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When it comes to stress, there's nothing quite like finances to get the nerves jangling. Whether you've got too little, spend too much, or you end up in a spat with your partner every time it comes up, money can ratchet up the tension.
If your solution to your financial stress is to take a long, hot soak to drown out those pesky calls from creditors, or go on a budget-busting online shopping trip, you may need to rethink your approach. Here are 10 stress-busting tips to help you get your financial life on track.1. Chant a money mantra.
You see it, you want it. Now, how do you keep from buying it? Chant "I'm saving to buy a house," or whatever mantra works for you as you force yourself to keep on walking.
Whether you're saving for your kids' education, a new home, or a special vacation, start saving early. It's easy to put off saving until next month, but you never know what will come up that will change your plans -- again. Instead of putting it off, start by making a small, automated contribution to your savings account just after each paycheck -- even as little as $10 a paycheck can add up fast. Then, gradually increase the amount each month.
And if it's your child's education you're saving for, you'll need to bite the bullet and start a little bigger than that now: Assume you'll need to save between $115 and $284 a month, starting when your baby is born.
Whether it's a bike ride in the park, a trip to the local library, or even a walk in your neighborhood, explore fun, low-cost activities for your family.
Shopping online can be easy and reliable. But posting personal information, shopping by credit card, and browsing without seeing the actual merchandise can make anyone nervous.
In this consumer culture, you may break out in a sweat when you see the neighbors' fancy new car, or hear about their ski trip to Switzerland. Know your goals and stick with them. The Joneses may be up to their eyes in debt.
A 2002 study in Hong Kong found that those who checked the stock market daily during a recession were more likely to be depressed than those who did not. If it's a volatile situation and you have little control, don't dwell. Instead, make an appointment to check your portfolio quarterly with your partner, and make decisions about where your money should be invested at that time. If you're stressed out by market fluctuations, you may be better off to consider less volatile investments, like high-yield mutual fund or bonds. The fast-paced stock market isn't for everyone.
Whether it's a financial planner, marriage counselor, or financially savvy friend, if you're in over your head -- or can't stop fighting about it -- an outside opinion can help. Financial advisors have all kinds of different pricing structures, and most will offer you a free consultation so you can see if the advisor's strengths match your long- and short-term investment goals.
And if it's your relationship that's suffering from your money woes, you're not alone. Even perfectly matched couples can be driven mad by their partners' spending habits. Talk to your doctor about a marriage counselor who can guide you and your partner through this challenge.
The first step is to stop accumulating debt. Then you can eliminate it. Pay your bills on time. Use cash whenever possible (also a handy way to avoid identity theft), and work out realistic payments with creditors to reduce debt. Consolidating debt into a low-interest loan could be a great solution for you. Or perhaps you just need a structured repayment plan.
Nothing is more stressful than losing your job or receiving an avalanche of unexpected bills. Maintaining a cash cushion in the bank -- typically enough to live on for at least three months -- can help you sleep easier at night.
If you've been good, paid your bills, eliminated your debt, and saved your pennies, you can allow yourself a reward that fits the budget, whether it's a trip to Jamaica, a massage, or a nice meal. After all that hard work, you deserve to enjoy the fruits of your labors -- finally!
Originally published on LHJ.com, February 2005.