Stress is a word we’ve become all too familiar with throughout the Recession. According to the American Psychological Association’s 2010 Stress in America survey, 76% of Americans say money is the significant cause of their stress. Although the economy has shown signs of improvement, many of us are still concerned about the future. We’ve lost tremendous value in our homes, our retirement accounts have dwindled, and many of us have been forced to live a more frugal lifestyle. Needless to say, no matter how good the country’s economy gets, we will not receive a reprieve until our personal economies rebound. Now, we don’t know when that is going to happen, but there are some things you can do to make things a little less stressful on yourself and your family until your situation has stabilized.
First, let’s look at the bright side of our economy. The Associated Press’s Economic Stress Index, a monthly release analyzing the financial strain of the nation, shows promise in our recovery. The Stress Index calculates the pressure Americans are feeling by county, and assigns a score from 1 to 100 on the overall pressure the nation is feeling. Factors such as unemployment, foreclosure and bankruptcy filings are considered when weighing economic pressure. As things get worse, the Economic Stress Index increases, as things get better, the score decreases. According to the AP’s April release, America’s economic stress fell to a two-year low of 9.8, down from 10.5 in March. The decrease is attributed to the strong private-sector hiring and lower bankruptcy filings.
Great news, but we’ve still a ways to go before we can claim a full-on recovery. Plus, we have to contend with higher food can gasoline prices, which hamper our overall economic growth. Even though there are signs things are improving, we may still be feeling the stress of a beleaguered economy for a while. So, what can you do to keep calm during the recovery? The American Psychological Association has some great tips on how to take the edge off your financial woes. First, don’t panic. I know, easier said than done, but think about it. What have you gone through in your life? Have some experiences left you feeling like “this is the end of the world?” From my own personal experience, I know I’ve felt that way on a few occasions, but you know what? Things worked out, sometimes even better than I imagined. The point is don’t worry about things you cannot control. You can’t put your life on auto-pilot either, but you shouldn’t fret about the overall economy. Focus on your personal situation and make the best decisions you can to make things easier.
Decisions require soul-searching and communication. Many of our expenses are personal in nature. However, when we really look at where our money is going there is always room to “trim the fat.” Sit down with your family and have an honest discussion of what you can eliminate from your budget, or Spending Plan. If you don’t have a budget, make one. You cannot make a plan to alleviate your stress if you don’t know what is stressing you out. There are plenty of on-line tools you can use to develop a budget, such as Mint.com, that will help you to create one in a jiffy. Once you know where your money is going, start to think about areas where expenses can be reduced. If you are having some difficulties cutting back, call your bank, utility companies, and creditors to see if there are any programs to reduce your monthly obligation.
The next bit of advice works in conjunction with cutting expenses. Many of us never received a course in personal finance and to some, budgeting is as fun as root-canal. The good news is there are many services available to you that can help you to create a budget and reduce your expenses. Credit counseling services, such as Cambridge, employ financial professionals that have a wide breath of experience in helping people make sense of their finances. Each year, millions of Americans reach out to these non-profit agencies for relief, guidance, and the expertise to deal with a host of financial issues. Even better, talking to a counselor is free – how’s that for lessening your stress?