Even pre-2020, nearly two-thirds of women counted money as their #1 source of stress. (That’s compared to just over half of men.) But lately — and maybe you’ve noticed this — that stress seems to have gotten … worse. In our own Financial Wellness Survey last fall, nearly half of women said they believed that financial stress has taken a toll on their mental and emotional health. Heightened cases of burnout, record inflation, a volatile stock market, and current events certainly haven’t helped.
So if you’re feeling financially crunched, take heart. You’re not alone — not even close. And while there aren’t any easy solutions to the underlying systemic problems at play here, there are plenty of small things you can do to help manage your personal financial stress in the meantime.
Whether you’re itching to plan a deep-dive money date with yourself, or carving out even five minutes feels like a whole thing, here are some actions you can take right now to check in with yourself.
If you have 5 minutes
Check your account balances. If you can’t see your balances, your balances can’t see you … just kidding. (If only this followed the kid rule of invisibility.) At first glance, this rec might sound like a huge stressor, especially if the answer to “how much do I have?” is “not enough.” But in general, it’s much better to know how much you have rather than have the anxiety of not knowing hanging over your head. Knowledge is the first ingredient of control.
Connect your last purchase to one of your core values. When you’re living your life in alignment with your values, you’re more likely to feel content and in control — which makes them a great tool to reframe the assumptions and fleeting emotions that play into everyday spending choices. So … what’s the last thing you bought? (Not counting, like, groceries — although food definitely counts as a core value.) Was that expense related to one of your core values? In a journal (or, you know, in your notes app), write yourself a quick note explaining why and how.
Pay an extra $5 toward your credit card balance with the highest interest rate. Sure, it’s not much, but it’s something you can *do* right now — and it’s five fewer bucks you’ll have to pay interest on. (No credit card debt? Put that $5 toward your current saving or investing goal).
Make a new savings goal — a fun one. Got a wish list full of big purchases you’d like to save up for? How about a bucket list with all the places you want to go? Or maybe you just want to start a F**k You Fund so you can quit your job? Pick a goal that fires you up and start an account for it. Put $5 in there.* That’s it, that’s the thing.
Forgive yourself. All those negative thoughts you’ve had about your spending? Chances are, those are being supported by really toxic cultural myths about women and money. What’s spent is spent — give yourself permission to wipe your money slate clean and you’ll have a little more brain space to make a plan for future spending. (Btw, the best way to stop feeling guilty in the long term: Build a plan and trust it!)
If you have 30 minutes
Automate your savings, investments, and payments. You know how everybody always talks about “paying yourself first”? That’s because it works. Automating savings and investments (like your retirement contributions) can not only make that a lot easier, but also help you rest easy knowing you’ve put your money to work. Lots of banks also have auto-save options that will round up to the nearest dollar and transfer the difference to your savings. Others will auto-save a percentage of every paycheck when it hits your account. Finally, if the idea of putting bills and expenses on autopay makes you stressed for overdraft-fee reasons, here’s how to combat it.
Reflect on your money mindset. When you had five minutes (above), you forgave yourself for all the negative money thoughts. Now that you have a little more time, reflect on the toxic social messaging that got you to that bad place and replace it with the facts — for example, that women are more risk averse, and thus actually tend to see better returns than men do. Or maybe you journal about how your family did money while you were growing up — what did you take from that?
Text the group chat about money. The possibilities are endless here: “What’s everyone’s go-to money tip?” “Anyone paid off their credit cards lately? Pls gas me up, this is hard!” “OK, I feel like I’m on a different planet trying to negotiate a raise at work. Can we all do a salary gut check?” Whatever you decide, the goal is to keep breaking down that taboo that makes money such a source of stress in the first place.
See if you can spot any patterns in your recent spending habits. If any of those habits aren’t aligned with your core values, that could be driving stress. Make a mental plan on how you’ll reroute yourself before you swipe that card on the thing you don’t really want again.
Do some salary research. Maybe it’s time to ask for a raise. Maybe your coworker with the same title and same job description gets paid $10,000 more than you. Or maybe it’s time to move up and out from your current role. (It’s worth taking a look, at least — it’s a candidate’s market out there, and employers are getting competitive about pay.)
If you have an hour or two
Build a budget. “I’ve tried budgeting and it doesn’t work for me,” you may be thinking. If so, we’d guess you’re trying to do budgeting the way you’re told you’re “supposed” to — like keeping to a restrictive diet — rather than in a way that actually works for your life. Maybe it’s time to try a new strategy, one that will get you excited about what your budget can do for you, rather than what it’s keeping from you. It’ll take a little brain power, but the end result will be built to last.
Do some prep for the upcoming week. For example, if your food budget feels like it’s getting out of control, try assessing the contents of your fridge/pantry/etc and get creative with meal prep. Some websites and apps (Allrecipes, Epicurious, Supercook, etc) will spit out recipes based on the supplies you have (also consider: a capsule grocery list) — make something you can eat for lunch for four or five days. (We’re fans of bowl food — a bunch of good stuff in a bowl, can’t go wrong.) Now you’ll have one less cost to worry about this week.
Calculate (or check in on) how much you need for an emergency fund — and make a savings plan. The general range we recommend is three to six months’ worth of take-home pay, but if that feels overwhelming, try starting small with just one. Here’s everything you need to know, including how to start one.
Organize your debts. What do you owe? What’s the interest on each balance? How long will it take to pay them off if you’re only paying the minimum? We’ve been there. What might help is to make an official list that answers all of those questions. Group your debts by high interest (10% interest and above), medium interest (5–10% interest), and low interest (5% interest and below) and sort them by amount. Then — either now if you still have the energy, or at a near-future date — make a plan to pay them off.
Get your retirement plan in order. It can be fun if you let it — we promise.
Just start with one thing
If you got through that entire list and the only thing still on your mind is “help,” we get it. That’s what stress is made of! But we’ve found that the number one driver of women’s financial confidence — ie, the opposite of stress — is actually doing the damn thing. Even tackling just one of those five-minute items is bound to give you at least a little relief. Then, if and when you have the energy, you can tackle another. Then another. The motivation accumulates, and so does the confidence. All it takes is to start.
If it’s for the next two years, best to put it in a savings account. If it’s for something farther off: consider investing it.
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