People have been known to steal it, gamble it, hoard it and even kill for it. Regardless of how much you have and what you think about it, everybody has a relationship with money. And understandably so – money dictates the kind of life we lead, where we live, travel, shop, what we eat and how (and with whom) spend our free time. Yet it’s often not just the cash or the numbers that cause us anxiety but also our attitude towards money and what it represents. “Money worries can exacerbate pre-existing anxiety and stress and, if help isn’t sought quickly, have a negative impact mental wellbeing,” says Nicky Lidbetter CEO of Anxiety UK (https://www.anxietyuk.org.uk). That’s why this week Coach has spoken to six different experts about how best to deal with financial anxiety, saving money and getting out of debt.
John Foster has worked in debt management at Natwest for 14 years (www.natwest.com):
“My job is to look after people’s mortgages – essentially the roof above their heads – and therefore I see a serious amount of worry in people when things go wrong. When shopping around for a mortgage remember that you don’t have to borrow the maximum amount of money – large mortgages can be a source of great anxiety! It can be very scary when mortgage payments (or rent payments) become an issue because, essentially it’s about the roof above your head. Many customers – wrongly – have the impression that those in financial difficulty will be chased by banks and organisations for money, but we are compelled (by regulations as well as desire) to understand the situation and work with the customer to come up with an appropriate solution so it is best to contact us straightaway and let us help. One of the first things we recommend is that those in trouble contact free independent money advice charities like Step change and the Citizens Advice Bureau. These charities can highlight benefits that aren’t being taken up or contact creditors safely on a customer’s behalf. The other thing I always tell people who worry about money is to regularly review your income – once every three months for example – and be aware of where they might be needlessly spending money.”
Doctor Ian Drever is a psychiatrist at The Priory Hospital, Guildford (www.priorygroup.com):
“At The Priory we see a lot of high functioning individuals where money worries are interlinked with career and identity issues [which makes money issues even more troublesome]. When finances are tight it causes a whole range of other symptoms, which act like warning lights (as in on a car dashboard) to tell us that we’re under psychological stress. These include sleep issues – struggling to get to sleep or waking very early – a change in appetite, reduction in energy, focus and ability to socialise as well as becoming more irritable and losing interest in hobbies and pasttimes. These may seem innocuous but it’s important to be aware of these early signs. [Your body is telling you something is up.] My advice is to seek treatment sooner rather than later. Often money problems build quite insidiously and people soldier on, carrying more and more financial (and related) anxieties before a final small thing causes a breakdown of sorts. Periods of chronic and continued stress can lead to an anxiety disorder such as Generalised Anxiety disorder (characterised by free-floating anxiety about lots of things). People should be reassured however that anxiety is a treatable medical condition in the same way that high blood pressure or asthma is. Treatment can include medication, which for most people is just 20-30% of the answer, and talking therapy particularly with a clinical psychologist who specialises in anxiety and can understand and help to change the thought processes underpinning the anxiety.”
Nick Peters is a psychotherapist working in South West London (www.nickpeterstherapy.co.uk):
“Firstly I recommend those suffering from money (and other) worries develop a mindfulness practice to help regulate the anxiety in the present moment and develop effective coping mechanisms. Of course those who can’t make ends meet have to take care of things practically, such as seeking professional help with debt and expenditure. But often it’s not so much about the money as what it represents and there are others who can do much more than just exist on their income / salary – they may even be very comfortably off – but they are neurotic and anxious about money because of what it represents. For example, money might relate to status: people think they’ve got money problems but really what they’re worried about is not being able to go on the same flash holiday as their friends. This often means that money anxieties are really about a fragile ego and unconscious insecurities. Anxiety can also get projected onto one’s bank balance; when look for in money what we really seek in others; love, attachment and connection. Money can make us feel powerful and in control – thus it can become a way of countering vulnerability. I see this being acted out frequently amongst clients. When they are worrying about their bonus or better paid job what they are really worrying about is feeling vulnerable. That’s why, for those who aren’t in immediate dire straits with money but are worrying often about it, I’d recommend initially seeking some therapy to explore what’s really going on under the surface. What I often see is that once people begin to develop stronger, more intimate nurturing relationships with others where they can be their real selves, their money anxieties reduce.”
Andy Webb works at the free and impartial Money Advice Service (https://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk/en):
“If you’re struggling with money the first thing to do is to get a handle on what you’re actually spending and what money you have coming in. Doing a Life Audit can be helpful – do you really need all these things you spend money on? Do you succumb to peer pressure and go out for work drinks every Friday, spending £50? What about your mobile phone – do you really need unlimited data? If you have a gym membership you rarely use, think about alternative ways of getting fit, such as incorporating it into your commute (thus saving a bit on transport too).
