Sandra Fry, Special to Financial Post
Sept. 27, 2021
Anxiety is high among all age groups these days, and it isn’t surprising that financial difficulties are among the top five causes. Over the past 10-plus years as a credit counsellor I’ve seen firsthand how debilitating financial stress can be and how it impacts all Canadians regardless of age or income level.
Stress, no matter the cause, can interfere with both physical and mental health. According to the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, 48 per cent of Canadians say they’ve lost sleep due to financial worries. Financial stress can also negatively impact relationships, cause an inability to focus at work or school, and generate anxiety and high blood pressure, to name just a few negatives.
Financial stress can come in many forms. For example:
- Living paycheque to paycheque, never quite sure if there will be money left at the end of the month;
- Losing a job or having fluctuating income. Many Canadians experienced this during the past 18 months as restrictions shut down many businesses;
- Having unexpected expenses throws a huge wrench in our budgets. For example, emergency home repairs can quickly deplete savings or cause debt accumulation to fix them;
- Trying just to manage our monthly expenses can often be stressful;
- And, struggling to repay debts that have accumulated.
The easiest financial challenges to tackle are those within our control. The best way to get in control is to figure out where your money is going each month. Tracking your spending will provide a baseline for developing a spending plan or budget. Knowing where your money goes will also make it apparent what areas of spending could be cut back to ensure the necessities are not neglected.
If you have reviewed your expenses and find you still don’t have enough money left at the end of the month, then you must start reducing the amounts spent on non-necessities. As nice as it is not to have to cook, it is more economical to pop a frozen $5 pizza in the oven than pay $20 to have one delivered — it may even be ready faster. Menu planning and meal prepping in advance can also take away the emotional excuse for stress eating and ordering food when you’re too tired to cook.
If you’ve already done the hard work of cutting back on all luxuries and are still running short, then it’s time to consider how to increase your income. A better-paying job, or additional side job, can mean the difference between living paycheque to paycheque and having the ability to save. If time and energy are in short supply, consider renting a room to a student instead. This can be a great way to offset some of your housing costs and help balance that budget.
Often, the necessities we have chosen are too costly for our income to support. It may be worth considering downsizing if a big mortgage or car payment are the lifestyle choices causing financial strain on your budget.
That may be seen as countercultural in the YOLO (You Only Live Once) era, which encourages people to make the most of the present without worrying about the future. But more extravagant choices can result in financial stress and regret. If having a big house and fancy car are contributing to your financial unease, then reducing the strain on your budget with lower-cost housing and transportation may bring some peace of mind. It may even increase your budget’s capacity for savings.
Having savings can be the solution for a lot of financial worries. It can alleviate the “what if” unknowns, such as what if I lose my job? Or, what if my car breaks down? Although we cannot control whether or not those what-ifs happen to us, we can improve our ability to deal with them if they do.
It’s also important to save for expenses that are not every month, such as clothing, gifts and car repairs. We know those expenses will happen, so we can, and should, plan in advance to ensure they aren’t such a drain on our budget when they do occur.
I often hear from clients that irregular expenses like car maintenance and gifts aren’t something they plan for. As a result, credit becomes the go-to solution when they inevitably do arise. Occasionally using credit to cover emergency expenses may not initially cause stress, but struggling to repay the resulting debt sure can.
Continually living beyond your means, or spending more than what you earn, can result in using credit to cover the shortfall and debt accumulation. An individual or family struggling financially before getting into debt will find it even harder to make ends meet if they are now forced to repay that debt plus another 20 per cent (or more) in interest.
Money issues can put a huge stress on relationships and are one of the top reasons couples fight. Before taking on additional stress-causing debt to try to solve your financial struggles, make sure you’ve done all the steps above to solve the problem first.
If you find yourself at the end of your financial rope and overwhelmed by what to do about it, reach out for a free consultation with a not-for-profit credit counsellor. They can help you find solutions to the financial challenges you may be facing, and you’ll get the added bonus of feeling some relief from the accompanying stress as well.