Taking steps to sort out your finances, including increasing your financial knowledge, can help alleviate money stress in times of uncertainty.
Financial stress is nothing new for many Americans, and the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated anxiety for a lot of people. As many as 84% said in September that the Covid-19 crisis is causing stress in their personal finances, according to a survey released Thursday from the National Endowment for Financial Education.
That stress has only slightly improved over the course of the pandemic – in an April survey, 88% of Americans cited the crisis as causing stress in their personal finances.
"Even in the best of circumstances, few home budgets can withstand significant financial strain that goes on this long," said Billy Hensley, PhD, president and CEO of NEFE, in a statement.
To help combat financial stress, experts recommend boosting financial knowledge and taking small steps to build or stick to a plan. In the U.K., 68% of people who had spoken with an advisor felt better about money management, compared to 53% who had not met with one, according to a September survey from Royal London.
In addition, speaking with a financial advisor lowered stress levels somewhat — only 37% of those who sought advice said they feel anxious when they think about household finances, compared to 41% among those who had not consulted an advisor.
One of the best ways to start planning is to gain better visibility into your current financial situation, according to Jess Liberi, head of product at eMoney.
"See where you're spending and saving your money today," said Liberi. Once you have a grasp on that, ask yourself where you can make small improvements today that will have a big impact over time, Liberi said.
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Today, it might be as small as allocating a few extra dollars to a high-interest savings account, or even an investment account that can act as emergency savings.
"[The] key is to start small — people can easily get overwhelmed by all of the different things that they should be doing," Liberi.
If you don't feel like you can manage your financial goals on your own, it might be a good time to consult an expert such as a certified financial planner.
For those looking for guidance in finding a planner, the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards' "Let's make a plan" site has resources for how to find an advisor, what questions to ask and information about how to manage finances during the Covid-19 crisis.
One thing to keep in mind is that advisors offer a range of services that suit different needs and budgets, said Kevin Keller, CEO of the CFP Board.
"Financial planning is for everybody," said Keller, adding that those on the middle or lower end of the economic spectrum can benefit more from getting help.
"If you make a mistake on a narrow margin, it can be much more costly," he said.
Working with a financial planner can give you a road map for times of great uncertainty such as today, said Marguerita Cheng, CFP and chief executive officer at Blue Ocean Global Wealth in Gaithersburg, Maryland.
The financial plan "gives people the confidence to know 'yes, there's going to be market volatility, yes, there's going to be a pandemic and then there's going to be an election. But these are my goals,"' she said.
To be sure, 74% of Americans have taken steps to adjust their financial plans during the Covid-19 crisis, according to the NEFE survey. Nearly 40% have cut expenses, 26% are saving more, 24% are putting off major purchases and 18% have tapped into emergency savings.
If you've started financial planning and still feel stressed, it's important to acknowledge the mental and physical toll anxiety can take, especially over prolonged periods of time.
"If there's financial stress and it's chronic, constant, over a long period of time, that can be really damaging on your psyche or physical health," said Perri Shaw Borish, a clinical social worker and therapist.
To combat stress, Borish recommends things such as exercise, deep breathing, taking a walk or calling a friend to talk — all things that don't cost any money.
If you're feeling chronic stress, which can include symptoms such as obsessive thoughts, difficulty getting through the day or physical symptoms such as insomnia or heart palpitations, therapy might be a good option, said Borish.
There are a few resources that can help if money is a barrier to seeking therapy, as appointments can cost hundreds of dollars per session. If you have insurance, you can get a list of in-network referrals for therapists. If you don't have insurance, look for a therapist who works on a sliding scale basis and will work with you to determine cost, Borish said.
There are also organizations such as the American Psychological Association, which encourages its members to offer pro bono or discounted services based on need, and the National Alliance of Mental Illness, which has online support groups where people can go for help.
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