The afterglow of the holiday period is gradually fading as many Australians face the reality of their holiday spending spree. With Australians spending nearly $10 billion on Christmas presents last year1 and almost two million saying the festive season will leave them with worrying debt2, it is not surprising stress levels skyrocket post holidays.
Returning to work after the fun of the holiday period brings a dose of reality. Someone who has spent more than they planned can feel out of control and stressed that they haven’t managed their funds as well as they perhaps should have. While stress is a normal part of life, constant levels of negative stress, or distress, can affect many parts of a person’s life, such as health, family, marriage and work.
When a person is feeling stressed, they can lose concentration, become irritable with partners or colleagues, and withdraw socially, making it difficult for them to get the support they need to manage their stress.
While the holidays can worsen financial stress, research findings suggest Australians feel stressed about money all the time – no matter what time of year it is. According to the Australian Psychological Society stress and wellbeing in Australia survey, financial issues were rated as the top cause of stress over a five year period from 2011 to 20153.
Reducing finance-related stress starts with taking control of the financial situation. Having goals and a plan of how to manage personal finances will not only help to manage stress from the get-go, it will also empower individuals to take action, rather than ruminate on ‘what if’ scenarios.
The start of a New Year offers a new beginning to set financial goals and guidelines.
Here are some tips on how to reduce financial stress and set goals for the New Year:
- Track your spending. When we don’t understand where our money is going, our financial situation can feel overwhelming. Understanding your cash flow is the best way to take control of your finances. A budget provides a simple way to monitor your income and expenses while helping you find extra money to put towards a debt or save for a house or holiday.
- Reduce debt. Personal debt, via credit cards, loans and mortgages, is one of the biggest stressors in a person’s life. Paying off debt provides the psychological breathing space to feel less overwhelmed by your financial situation. If you have debt in a couple places, such as credit cards and a personal loan, consider reviewing and consolidating these loans to get them under control. The credit card may be a good starting place given it may have the highest interest rate.
- Set clear savings goals. The first priority for managing your financial situation is paying down debt, especially for high-interest debts. The second is getting clear and committed on a savings plan. Set a clear goal by making it specific, realistic and time bound. Once you have created a budget, you will be able to identify where to trim your costs and put this money towards your savings. Also consider setting an automatic bank transfer for when you receive your weekly, fortnightly or monthly salary in order to make growing your savings as efficient and consistent as possible.
- Have an emergency fund. Financial security is based on the prospect of future income. Given life tends to throw curveballs, which can disrupt this future cash flow and create significant stress, putting aside a percentage of your income for an emergency cash fund can provide the peace of mind needed to reduce financial worry. As a guide, look to accumulate between three to six months’ worth of your living expenses to cover you for any unexpected situations.
- Invest in your knowledge. Financial jargon can be difficult to understand, making the idea of taking control of your finances seem impossible. If you are unsure of some of the terms you hear, ask someone to explain at the bank, use the internet or seek professional guidance. The more you know, the less stressful the situation may appear.
- Self-care. Getting your finances in order will help to reduce stress, but self-care is also important to manage other stressors in life. Make self-care a priority. Set goals for sleep, exercise and “me” time. You can’t look after those around you if you can’t look after yourself.