Save and Invest

How to get your finances back on track when you've fallen behind

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This is an excerpt from the CNBC Make It newsletter. Subscribe here.

Since writing last week's newsletter, I've been thinking a lot about cynicism. With so many competing worries — inflation, a shaky stock market, debt repayment — it can be easy to believe we'll never get ahead, and write off certain financial goals as impossibilities. Especially when things keep going wrong and we're inundated with bad news.

When I feel overwhelmed, I question the benefits of doing any of the things I'm "supposed" to do with my money, like watching my spending and saving for the future. But giving into this cynicism only makes things worse, in my experience.

If you've fallen behind in some financial areas — say, you've accrued debt, or your emergency fund is less than you'd like it to be — getting back on track can seem like an impossibility. But that's rarely true, financial advisors say.

"Focus on the things you can control," says John Loyd, a Texas-based certified financial planner (CFP). "Tomorrow is a new day. Hiccups along the way are bound to happen, so expect them."

Many financial advisors suggest focusing on one goal at a time, since it's easier to manage than worrying about everything all at once.

It helps to pinpoint your biggest source of financial stress. Is it your spending? Your retirement balance? A high-interest loan hanging over your head? Addressing whatever is affecting your mental well-being the most should be your top priority.

The first step is always the hardest, says Marco Rimassa, another Texas-based CFP.

"The smaller the pieces you can break a problem down into, the easier it will be to create a solution to that piece," says Rimassa. "It may not be easy or quick, but solutions will then build on solutions."

Once you've made progress on your primary goal, pick another problem to work on. Taking even small steps forward can ease anxiety and inspire you to keep moving.

"We are emotionally driven, getting us in trouble," says Ashley Folkes, an Alabama-based CFP. "Fear of retirement, debt, the stock market and inflation can certainly create fear, but we can't let it paralyze us."

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