Banking and Financial Services Sections

Shaking Off Economic Stress

Start by Creating a Budget and Trimming Some Fat

Thomas J. Fox is

Thomas J. Fox is

Stress is a word we’ve become all too familiar with throughout the recession. According to the American Psychological Assoc. 2010 Stress in America survey, 76% of Americans say money is the significant cause of their stress. Although the economy has shown signs of improvement, many of us are still concerned about the future.  If you’ve seen your home lose a quarter of its value, watched your retirement account dwindle, or been forced to live a more frugal lifestyle, you know what I’m talking about.
Needless to say, no matter how good the country’s economy gets, we won’t consider the recession over until our personal economy rebounds. Now, we don’t know when that’s going to happen, but there are some things you can do to make things a little less stressful on yourself and your family until the situation has stabilized.
First, let’s look at the bright side of our economy. The Associated Press’s Economic Stress Index, a monthly release analyzing the financial strain of the nation, shows promise in our recovery. The Stress Index calculates the pressure Americans are feeling by county, and assigns a score, from 1 to 100, to the overall pressure the nation is feeling. Factors such as unemployment, foreclosure, and bankruptcy filings are considered when weighing economic pressure. As things get worse, the Economic Stress Index increases; as things get better, the score decreases.
According to the AP’s April release, America’s economic stress fell to a two-year low of 9.8, down from 10.5 in March. The decrease is attributed to strong private-sector hiring and lower bankruptcy filings. That’s great news, but we’ve still a ways to go before we can claim a full recovery. Plus, we have to contend with higher food and gasoline prices, which hamper our overall economic growth.
Even though there are signs things are improving, we may still be feeling the stress of a beleaguered economy for a while. So, what else can you do to keep calm during the recovery? The American Psychological Assoc. has some great tips on how to take the edge off your financial woes.
First, don’t panic. I know, easier said than done, but think about it. What have you gone through in your life? Have some experiences left you feeling like this is the end of the world? From my own personal experience, I know I’ve felt that way on a few occasions, but you know what? Things worked out, sometimes even better than I imagined. The point is, don’t worry about things you can’t control. You can’t put your life on autopilot, either, but you shouldn’t fret about the overall economy. Focus on your personal situation and make the best decisions you can to make things easier.
Some decisions require soul-searching and communication. Many of our expenses are personal in nature. However, when we really look at where our money is going, there’s always room to trim the fat. Sit down with your family and have an honest discussion of what you can eliminate from your budget or spending plan. If you don’t have a budget, make one. You can’t make a plan to alleviate your stress if you don’t know what’s stressing you out. There are plenty of online tools you can use to develop a budget, such as Mint.com, that will help you to create one in a jiffy. Once you know where your money is going, start to think about areas where expenses can be reduced. If you are having some difficulties cutting back, call your bank, utility companies, and creditors to see if there are any programs available to help reduce the amount of your monthly obligations.
The next bit of advice works in conjunction with cutting expenses. Most of us never took a course in personal finance, and to some, budgeting sounds about as fun as a root canal. The good news is that there are many services available to you that can help you to create a budget and reduce your expenses. Credit-counseling services employ financial professionals who have a great deal of experience helping people make sense of their finances. Each year, millions of Americans reach out to these nonprofit agencies for relief, guidance, and the expertise to deal with a host of financial issues. Even better, talking to a counselor is free — how’s that for reducing your stress?

Thomas J. Fox is the Community Outreach Director at Cambridge Credit Counseling, an Agawam-based professional housing and debt-counseling agency. He is an AFCPE-accredited credit counselor, a CFC-certified educator in personal finance, and an NCHEC-certified housing counselor; (413) 241-2362; [email protected]; twitter.com/thomasjfox

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