Raise your hand if you’re stressed out. What is it that’s getting you hot and bothered? Work? Relationship problems? Your health? How about money? Chances are, if you are reading TFD, you are probably looking for ways to improve your relationship with money and reduce the stress that it tends to bring about.
For the last several months, money — or lack thereof — has been the first thing I think about when I wake up, and the last thing I think about when I go to sleep. I have fair reason to be stressed: I still have roughly $60,000 in graduate school debt left to pay off, my fiancé graduated from medical school last year with his own six-figure debt, we are getting married in June, and we could potentially be relocating for his residency in the next six months. Oh, and did I mention that we live in very-expensive New York City, and neither of us makes six-figure incomes?
While my financial life is far from perfect, I recently came to the realization that I can improve how I handle it. By being nicer to myself and incorporating some perspective and gratitude, I’ve found that it’s possible to tame the financial monster inside my head.
1. Avoid introducing more stress
Identify what it is that is bothering you financially, and promise to not make it worse through your own actions. As I mentioned previously, my fiancé and I are facing down a lot of student loan debt. We overlooked the opportunity to minimize it when we were students, but what we can do today is not to add to it. We have made a commitment to not add consumer debt to our lives, and try as best as we can to pay off our credit cards each month. To achieve this, we do things like cooking dinner at home most nights and bringing leftovers to work, cutting cable and using an antenna and Netflix instead, borrowing books from the library, schlepping our laundry to the laundromat instead of dropping it off at the cleaners, and taking the subway wherever we possibly can.
2. Plan ahead
Financial stress can arise when you suddenly need to pay for something and don’t have the immediate funds on hand to do so. This is exactly the reason emergency funds are critical, but what about non-emergency expenses that you know will always come up? For example, I start saving in January for Christmas expenses that will come in December. My family lives in California, so I know that at a minimum, I need to pay for a flight across the country, which can be $400-$500. I also know that I have to buy gifts and spend money on drinks and dinners catching up with friends from home, so I try my best to plan ahead. In 2016, I set aside $20/week, and by the end of December, I had $1,040 that I could use towards these expenses. I’ve used this method to save for other things, too, like friend’s weddings and vacations.
3. Spend on things that really matter to me
I’ve tried the spending fast, spending diet, no spend February, etc. All of them sucked. I think it made me more stressed out knowing I couldn’t buy any non-essentials, even if I was spending reasonably. I’ve since found that I’m better off allowing myself to spend money on non-essentials, just as long as they really matter to me. What doesn’t matter to me: boring $10 lunches from the place next to my office when I am too lazy to bring my own lunch. What does matter to me: spending money on happy hour with friends I haven’t seen in a while, and we are checking out a new bar in a new neighborhood.
I am trying my best to keep my own advice in mind as I plan our wedding. My fiancé and I would rather spend our money on great food and wine, a talented photographer, and an awesome DJ who will get everyone on the dance floor. He and I could care less about printed invitations and cocktail napkins, expensive flowers, and favors that our guests will forget to take home at the end of the night.
4. Incorporate perspective
I have many friends who have not made the same financial decisions as I did, i.e. they are not up to their ears in student loan debt. That, paired with their decisions to live in lower-cost parts of the country, means that they own homes! They have cars! They have babies!
Am I jealous? Yes, mostly the home ownership part. (I hate driving when I could be taking public transportation instead, and while I am 30, I do not hear my biological clock ticking.) I am jealous because I feel like I should be building up equity rather than making my landlord richer. I am jealous because I want to be able to paint my walls whatever color I want, and to not hear my downstairs neighbor hammering another frame into his wall and because I want a washer and dryer inside of my house. But then I realize that I live in the most exciting city in the world, and literally anything and everything I could ever want is at my fingertips. Living in a studio has taught me how to live with less (#minimalism), and be mindful of what I bring into it. My fiancé and I can pick up and move easily without worrying about selling a house and making our money back, or leaving the best school district.
I’ve also stopped mindlessly checking Instagram so much. If the majority of your feed is like mine, people are only showing their best selves; those beautiful kitchens and bedrooms are staged AF and not actually lived in, and everything is sponsored.
5. Practice gratitude
At the end of the day, you may not be where you want to be, financially, but I’m positive there is still a lot you have to be thankful for that money can’t buy. For me, I am extremely fortunate to be engaged to a wonderful man, have strong relationships with my friends and family, be healthy and fit, and be employed at a job that I am happy with 95% of the time. If that’s all I had, then I guess you could say I am already pretty rich.
Danielle is a real estate consultant living in New York City, but her heart will always be in San Francisco.
Image via Pexels