Americans are increasingly anxious about money.
New data from Northwestern Mutual’s 2018 Planning & Progress Study found that money is the No. 1 cause of stress among Americans, according to 44 percent of survey respondents. Money is more of a problem than either personal relationships (25 percent) or work (18 percent).
Over the past year, financial anxiety has increased. In 2017, 37 percent of Americans said they felt a high or moderate level of anxiety when thinking about saving for retirement and 40 percent felt anxious about outliving their retirement savings, according to data from Northwestern Mutual. As of 2018, 41 percent are stressed about retirement planning and 46 percent worry about outliving their savings.
That makes sense given that so many Americans are behind on prepping for retirement. Over 20 percent have nothing at all saved for the future, and another 10 percent have less than $5,000 socked away, Northwestern Mutual found. The cost of health care continues to rise faster than incomes as well: Annual costs came out to more than $10,000 per person in 2016.
Money issues put so much pressure on people is because they’re multi-faceted, Rebekah Barsch, vice president of planning at Northwestern Mutual, tells CNBC Make It. “Let’s say that somebody’s doing a great job saving for retirement,” she says. “That doesn’t necessarily help them if they lose their income.”
“There are also pieces of it that even people doing a great job can’t necessarily control,” Barsch adds. “Think about the high inflation rate of health care over the last 10 years. A lot of people planning for retirement are trying to figure out how much is enough to be sure that they can afford health care. "
Money touches everything from housing to food to transportation to quality of life. Feeling like you don’t have enough can seep into every aspect of your existence.
“There’s a lot of moving parts to our financial situations and that makes people feel like they never fully have a grip or a comprehensive plan to get them through,” Barsch says.
The fear of not having enough money can feel paralyzing and prevent people from taking action to improve their situation. Money-related stress can also lead to long-term issues, including familial disputes and withdrawing from social activities.
“We know that it impacts both our relationships as well as our health,” Barsch says. “Money is a significant source of stress in a marriage or any kind of relationship.” Additionally, “sometimes people worry themselves into missing out on the fun things in life. That’s both a combination of worry about spending money, but also just about being stressed and not feeling like going out and having fun.”
The study found that 41 percent of Americans say financial stress impacts their relationship with their spouse and 45 percent say it leads them to miss out on social events. More than a quarter of respondents also reported feeling depressed on a monthly basis because of their financial situation.
However, it’s possible to take control of your finances, no matter where you are in your journey, and it's often worth the effort: A full 87 percent of respondents say that “nothing makes them happier” than knowing they’re in a good place, money-wise. You can start by setting a goal and creating a plan. Once you know what you’re working toward, money begins to feel much more manageable.
Barsch recommends meeting with a trusted certified financial planner (it also helps to make sure that they’re a fiduciary). She says choosing to go over your finances with a CFP is like working with a trainer at the gym or seeing a doctor when you're sick. As professionals, they not only have the benefit of formal training, but it’s likely they’ve dealt with people in your exact situation before.
A good advisor will take the time to go over the details of your individual situation and help create a plan for reaching your goals and getting you through both the good times and the bad.
At the end of the day, it’s important to understand that “feeling anxious about money is normal, but it’s also treatable,” Barsch says. "Financial anxiety is just a part of life now, but we do know that when we have a good comprehensive financial plan, we can reduce that anxiety and bring that peace of mind."
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