Instead of counting sheep to fall asleep, many Americans stay awake tallying up dollars and cents and finding the total figure adds up to a big worry.
A Harris Poll conducted for the American Psychological Association in 2014 found that 72 percent of Americans reported feeling stressed about money at least some of the time during the past month. According to the survey, parents, younger generations and those living in lower-income households report higher levels of stress than Americans overall, especially when it comes to stress about money.
What are they worried about?
“I worry that my kids will be injured or sick and I can’t afford to reach them,’’ one 56-year-old woman, whose children live out of state, told me.
“I don’t want to work into my 70s,’’ another middle-aged woman said. “But will Social Security and my pension be enough?’’
These are common worries for this age group. The sandwich generation can feel especially vulnerable. “This year is my most financially anxious. I have my oldest getting married, my youngest heading off to college and I am worried about my own retirement,’’ a friend told me recently.
Then there is the cost of long-term care. And even long-term health insurance can rattle the nerves. "It's $4,000 to $6,000 a year for the premiums with many plans asking that you pay in cash the first 90 days,’’ one baby boomer told me. “At current rates of $300 per day for nursing home care, that is $27,000 right off the bat.’’
Short of hitting the lottery or receiving a windfall inheritance from a long-forgotten relative, what can people do to ease this anxiety?
1. Educate yourself.
Hiding the bills in a desk drawer can be tempting, especially when the payment due comes perilously close to, or even exceeds, your income. But this only worsens the problem.
"It's really imperative to be familiar with your finances,’’ said Ferdousi Faruque, relationship manager at Hanscom Federal Credit Union. “It’s important for people to know what they owe, what their interest rates are, when the due dates are, how much their payments are and when they are due. It can be stressful to think about these things when we already feel overwhelmed but not addressing these questions will only amplify the anxiety of having this debt.’’
2. Address the debt.
“It’s important to consider your income and figure out how much of it can go back to debt repayment,’’ Faruque said. “What can we give up to repay this debt? It takes a lot of reflecting and coming to terms with the debt at hand to be able to address it and lessen the anxiety.’’
Answer some tough questions: What are your debts? How much do you owe on your credit cards? How much is your home worth, if you own a home? What do you have for insurance?
The sooner you grasp this figure, the more quickly you can work to ease the burden. Call your creditors and try to work out a payment plan.
3. Cut expenses.
Some little luxuries may bring comfort to your life but the expense in the end can only add to the anxiety. Can you swap your $4 coffee for a less expensive brand? Or make your own at home and bring it to work?
Television can be hypnotic but cable and satellite services can also be expensive. Can you live without 500 channels? Probably. But you may not have to. Call your provider and try to work out a better deal. There’s competition for your business and they may well drop your payments to keep your business.
There's also Netflix, Hulu and other potential money-saving streaming services that won’t scrimp on your binge watching.
4. Think about your health.
Health issues are another major source of stress. A serious illness can shut you and your paycheck down while you recover. That is why many experts recommend purchasing disability insurance, which will ensure an income stream if you are unable to work. Call your human resources office to inquire about this insurance. Some employers offer it at a reduced rate.
And do your best to stay healthy with those familiar but crucial axioms: Eat right, exercise, develop a strong social support system and get enough sleep.
A peaceful sleep should be an easier task when your financial information is clear and your money goals are set.
Having a sense of perspective and humor also can be money in the bank. One Baby Boomer fears health care costs in her senior years but knows she can take some steps now, literally. “I guess I will have to keep up the walking routine, eat plain yogurt and limit my drinking to an occasional glass of wine,’’ she said.
We’ll drink – in moderation – to that.