Ask the Experts: How can I stay calm about money?
If you’re feeling worried about your finances right now, you’re not alone. This year has been unlike no other and for many of us, our income has been affected and feeling stressed about this is understandable.
I’m feeling really stressed about my finances and have no clue where to start. What first step can I take to get a handle on them?
Congratulations, you have already taken your first step by acknowledging that there’s a problem. Your next step is to take a deep breath and see exactly where you are – you need to know the facts, what’s coming in and what’s going out.
Set aside a couple of hours and have something nice in mind ready for when you’ve finished. Gather your statements and unpaid bills, and make a list of your monthly commitments, with a list of what you know is coming in.
This might feel hard at first but there are lots of ways to do this, including a notebook and pen, budgeting apps, or even a spreadsheet if you are confident with it. You might want some help with this, maybe a trusted friend or you can contact Citizens’ Advice for practical help, especially if you have problem debt. The first step is the most important, and you have just taken it!
The coronavirus pandemic has impacted my finances and I’m finding it hard to stay positive, how can I keep a positive mindset when it comes to money?
The pandemic has been difficult for almost everybody, so it’s not surprising that you don’t feel overwhelmingly positive. One way to help stay positive is to concentrate on what you can control.
You can’t control if you are made redundant, or you have no customers due to Covid-19 for example – but you do have some choice in what you do next (for example, some people have moved their businesses online). In these uncertain times it’s even more important to keep an eye on your finances. Knowledge is power here!
Another idea that can help is not getting hung up on money as ‘a Thing’. Money has no power in itself. It only has meaning because we as a society agree on its significance. You can look at it as a form of energy and like all energy, it flows. You can affect that flow, by everything you do; so, focus on the bits you do have power to control.
I’ve never been good with money but really want to start saving. Every time I go to make a plan however, I clam up – how can I move past this mental block?
If you really want to start saving, that sounds to me like you are better with money than you think, so give yourself the credit here, no pun intended! Our relationship with money can be very emotional though, and tied up with feelings of scarcity and loss and fear. These are powerful emotions and might feel overwhelming, so that you ‘clam up’ and feel stuck.
One way to start getting past this is to make a list of all the benefits you will have when you have some savings, and really feel the positive emotion that comes with that. This will help more than frightening yourself with scenarios of doom, because this fear switches off your thinking brain. You can also start a savings account that doesn’t let you draw from it for a period of time – as long as you know you have left is enough for daily expenses.
My partner and I keep arguing about money, do you have any tips for having productive conversations about money?
You can’t control the behaviour of other people, but you can have some control over your own reactions and behaviour. So think, what exactly do you want to have happen here? And which bits of it can you control to any extent?
You can defuse difficult conversations like this by keeping the emotion out of it and being descriptive, saying what’s really happening rather than how you feel about it. Try to speak factually, so you might say, “When I think we haven’t got enough money left, I feel anxious”. Don’t make them feel it’s all their fault and that you are nagging them. Say to them something like, “Can we have a good talk about how to manage our money?”, keeping it emotionally neutral and agreeing a time that’s convenient for you both. Stick to that time and write down what you agreed. Say why you need to talk about it, highlighting the benefits of managing your money together.
Money and anything life-admin related makes me feel anxious, how can I keep calm and get organised?
Think, what is that anxiety doing for you? Could it be trying to get you off the hook of doing this necessary thing? You can thank your anxiety for its care of you and say, yes, but we do have to do this! Do a little bit at a time, breaking down the tasks into manageable chunks.
There is a great technique for time management, called the Pomodoro technique, which works very well when we feel overwhelmed by the size of a task. You set a timer for 25 minutes and really get your head down to the task just for that time, then have a little break. Stand up and walk around, take some deep breaths and then do one more session of 25 minutes. Don’t do more than four sessions without having a longer break.
It helps to remember that we really are our bodies, and they are very attuned to the way we feel and vice versa, and so breathing is a really good way to link body and mind and help with anxiety.
Top tips for those struggling with financial stress:
- Don’t suffer in silence – get help, from an advisor or a coach.
- Deal with it in small chunks of time, don’t try and fix everything at once.
- Control the things you can do something about.
- Citizens Advice – also advises on other issues than finance
- Money Saving Expert with Martin Lewis – has a regular newsletter for all matters financial
- Money Advice Service set up by government
Barbara is a personal and executive coach who specialises in supporting professional people under pressure.