It’s often easy to make quick household savings without much deprivation. These include temporarily stopping cable or satellite television contracts and switching energy supplier. People think the latter will take ages but if you have your bills in front of you it’s not more than half an hour and can save an average of £300 per year! If you have a mortgage you can look for a better deal – don’t go straight on to the standard variable rate as right now there’s some very low mortgages available (although there can be fees associated with moving providers). Take advantage of season ticket loan schemes run by employers, which allow you to buy yearly tickets and pay them off monthly, this can hundreds annually. Parents often can’t avoid childcare fees during holidays but it is at least possible to find free activities if you do your research. Also Christmas: people also often feel pressured to spend a lot at this time but if you plan ahead and work out what you can afford first and then stick to the budget it can save a lot of headaches when the credit card bills come in in January.
The Money Advice Service has a free online budget planner and offers free independent debt advice via our website, which connects you with someone to meet with or speak to over the phone to about your money problems, helping you to prioritise and cope with debts.”
James Mayer is Head of Finance at The Stag Company (www.thestagcompany.com):
“When people are under financial stress, they tend to cut budgets from the bare necessities. This can include spending much less on food, however not having the proper nutrients to combat stress hormones can leave you in a worse position. Tackling life is that little bit harder when hungry! Instead, draw up a journal of everything you spend money on during an entire week. You will be surprised where the money leaks from, such as that coffee in the morning you feel is a necessity or eating out at lunch rather than making pack lunches. Stop ordering food in at £25, when you can spend almost your entire weekly shop at that price. If you learn to cook properly, you can prepare food the night before and keep it all in Tupperware. Use voucher websites to save money where possible. From Hotukdeals to Vouchercodes, there are so many sites packed full of discount codes and printable vouchers, which you can use on the items you are currently already purchasing, from your Tesco order to an evening out on the weekend. Whatever you do don’t go for high interest emergency loans (get free professional advice instead). And don’t lend people money.”
Jasmine Birtles is a Finance Expert and Business commentator (www.moneymagpie.com):
“Think enough about having little side earners… If you’ve got evenings and weekends free there are lots of things you can do including dog walking for £15 per dog per hour! Or there’s baby sitting, car boot sales, fixing things and renting your house out on air b n b. Start doing these things before the problem hits – think ahead. When it’s the beginnings of anxiety – ie. there’s too much month for your money – start by using an online budget tool or ask a sensible friend to sit with you whilst you go through your bills and statements to see what the situation really is and set out an action plan. It’s often not as bad as you imagine. Face the tiger – the earlier you deal with it the less money you’ll waste and be charged and the easier it’ll be to deal with creditors if necessary. A good way to ensure you stick to your budget is to take out the money you have for the week in cash at the start of the week and only use that. Try establishing an ‘emergency fund’ for unforeseen circumstances such as sickness, job loss or bereavement – ideally building up 6 months’ worth of money, though this does take time. One way to do this is to pay an affordable amount via standing order into a savings account to yourself at the start of the month. If you do get to crisis point however, and end up not answering the door or opening the post, because you’re worried about the bailiffs or even if you can’t bear to look at bank balance, it’s time to ask for professional help from free charities such as Christians against Poverty or Step Change.”
Money and anxiety experts Andy Webb and Dr Ian Drever talk about the five stages of money worries.
1) Slight day to day difficulties managing money, the occasional anxiety about it (very mild psychological distress), you’re not in debt but sometimes when the end of the month arrives you are broke, but, come payday, you’re back on top.
2) Some debts, which are creeping up a little – credit cards mostly – though manageable. Just a couple of unforeseen emergencies (broken washing machine, having to move house, that kind of thing) though and you could be in trouble.
3) You’re in a debt spiral, building debt on debt (missed credit card repayments costing you fees as well as a bank loan). The worry is building now, you’re starting to isolate and avoid checking your bank balance.
4) This is dire. You’re borrowing money to pay for bills and food; either from friends, using a credit card or high-interest emergency loans. You live in your overdraft, can barely make the rent and losing both sleep and weight to anxiety.
5) Bailiffs? Bankruptcy? Jail? These are some of the things you’re facing now – each with major repercussions to your future. You can’t function and need help, not just from a financial expert but also a doctor and a lawyer.
– By Lucy Fry
First appeared in COACH magazine.