Money Stress Across America: ‘What Keeps Us Up at Night—and How We Cope’

Via LearnVest By Lindsay Lambert Day

 

Getting the kids to school on time. Finishing that big presentation. Squeezing in a doctor’s visit to finally get that cough checked out.

On any given day, you’re likely juggling so much that it leaves you reeling … or at least wanting to jump the next flight to the Caribbean.

But there’s one thing that actually wears us out more as a nation than family obligations, work demands and health concerns—and that’s money.

In fact, according to a survey from the American Psychological Association, financial stress in America is quite pervasive: 64% of people say that money is a somewhat or very significant source of stress.

And that number is highest among Millennials and Gen Xers—three quarters of members of these generations report feeling stressed about money matters.

But regardless of what exactly has you so worried, one thing is clear—financial stress can take a hefty personal toll. Nearly 1 in 5 Americans in the survey skipped doctor’s visits due to money concerns, and almost a third said finances were at the root of relationship conflicts.

“To have true wellness in your life, you need physical, mental and financial wellness,” says Travis Freeman, author of “Make Your Money Work” and a partner at Four Seasons Wealth Management in Creve Coeur, Mo. “That can be a combination of speaking with a counselor, exercising, and keeping a great diet—but also having a formalized financial plan so you know how you’re going to hit your goals long term.”

Sound like a pipe dream?

It is possible to cope with (and even ease) financial stress—as we discovered while talking to people across the country. From dealing with epic debt to feeling the retirement-savings squeeze, read on for their stress-slaying tips.

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How I Deal With … My Student Loan Burden

Who: Jonathan Craig, 26, television producer, Los Angeles

My Money Stress: “I graduated from college with student loan debt in the high five figures. But after school, I was only making enough to cover my monthly living costs, and I didn’t have much of a financial safety net.

How I Cope: The first step was to work on my mind-set—and I realized my stress was less about external forces, such as student loans, and more about internal ones, like a fear of the future.

When my mind-set began to change, I saw that I had a lot more control over my finances than I realized. And I began living a much simpler life.

I cut streaming services and cable. I took a hard look at my food, alcohol, clothing and entertainment purchases. The goal was always moderation—never deprivation.

Consequently, when I began making more money, my cost of living remained the same, so I had more to put toward saving, investing and my loans. Now I’m on track to pay them off by the end of 2015.

I hesitate to call myself a success story because I still have work to do, but now that I’ve developed healthier financial habits, I definitely feel like I’m on my way.”

“I talk to friends my age about their retirement plans. We compare notes, which makes it feel more like a team effort than a solo mission.”

How We Deal With … Mounting Medical Bills

Who: Mike Welshonce, 33, child protective services worker; and Elizabeth Welshonce, 28, teacher; Studley, Va.

Our Money Stress: “Our 2-year-old son, Clay, was born with a severe case of hemophilia A, which means he has less than 1% of the proteins needed for proper blood clotting.

Between emergency room visits, medication and multiple surgeries, our medical debt is in excess of $6,000. Each hospital visit is another copay, another bill, another sleepless night.

How We Cope: I usually set up a payment arrangement—I’ve learned many facilities are willing to lower the cost if you pay the balance within a certain time frame. I’m also constantly on the phone to fight denials of insurance coverage.

But through it all, we cope by trying to remain positive, knowing it could be worse. We try not to think too much about the costs, and focus on getting Clay the best possible treatment—and advocating for financial assistance for families like us, who fall between making too much money but not enough to cover all of the expenses.

Elizabeth and I have moments when we argue about the ever-growing bills, but within a few minutes, everything is better—because we know that, at the end of the day, Clay will be right beside us laughing and playing.”

RELATED: Your Medical Debt Rx: 7 Ways to Manage High Medical Bills

How I Deal With … Saving Enough for Retirement

Who: James Lyon*, 36, IT program manager, Apex, N.C.

My Money Stress: “Shortly after my career started, my retirement offering went from a pension/401(k) combo to a 401(k) with a match—all within a few years.

That shifted the burden of retirement saving on to me, so I had to figure out how much I needed to retire in 30 years—and how I was going to get to that number. It didn’t help that the recession was a steady reminder that the road to retirement can be a long and bumpy one.

How I Cope: Education is the best stress reliever.

For me, that means reading a lot of books and articles on retirement strategies and using multiple calculators to estimate my future expenses and investment growth.

All that has helped me to build my current strategy: I invest 10% into my 401(k), which has a 6% match—plus I max out a Roth IRA. Knowing that I have a plan in place makes it easier to absorb the stress of uncertainty.

