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The Two Scariest Words on the Planet: Stress and Finances

Finances are by far one of the most frustrating, anxiety provoking, and scary part of being an adult. In many cases, it feels as though, no matter how much you make, there is always more month at the end of the money. People often say that no matter how much you make, there are always more bills. Alternatively, people say that money does not buy happiness, and while someone who has no money might disagree, the number of wealthy people who are generally unhappy proves that money in-and-of itself does not create happiness.

Not only do finances create personal stress, but they also create high levels of interpersonal stress. Arguments in intimate relationships often revolve around one of three things: sexual intimacy, parenting, and finances. Partners were not raised in the same households by the same parents, and thus might have differing opinions about how to manage things like money. Perhaps one partner wants to save, while the other partner does not see the value in that. One partner may find value in purchasing items, while the other partner wants to invest for retirement. Perhaps both partners simply want to buy different items. If there is no agreement and cooperation regarding finances, it can become a sense of contention so intense that the conversations become arguments, which then leads to fights, and then leads to unhappiness in the relationship.

This does not mean that we should just “give up” and say that everyone is stressed about finances. At a time like now, when many small business and restaurants are closing because of the shelter in place order, when people are being furloughed or laid off, even from major companies, the idea that we “should not” be stressed out about money is ludicrous. What is it, then, that we should do? Here are a few thoughts about things that you can do now:

1. Have a budget that is agreed upon by you and your partner (if you have one). This allows you to have the tough discussions about how and when to spend money before you actually spend it. It is a much easier conversation to have before the new car is in the drive way! This also allows you to really consider what it is that you have coming in, and what things “have” to be paid, such as for housing, food, etc.

2. If you or your partner cannot create or agree on a budget, consider seeking professional assistance. While financial planners can cost funds, there are plenty of services that are low or no cost, and this can help you “get back on your feet,” particularly if you are struggling.

3. Be honest with your partner. Dishonesty with money is extremely difficult to resolve. Having hidden debt, credit cards, etc, puts your partner in a very difficult position. In California, your partner (if you are legally married) is partially responsible for whatever debt you accumulate. It is also nearly impossible to truly create a healthy budget if your partner is not fully aware of what is going on.

4. Be okay with how much money you have at this time, and be realistic about what you are personally able to do to change your financial situation. This is a very trying time, and while there are stimulus packages that may support you, it is also very scary. Focusing on what you do not have will only increase your stress, which will then increase the amount of time you spend arguing about money.

5. If you do not have enough money, seek help. This might come in the form of WIC, SNAP, medi-cal, unemployment, or asking for help from a non-profit who specializes in helping those who are in need. It can be difficult to ask for help, but failing to ask for help will only increase the amount of stress that is placed on you and your household.

6. Finally, the therapist in me wants to ensure that everyone has their own mantra for life, but also one specifically about finances. It may be something like “money is not scary, and I will not be scared” or “money is necessary, I will make it work.” While you may not believe this at this point, it is important to tell yourself that! Consider this: is being highly anxious and arguing with your partner daily going to increase the amount of money in your bank account? No. What will increase that? Action. Action requires motivation and motivation starts with one little statement of positivity and achievable goals.

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