Financial stress can be one of life’s most challenging and frustrating struggles. When you have burdens like debt, credit card bills, loans, and car payments hanging over your head, it can feel like you are drowning completely. And even worse, the COVID-19 pandemic changed financial situations for many people. Whether you lost your job, got a new one, or are managing medical bills from COVID-19-related complications, everyone seemed to feel the pressure. 

However, there are ways to help manage your financial stress, even when you can’t fix the money problems just yet. Until you can actually take control of your financial stressors and pay down your outstanding debts, follow these tips below to help manage your financial worries. It is possible to live a happy and carefree life regardless of how much money you have or don’t have.

Prioritize the Things You Can Control

A lot of things are out of your control when it comes to financial stress. For example, you may be irrationally stressed about having $30k or more in student loan debt. However, this number is entirely out of your control, and stressing out over it isn’t going to pay it down any faster. It will likely take years to pay off that kind of money. And you don’t want to be in a state of worry for several years, right?

Instead of lamenting about the future, take baby steps to bring you some peace right now. With significant debts, the best thing you can do is set aside small, regular payments to help bring the number down over time. If you take proactive steps to help ease your debts, you have nothing to stress about. Instead, focus on what you can control, like your monthly budgeting and spending. 

Avoid Being Tempted

It is impossible to avoid spending money completely. Obviously, you need to purchase food, pay your rent, and take care of life’s necessities. However, avoiding places, people, and things that might further tempt unnecessary spending can certainly be avoided. 

For example, if your spending weaknesses include shopping or going out to eat, avoid going to the mall when you can and learn to say “no” to friends when they ask you to go out to lunch. Instead, ask your friends if you can all make a meal together or do another activity. Avoiding unnecessary spending is sometimes as easy as staying away from temptation.

Pay Only Your Essential Bills

In times of increased financial stress, it is important to pay attention to your essential bills and expenses first and foremost. For example, rent, groceries, gas, utilities, and car payments need to be paid each month for you to live comfortably. Whereas expenses like shopping, eating out, gym memberships, and streaming subscriptions are not as crucial, So if you are especially stressed out about money, you can eliminate these expenses.

If you don’t want to eliminate them entirely, however, you can opt to spend money on these things only after all of your essential bills have been paid. Or, you could give yourself a set amount to spend toward these extras and keep only the ones that are most important for your family to have a little fun. 

Track Your Spending

Most experts and books about finance tell you that tracking your spending is one of the most effective tools for budgeting, saving, and decreasing stress. The idea behind this is that you won’t know if you are making any financial progress unless you actually look at what’s coming in and going out with each paycheck. So grab a notebook and start tracking everything you spend your money on for a month. Don’t just track essential expenses like rent and groceries, but record the small things like coffee or going out to the movies. Many people are surprised to discover they spend more on incidentals than they ever knew! 

Tracking these purchases and expenses can help you see where your dollars add up and help you save money next month to put toward your financial goals. This will also give you a sense of control over your money instead of money controlling you, which is essential when you’re overstressed about finances. Plenty of free online budgeting tools exist to help you track your spending. Or, you can also do it the old-fashioned way by using a journal or a notebook. 

Build an Emergency Fund

One of the most significant ways to relieve some of your financial anxieties is to have some money set aside for emergencies. For example, suppose you had a certain amount of money set aside for unexpected car repairs, doctor or vet bills, a sudden job loss, broken appliances, or anything else that might come up. In that case, you could always be reassured, knowing that you have a safety net if something happens beyond your control. 

It always seems as though emergency spending comes at the worst times, so having a bit of a cushion in case of an unexpected event can help you focus your financial attention on more important or pressing matters. 

Of course, building an emergency fund is easier said than done. If you haven’t already, commit to taking a certain amount out of your weekly paycheck toward this fund, and then don’t touch it. Whether that’s $100 or $20 a week, the money will add up. And the bigger your emergency fund grows, the less stress you will feel about the future. 

Let Debt Take the Backseat

Various kinds of debt, such as loans, credit card debt, or student loan debt, can take over your life if you let it. Regardless of how much debt you actually have, the number can feel insurmountable when you add things like interest or late payment fees. 

The good part about debt is that virtually everyone you know probably has debt of some kind, so you are not alone. Rather than letting yourself obsess over your debt, force it to take a backseat while you focus on more pressing financial stressors. While it might be difficult, try not to let your debt consume you. Instead, set aside the small monthly payments you need to start paying down your financial obligations, and don’t worry about it until you are in a more comfortable financial position. Remember, debt may suck, but it’s not an imminent threat to your physical well-being. 

Ask For Help

Asking for help is one of the most important steps to taking control of your financial stress. Whether you ask for help from your family, friends, or a professional, the people around you can help you feel less alone in your financial stress. They may not be able to alleviate your financial burdens, but they can often offer you some comfort and help you put things in perspective. 

Additionally, there are a couple of trusted national resources you can turn to when you’re feeling overwhelmed or have questions about handling debt. These include:

Bonus: Be Proactive With a Side Hustle

One bonus tip is to find ways to make extra money and have additional income to help you gain more control over your financial stressors. Adding money to your monthly budget is the fastest way to gain a handle on obsessive worry over money.

There are dozens of small side hustles you can pick up in your spare time. For example, one popular side hustle involves taking paid online surveys for money. There are many legit survey sites that are free to join, protective of your data, and offer cash just for answering a few easy questions. Companies like Branded Surveys pay anywhere from $.50 to $2 or more per survey, so paid online surveys are a great way to earn a little extra to help supplement your income. 

Money Stress Is Not Permanent 

No matter how big it might seem, money stress is never permanent, and your financial situation is ever-changing. You should find ways to improve your relationship with money. You will always be able to make more money, but what you will never be able to replace is time. So instead of wasting time being anxious about money, use your time to be with the people you love doing things that make you happy.