How to Manage Financial Stress

Whether it is from the latest news on Wall Street (the DOW is down another 400 points as I write this), or the pile of bills stacked on kitchen table, economic stress is something that must be managed or it can lead to serious issues.

I remember just a few years ago I was deep in debt, and often spent sleepless nights worrying over our bills. I wanted desperately for there to be an instant fix, but deep down I knew it would take many months of hard work and discipline to get out of debt.

At one point in particular, when a family member was dealt a serious health blow, and the financial collapse was well underway in late 2008, I had just about given up hope of ever being debt free, of ever having savings, and ever realizing financial peace.

Fortunately, we persevered and we eventually reached the debt freedom we so desired. I was right; it did take many, many months and a lot of long days, but it is so worth it.

During that time of economic despair, I thought a lot of bad thoughts. I won’t get into specifics, but you can imagine for yourself what someone with a wife and two kids and a pile of debt might be feeling. There were many sleepless nights.

I managed to keep a somewhat positive perspective by tracking my debt level each month. Every month I saw that number go down was a win. Every month I saw a rise in my debt I tried that much harder to make a dent the next month.

I began to look forward to pay days because it was another opportunity to knock out some debt.

I began to look forward to extra work because it increased my income, and provided a chance to knock out some debt.

I started tuning out the naysayers. I ignored people out there who said being in debt was normal, that everyone had a car payment, that everyone had to borrow money to finish school, and that everyone used credit cards.

I started having mini conversations with myself like:

  • Maybe I didn’t want to use credit cards.
  • Maybe I didn’t want my kids to have to borrow money for school.
  • Maybe I didn’t want a car payment again, ever.
  • Maybe I wanted to live debt free and not owe anyone a dime.

I wasn’t going to let someone else, or some tired financial conventional “wisdom” dictate my life. I was responsible for creating my situation, and I was responsible for turning it around.

In addition to these lines of thinking, I also practiced the following to help lower my financial stress levels (and still do today when I feel the blood pressure creeping up).

Turn off the television (and the radio, and the computer). It is good to disconnect every now and then. Instead of being glued to the television as talking heads pour over the latest thrashing on Wall Street (as I did on Monday evening), turn off the television.

  • Go for a walk around your neighborhood.
  • Call a long-distance relative you haven’t talked with in a while.
  • Toss the ball with your kids.
  • Go to bed with the sun and catch up on sleep.

Whatever you decide to do with your time, stay disconnected. No checking the smartphone or sneaking a peak at your portfolio. Trust me; it will feel refreshing.

Surround yourself with positive influences. I can’t stand for people to tell me everything will be fine when I don’t think it will be. That goes for the economy and many other areas of life. I’m not a pessimist, but I am a realist, and I can see things for what they are.

Having said that, it is easy to slide towards negativity when surrounded by downers – people who are constantly taking a “half is glass empty” approach. Seek out positive relationships with people who are genuinely optimistic about life.

If you happen to disagree on politics or economic theory, or whatever it is that stresses you, just suggest avoiding those topics and enjoy each other’s company for different reasons.

Maybe you can find someone with whom you share a mutual hobby, and can engage in it together.

Find an accountability partner to help get up and get to the gym early on a cold morning.

If you’d like to learn more about a particular subject, seek out a mentor to tag along with and learn from their experience.

I often get accused of being an old fart when I say things like this, but I honestly believe that the further we get from face to face, human interaction, the less connected we are with reality.

Many of us stay stressed because we lack this interaction, and in its place we’ve inserted more ways to stay connected to work, to finances, and to the never-ending, 24-hour negative news cycle.

Those things are good in small doses, but when it becomes a way of life, it simply adds to our levels of stress. Now go unplug for a while.


  1. I think number one is to have that monthly debt reduction update… It is just such a positive experience to see that number dropping on a scheduled basis! Then write it on your calendar… “DO not worry about debt until (DATE OF) next monthly check in and bill paying session…. If you “schedule” a worry day, and not allow yourself to think about it or worry about it til then, it does help… It’s a mind trick – your mind knows that THAT is the date that you will worry/look into/pay bills, etc…

    I don’t have TV…. saves a LOT of stress… I can click thru the news on the internet in about 5 minutes a day, and only read what I want to read – or not 🙂 Saves time !

