanging out in places that won’t require spending so much money.
Constantly feeling like you don’t have enough money, feeling powerless about your path in life due to money constraints, and feeling incapable of practising restraint when it comes to purchasing all compounds to a stressful experience.
How to handle financial stress
On top of all the tips shared above, here are three other actions you should take to avoid spiraling into financial stress.
Identify where it comes from
Does it come from your parents, your friends? Do you have certain beliefs that are unrealistic (e.g. if I don’t earn x amount, no girl or guy will ever love me)? Having awareness of the sources of your stress will set you up to manage it better.
Communicate your anxieties
If the stress comes from people that you may be afraid to place a burden on, such as your family members, you should talk to them and align on your goals. Share your worries, your plans, and listen to their plans and feedback as well.
If the stress comes from braggarts or meddlesome people around you, you can choose to limit your interactions with them, or politely decline to have that conversation.
Automating the process
Instead of having to manually review your finances every time you get your paycheck, consider using automated savings and budgeting apps to cut down the amount of financial decision making you have to make. You only have to check in occasionally to make sure you’re on track for the goals you’ve set.
Pro tip: Planner Bee app allows you to categorise your expenses automatically so you can budget easily, download here.
Managing financial stress can be difficult, but it is a part of adulthood. Adopting a healthier mindset towards your finances can relieve some of the unnecessary pressure on yourself, freeing you to do more with your life.