~ Henry Ford
Last month the American Psychology Association released a survey that confirmed millennials reported higher stress levels than the national average, causing many to dub it as the most stressed out generation in America. Concerns about debt, low wages, lack of employment and lack of health care are the leading causes of Generation Y’s anxiety.
According to a Wells Fargo survey, 54% of millennials say debt is their “biggest financial concern currently.” It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by debt, especially when you are trying to balance life, work and keep an eye on the future. You may find yourself feeling like you can’t get the ball of life rolling, but it doesn’t have to be, or stay, that way. So, how do you cope with the inevitable curve balls life throws our way?
Beating Back the Debt
It’s natural to feel like you’ll never get out from under your debt; it can make you feel trapped in a kind of purgatory or stuck on a proverbial gerbil wheel. If this is where you’re at, it’s time to take the bull by the horns. This starts with figuring out where you’re at and where you want to be, and recognizing what you do, or don’t, have control over.
Create a list of financial goals, then prioritize them. This ranking will give you an idea about how much you’re going to put where. For example, contributing to your 401K is an important goal, but may not be as critical as paying down debt.
One of your goals should be to create a cash cushion; an emergency or rainy day fund. This is sort of like overdraft protection for life. On a day to day basis pretend this doesn’t exist.
Snowball the Debt
Bite the bullet and total up the debt. Ignorance is not bliss in this case. It may be scary, and slightly depressing, but in order to make progress towards paying it down you need to know the total amount. List how much you owe and to whom so you can pay the minimum on everything and a little extra to the smallest debt until it’s gone.
You did the really scary math, so this should be easy. Take a look at your last three months of expenses and create a list of what you’re spending and where. Highlight the ones you can’t control, like rent, because everything else is in your realm of control whether you realize it or not.
This isn’t new news, but it is important. Take a hard look at your expenses and figure out where you have control and what you want versus what you need. A great way to do this is to track your spending by category. You don’t need to become a Spartan, but be honest about if you need something or just want it. (You can live without a laser printer, though you may not want to.)
It is very tempting to think a credit card will solve your immediate problems and down the road, when your earnings improve, you will pay them off. Credit cards are not inherently evil (they can be very helpful if you use them the right way). Think about reserving your credit for the most truly important and unavoidable expenses.
Perception is Everything
Once you have a full picture of what you have, what you owe and how you’re going to get where you want to, don’t give up. Belief and perception is critical to your success; not only in tackling debt but also in life in general. Debt is not a judgment or a permanent condition, it just…is. You have control over it and can change it. Maybe not as quickly as you’d like, but it will happen. The knowledge that this is true will considerably reduce your stress level which, in turn, will help you be happier, healthier and give you the energy you need to deal with anything life has to throw at you.
Let Go of the Stress
You’ve got a plan, you’re doing it, so let the stress go. Remove distractions and do one thing at a time. Simplify your schedule and reduce the clutter. Make sure you leave time to do some sort of activity every day, even if it’s just a good, long walk with your dog. Schedule time for fun and calm – this can be a nap or a bath, yard work, reading a book, etc.
You can pay down your debt and balance that with work and life. Sometimes it may be a challenge, but did you know airplanes take off against the wind, not with it? Airplanes fly thanks to lift that is generated by the wings, who do this by moving forward through the air. So keep moving forward and before you know it, you’ll be flying.
Susie Brown is a FastUpFront Blog contributor and business author. Fastupfront offers cash flow solutions to small businesses. Visit FastUpFront
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