    There is no reason to worry about the Dow Jones – up and downs… It is what it is – nothing YOU can do will change it…. The ONLY time the numbers will matter is the day you retire and start drawing from whatever investments you have that are tied it. Up until then, stay diversified, and if you know your risk is spread out, then you are doing all you can do for now. None of us have a clue what will happen in the future… Prepare as best you can, and adapt later if you need to. 🙂

    And if you can’t sleep at night, say to yourself, It’s on the calendar that I will worry about that on such and such a date.. Sometimes, knowing that you have ‘scheduled’ that worry, is all it takes to fall asleep! 🙂

  2. Good post, very timely for me too. I’ve had to give up two bonus checks in the last few months for unplanned expenses. I usually look at these “windfalls” as great opportunities to take chunks of student loan debt out or fund my Roth…and ‘losing’ them for this much time has really taken an emotional toll on me.

    I try to remind myself that we’re in pretty good shape for the long haul, but it’s difficult. As for the stock market? Meh, I’ve got a bit over 30 years to retirement, rather be buying in cheapmfrom time to time anyway.

  3. I have flick off all electronics after 8.30pm It’s a little thing but it makes me sleep alot better not have all that screen in my face! Andi just plug my payment in every month and that’s it. Don’t freak out

  4. You are so right. If you want peace of mind, you can start by turning off the TELL-LIE-VISION.

    You know — that piece of electronic equipment that tells lies to your vision of the world and the people around you.

    I hate to admit it, but when I turn the television off and turn on some music instead, my productivity skyrockets and I feel more upbeat.

    Almost all news programs should be re-signaled as BNN — Bad News Network. There’s nothing worse than a plate full of negativity right before going to work and right before going to bed.

  5. It is very easy to get sucked into the endless coverage of bad financial news. After a few hours of listening to experts tell you the sky is falling, its hard not to be just a bit afraid. I try to limit my exposure, I can hear the market is down, listen to reason of the day and then be done with it.

  6. What a great classic frugal dad article.

    I found that I felt better with my financial situation once I had a plan to tackle the things I was unhappy about. I diversified my retirement, I started more aggressively paying down the mortgage and now I’m much more at peace with what’s going on in the market.

    Watching that debt balance go down every month was a big motivator for me.

  7. Thanks for this, I needed the reminder. I too get completely stressed over things I have no control over. I’m doing all the “right” things, as far as I can, and the rest I need to let go of. As long as we are on the right path even if it seems long and dark, eventually there will be an end, and light —-the lightness of being debt-free.

  8. I couldn’t agree more on surrounding yourself with positive influences. I do better in all aspects of my life when I solely hang out with the positive people in my life. I also agree that everyone should unplug once in a while.

  9. think it’s also a good time to read up on investment as well as putting effort to build extra income streams. key is to have inflow greater than outflow, and dont fall for quick fixes as tempting as they sound. thanks for sharing!

  10. Interesting post. The 24/7 news channels can really screw with your psyche and stress level if you let it. I have experienced it myself. I think you nailed the solution on the head – just turn it off and enjoy the simple things in life!

  11. I fully agree with getting unplugged for a little while. The media is full of the negative. They only seem to report what is going wrong in the world and very little positive news interspersed throughout the day.
    I often start to stress about our current financial situation and will step away and enjoy time with my family and remind myself of all the positives around me at the time.

  12. Managing stress is critical. But you also eventually need to manage the source of the stress, and come up with a goal and a plan. The clearer you can be, the more in charge you’ll feel.

  13. I SO know how you feel, having been on both the winning and losing sides of debt. Debt, or just not being in control of your finances is a life-leaching, soul-sucking parasite like none other. It comes to you in the guise of luxuries you don’t need, purchased at sale prices which still made the seller a profit. By the time you realize you’re in too far, you’re in too far. And it takes a LONG time to get out from under it.

    The feeling of stress is so bad I think because it’s so persistent. Depending on the amount of debt, it can be hard to get away from it. But many of the suggestions you’ve made here are things I’ve tried on my own, and they’ve helped a great deal.

    The feeling of freedom I felt the first time I got out of debt was good. But the second time was better, though only because the burden of debt was so much greater after living without it for a while.

    I suppose I seem like an old fart now too, brown-bagging my lunch, driving an old used car, not having a 50-inch flat screen tv, and saving my pennies. But man, I’m so much happier now being on the right side of debt.

    Great posts. Love your site. Thanks for doing what you do.