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Monday, December 04, 2023

Dear Tori: How to deal with financial overwhelm

Dear Tori: How to deal with financial overwhelm

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 – you get where I’m going.

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 and can quickly cause our personal finance situation to go from good to bad, and then from bad to worse.

This is why we need 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, spend the next few minutes with me as we walk through some of the best ways to break free and avoid feeling overwhelmed in the future.

First things first, show yourself some grace

If you know me, then you know that I absolutely love Brené Brown. Brown is an accomplished research professor, author, and public speaker, and she talks a lot about shame. One of her quotes that has always resonated with me is this: “Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.”

I see this so frequently when it comes to personal finance. Someone wants to take control of their money and stop experiencing financial overwhelm, but they can’t escape the shame of their past financial mistakes, and thus they remain in a cycle of feeling frustrated and ashamed of the state of their finances.

Friends, let me be the first to assure you that none of us have 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 offering yourself grace and freeing yourself from financial shame. Stop believing that you are a bad person because you made some mistakes, and start seeing those mistakes as opportunities to learn and grow in your financial literacy and confidence.

Give yourself plenty of 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 a bunch of numbers, and reading a whole lot of jargon that you may not be familiar with.

“Start investing” looks great on your “2023 goals” list, but it feels 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.

I’m not going to lie to you – many money tasks do have a lot of steps, which can spark feelings of overwhelm. But I have found that 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. Rather than 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, and then an hour later in the week to download a tax program or create an online account, and then a few hours 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.

Personally, I enjoy taking myself on a “money date” to help make this process as easy (and maybe even, dare I say, enjoyable!) as possible. For your own date with your finances, pour yourself a glass of wine or make a cup of tea, 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.

Finally, don’t be afraid to seek out help

There’s no denying that navigating the nitty gritty of personal finances can be really overwhelming and difficult. Fortunately, you don’t have to do it alone.

On my journey to saving my first $100K, I used Empower Personal Dashboard™. This enabled me to total up my net worth – what I own minus what I owe. With these tools, you can check in on your cash flow, create a monthly budget, and check into fees in any of your investment accounts. Over time, these tools helped me plan and work toward new financial goals.

Empower also offers fee-based advisory services with financial professionals who can help you discover internalized money attitudes and break free from the cycle of financial overwhelm.


Tori Dunlap

Tori Dunlap


Tori Dunlap is a millennial money and career expert. After saving $100,000 at age 25, Tori founded Her First $100K to fight financial inequality by giving women actionable resources to better their money. A Plutus award winner, her work has been featured on Good Morning America, New York Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, and more. An honors graduate of the University of Portland, Tori currently lives in Seattle, where she enjoys eating fried chicken, going to barre classes, and attempting to naturally work John Mulaney bits into conversation.


Tori Dunlap of Her First $100k (“Author”) uses and recommends the free Empower Personal Dashboard™. Empower compensates Author for providing the content contained in this article. Author is not a client of Empower Advisory Group, LLC ("EAG"). Additionally, in a separate referral arrangement between Author and Empower Personal Wealth LLC (“EPW”), Author is paid $70 and $150 for each person who uses Author’s webpage ( to register with Empower and links at least $100,000 in investable assets to the Empower Personal Dashboard™. As a result of these arrangements, Author may financially benefit from referring potential clients to Empower and/or be incentivized to present blog content that is favorable to EPW. No fees or other amounts will be charged to investors by Author or Empower as a result of the Referral Arrangement. Investors that are referred to EPW and subsequently subscribe for investment advisory services provided by EAG will not pay increased management fees or other similar compensation to Author, EPW or EAG as a result of this arrangement.


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