I also talk to friends my age about what they are doing with their retirement plans. We compare notes, which makes it feel more like a team effort than a solo mission.”

RELATED: 5 Confidence-Boosting Money Mentors to Have in Your Financial Corner

How We Deal With … Our Debt Hangover

Who: Joe Payne, 30, creative director; and Cortney Payne, 32, bank manager; Rogers, Ark.

Our Money Stress: “Before Cortney and I had kids, we spent money like it was going out of style. But in 2008, reality set in when we had the first of our three children.

Less than a year later, I was laid off. Suddenly, medical bills, car payments and credit cards had us in a chokehold.

We mixed a healthy dose of naivete, inexperience and tunnel vision to get a recipe for a financial hangover.

How We Deal: One of the biggest steps we took was deciding that, going forward, debt wasn’t an option anymore.

And one of the most powerful tools to fighting debt was boosting our income. We’ve worked feverishly to advance our careers—and both of us have better-paying jobs than we did back then.

Additionally, we’ve captured the elusive beast that is a budget. We use software to help us get a month ahead on bills—a system we’ve embraced wholeheartedly. By following our budget, we put about four times what we pay on our mortgage toward debt every month. If we stick to our plan, we’ll be debt-free by December 2015.

For us, the last few years have been about learning lessons, making mistakes, and—incrementally—taking back control of our money.”

RELATED: The One-Number Strategy: A New Approach to Budgeting

How We Deal With … Growing Family Pains

Who: Marisa Halliwell*, 34, digital marketing manager; and Jason Halliwell*, 35, pastor; Hershey, Pa.

Our Money Stress: “Jason and I will become parents for the first time later this summer—to twins.

Going from zero to two kids means we’ll need double of everything, as well as a new car that can fit two car seats!

On top of that, we sank a lot of money into fertility treatments, so our savings are lower than we’d like them to be.

“We plan on borrowing a lot of what we need—cribs, high chairs, bouncy seats—and we got great advice to stockpile diapers and gift cards now while we still have a bit more disposable income.”

How We Cope: Thankfully, we’ve been diligent for the past four years about increasing our monthly student loan payments.

That, along with cutbacks we made in areas like eating out and clothes shopping, should help us pay off our loans before the twins arrive.

We don’t have as much saved up for a car as we’d like, but I had a great financial year at work, so I’ll put some of my bonus money toward a down payment.

We also plan on borrowing a lot of what we need—cribs, high chairs, bouncy seats—and we got great advice to start stockpiling diapers and gift cards now while we still have a bit more disposable income.

We’ve also prepared by creating different versions of our spreadsheet, so we understand how much we’d have to cut back if one of us didn’t work—although we’d both like to continue working, not only for our careers but also so we can continue to save for retirement.”

How I Deal With … Being House Poor

Who: Jessica Statler*, 27, editor, Boston

My Money Stress: “I saddled myself with long-term debt when I decided to buy a house with some family members just one year after finishing grad school.

In addition, I have student loans and credit card balances that bring my total personal debt to roughly $268,000.

How I Cope: I live with two other family members and a tenant who rents from us, so we split the mortgage payment between us. I’ve also wrangled my student loans, using a combination of consolidation, forbearance and income-based repayment.

My biggest monthly stressor, however, is my credit card debt. I make the minimum payments on my two lowest-interest cards, and pour any extra cash I have into the card with the highest rate.

I use my cards sparingly now, and pay off any major purchases—a strategy I wish I had implemented before the debt piled up. But you live, and you learn.

That’s not to say I’ve never freaked out about my debt—I have! But I recognize the changes I’ve made (sharing my living space, cooking at home, doing freelance projects for extra income) have gone a long way toward easing the mental burden.

I also do yoga and meditate, eat well, get enough sleep, allow myself a “vice” in watching my favorite TV shows—and try to remain grateful for my “not ideal, but could be worse” financial situation.”

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*Names have been changed. 

LearnVest Planning Services is a registered investment adviser and subsidiary of LearnVest, Inc., that provides financial plans for its clients. Information shown is for illustrative purposes only and is not intended as investment, legal or tax planning advice. Please consult a financial adviser, attorney or tax specialist for advice specific to your financial situation. Unless specifically identified as such, the individuals interviewed or quoted in this piece are neither clients, employees nor affiliates of LearnVest Planning Services, and the views expressed are their own. LearnVest Planning Services and any third parties listed, linked to or otherwise appearing in this message are separate and unaffiliated and are not responsible for each other’s products, services or policies.

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