Taking control of money, anxiety

December 21, 2008|By Gregory Karp | Gregory Karp,The Morning Call

Mix holiday bustle with a lower stock market, rampant layoffs and nationwide recession and you have a recipe for widespread anxiety. But when it comes to money, some consumers are feeling far less stress than others.

Who are these financially calm people? They are people who control their money rather than allowing money to control them.

A new survey shows people who follow three basic rules of money management are less stressed. The rules should sound familiar. They are: have a cash emergency fund, pay off credit cards in full and use a household budget. That's the advice doled out repeatedly by financial advisers.

"Those [tips] aren't sexy or cutting edge, but they are timeless and effective - financially and emotionally," said Matt Bell, author of the book Money, Purpose, Joy.

"It's amazing how few people practice these three behaviors," Bell said.

While 78 percent of those in the survey said household finances were stressing them out, 90 percent of those with no emergency fund felt stressed, according to the survey, commissioned by Bell and conducted by market research firm Synovate. Meanwhile, of those who stashed away cash for six months of living expenses, 56 percent said they were stressed.

The survey found similar results with credit cards and a budget. People who carried a credit card balance and didn't use a budget were far more stressed than those who handled their money better.

"Now, more than ever, is the time to get back to the fundamental principles of money," Bell said. "When people ask me about managing money in these turbulent times, the first thing I tell people is to focus on the distinction between what we can control and what we can't control." You can't control the economy, the stock market or, in many cases, losing your job. So to reduce stress, focus on these:

* Build an emergency fund

Creating a rainy-day fund to pay for unexpected expenses is a sound financial move, and it is a fabulous idea to relieve anxiety.

"There's nothing like having a little money in the bank to take the edge off of people's financial stress," Bell said.

* Pay off credit cards

Debt is damaging to your wallet and your psyche. Take a critical look at spending to free up more money to throw at debt, especially high-rate credit card debt. As the balance decreases, so will your blood pressure.

* Use a household budget

A big part of money stress is the unknown. Sit down and make a simple list of money coming in and money going out. Then track spending for two months.

Gregory Karp is a personal finance writer for The Morning Call, a Tribune Co. newspaper in Allentown, Pa. E-mail him at yourmoney@tribune.com.

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