1. How Does Money Cause Stress?

There is a lot more to managing your money than getting the bills paid with a little left over or maintaining a productive portfolio. We have all kinds of hidden and not-so-hidden feelings about money, emotional blocks, obsessions, and pretty strange ideas. The phrase “It’s only money” might be something you say sometimes, perhaps to justify an extravagant expense or to make yourself feel better when you don’t have any of it, but very few of us really believe that the green stuff is “only” anything. Money is important to us. It is important to our culture. Some might even say it rules the world. But it shouldn’t rule you.

“Some might say money rules the world. But it shouldn’t rule you.”

2. Take a Look at Your Past

In The 9 Steps to Financial Freedom, certified financial planner and investment advisor Suze Orman lists “Seeing How Your Past Holds the Key to Your Financial Future” as step number one. Money memories from childhood can reveal how we feel about money right now, even if we don’t realize it. Maybe money was highly valued in your family, or not valued much at all. Maybe you were taught to manage it, but many of us weren’t given those skills and, as adults, don’t have the slightest clue what to do with the money we earn beyond paying the bills and buying the groceries.

3. Don’t Buy into the Stereotypes

Added to our personal experiences are cultural stereotypes galore. Television shows, movies, and books often represent rich people as heartless snobs, poor people as slovenly thieves. Old misers who hoard their riches must be a little crazy. Generous souls who give all their money away must be angelic.

In America, the “middle class” has been consistently held up as the ideal and has grown to be such a broad category that most people now consider themselves to be part of it. Most of us aren’t in poverty, but wouldn’t call ourselves rich, either. And isn’t that what makes us comfortable? Yet, we remain obsessed with money . . . with wealth, with the fear of poverty, with the material objects it can buy.

4. De-Stress Your Financial Life

Money is no simple matter. But that doesn’t mean it has to be complicated for you. To de-stress your financial life, you need to do several things:

• Understand exactly how you really feel about money, including your prejudices and preconceptions.

• Continue to recognize with vigilance your financial preconceptions so that they don’t control you.

• Have very specific financial goals, for both present and future.

• Have a very specific plan to meet your financial goals.

• Know exactly how much is coming in and how much is going out.

• Start by building a financial cushion.

5. Ask Yourself Some Questions

To get you thinking about how you really feel about money, answer the following questions on a sheet of paper or in your stress journal.

1. How do you feel, emotionally, when you think about your financial situation right now?

2. Examine any negative feelings about your financial situation. Why do you think you have these negative feelings?

3. How do your parents feel about money?

4. When you were a child, what was your family’s attitude toward people who had more money than you did?

5. When you were a child, what was your family’s attitude toward people who had less money than you did?

6. Describe an incident from your childhood that revealed your family’s attitude about money.

7. Describe a specific book, movie, television show, or other source that you think could possibly have affected your feelings about money in some way.

8. If you had all the money you could possibly ever spend and you knew you would continue to be wealthy for the rest of your life, how would it make you feel?

9. List the things in life that you honestly believe are more important than money.

10. What, specifically, has to change in your life so that money no longer causes you stress?

6. Recognize Your Financial Preconceptions

Look back at your answers for clues to some of your financial preconceptions. Keep those in mind as you work on simplifying your financial life. If you have the preconception that there is something wrong with having money, you may have been subconsciously keeping yourself from financial security. Maybe you strongly believe that money shouldn’t be important, but the lack of it in your life is controlling you, and now, in its absence, money has become the most important thing in your life. Maybe you believe that self-worth is related to financial worth and you feel like, apart from money, you aren’t worth much. Whatever you believe, know that you believe it, and continue to question your preconceptions so that they don’t sabotage your financial life.

7. Make Specific Financial Goals

If you know where you are headed financially, your life will be less stressful. Make a list of your financial goals, no matter how impossible they seem, either on your own or with the help of a good financial planner.

How much money do you need to be able to spend each month? (Most people underestimate this number.) How much do you want to have saved by retirement? Do you need college funds for the kids? A down payment for a house? Would you like to be able to have extra money for investing? How much do you need in savings to cover your expenses for six months if you should become unable to work?

8. Have a Plan

It isn’t enough just to have goals. You also have to have a workable plan to meet them. If this seems overwhelming to you, get help from a good financial planner.

Part of meeting your financial goals might be focused on how to live on less rather than how to make more. Simplicity, frugal living, and other downscaling trends have been popular in the last decade as people realize they’ve been making lots of money and not getting much in return in the way of spiritual rewards. Books, websites, newsletters, and other sources are rich with information on this trend.

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