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Friday, May 24, 2024

How to deal with financial overwhelm

How to deal with financial overwhelm


Financial overwhelm: It’s something that most of us will experience at some point in our lives.

It’s that anxious feeling you get when you see a stack of overdue bills on the counter and decide to put off paying them “until tomorrow.” It’s the uneasy pit in your stomach that you get every time you think about asking for the raise you were promised six months ago. It’s the way your heart rate increases every time you think about filing your taxes, saving for retirement, investing in the stock market – the list goes on.

But financial overwhelm doesn’t just affect how you feel about money – it often also affects how you save, spend, and manage your money. Financial overwhelm can cause inaction, procrastination, and even neglect of your finances.

This is why it's helpful to address being overwhelmed head-on. You may have access to financial education and resources, but if you’re overwhelmed, you may never put that knowledge and those tools into action.

So if you are in a season of financial overwhelm, let's walk through some ways to break free and avoid feeling overwhelmed in the future.

First up: show yourself some grace

When it comes to personal finance, people often hold onto the shame of their past financial mistakes, and thus they remain in a cycle of feeling frustrated by the state of their finances.

Nobody has a perfect financial track record. Most of us have made mistakes with our money along the way, but those mistakes should not define the rest of our lives. The first step to overcoming financial overwhelm is freeing yourself from financial shame. You're not a failure because you made some mistakes; start seeing those mistakes as opportunities to learn and grow in your financial literacy and confidence. Being willing to make changes is the first step.

Give yourself time to tackle overwhelming tasks

Let’s face it: One of the reasons many financial tasks can feel so overwhelming is that there are often so many steps involved.

“Paying your taxes” sounds easy in theory, but quickly becomes overwhelming when you think about gathering all of last year’s paperwork, downloading tax software, correctly entering all the numbers, and reading a whole lot of jargon that you may not be familiar with.

“Start investing” looks great on your annual list of resolutions, but it may feel much more intimidating when you consider setting your investing goals, signing up with an investment platform, creating an investing budget, and researching the right combination of stocks and bonds for your financial situation and long-term goals.

Many money tasks do have a lot of steps, which can spark feelings of overwhelm. But these tasks become much less intimidating when we focus on tackling one step at a time, rather than trying to crank out the entire task at once.

Take taxes, for example. Instead of forcing yourself to complete the entire process in one afternoon, break it down into small steps that you can then schedule out over a period of days or weeks – however much time you need. Give yourself an afternoon to gather all your financial paperwork. Then schedule an hour later in the week to download a tax program or create an online account. Over the following week, take an hour or so each evening to knock out the rest of the process.

Suddenly a task that would have been stressful and overwhelming becomes much more manageable and less daunting.

Put your finances on autopilot

If you experience financial overwhelm, automation is going to be your best financial friend.

There are many benefits to putting your bills on autopay: It’s convenient, can help you avoid late fees, and can even help you increase your credit score by making on-time payments. But most importantly, it can significantly reduce feeling overwhelmed because it takes so much work off your plate. With autopay, you don't have to worry about remembering to pay your bills each month. The payments will automatically be deducted from your account, so you can be sure that your bills are taken care of on time.

And be sure to “pay yourself” by making contributions to your investment accounts, whether that’s your company 401(k), another retirement account, or a taxable brokerage.

Eliminate the fear of the unknown

Consider this: Not knowing how much debt you have, how much money you have in the bank, or what your credit score is can be a major source of stress and anxiety. In part, that’s because it’s unknown.

While it may seem difficult at first, getting a thorough understanding of your finances will ultimately relieve the anxiety of “not knowing” and will allow you to take actionable steps toward tackling your financial stressors.

Consider taking yourself on a “money date” to help make this process easy (and maybe even enjoyable). For your own date with your finances, pour yourself your favorite drink, put on your comfy clothes, play some relaxing music, and spend some one-on-one time with your accounts. Write down your monthly income and expenses, as well as your total debts and their interest rates. This will help you start to understand your cash flow – where your money is coming from and going every single month.

Repeating this money date monthly will help you monitor changes, see your progress, and keep you from falling back into the fear of the unknown.

Don’t be afraid to seek out help

There’s no denying that navigating your personal finances can be overwhelming. Fortunately, you don’t have to do it alone. Empower offers free financial tools that allow you to check in on your cash flow, create a monthly budget, and analyze fees in any of your investment accounts.


The Currency editors

Staff contributors

The CurrencyTM, a publication from Empower, covers the latest financial news and views shaping how we live, work, and play. We keep you current on ways to plan, save, and invest for life.

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