July 24, 2024

Between higher costs and a possible recession on the horizon, families feel increasingly strained financially.  

More than half, or 58%, of all Americans are now living paycheck to paycheck, according to the CNBC Your Money Financial Confidence Survey, conducted in partnership with Momentive. 

And even more — roughly 70% — said they feel stressed about their finances, mostly due to inflation, economic uncertainty and rising interest rates, the survey found.

“Whether or not you have significant wealth, everyone is feeling squeezed,” said Misi Simms, portfolio manager at TIAA, a Fortune 100 financial services company.

How to manage financial stress

People are in survival mode.

Lindsay Bryan-Podvin

certified financial therapist

Bryan-Podvin advises clients to start by checking in with their “money mood.”

Connecting how you feel to your financial actions, such as making a big purchase or working toward a future goal, helps break free from negative spending and savings patterns, Bryan-Podvin said.

“One of the easiest ways to put this concept into immediate action is by starting to celebrate any small financial ‘wins’ you achieve on a daily, weekly or even monthly basis,” she said.

For example, jot down a few minor goals or milestones you can work toward in the near term, like reducing your subscription count to 10 from 15 or committing to no more than two takeout orders a week, she said.

Once you’ve accomplished one of your goals, treat yourself to something that sparks joy or makes you feel good.

As part of its National Financial Literacy Month efforts, CNBC will be featuring stories throughout the month dedicated to helping people manage, grow and protect their money so they can truly live ambitiously.

Of course, financial literacy is also key to an improved outlook and less stress, according to TIAA’s Simms.

Many studies show a strong connection between financial literacy and financial well-being.

Those with greater financial literacy find it easier to make ends meet in a typical month, are more likely to have higher credit scores and tap lower-cost loans, and less likely to be constrained by debt or be considered financially fragile.

They are also more likely to save and plan for retirement, according to data from the TIAA Institute-GFLEC Personal Finance Index based on research over several years.

While there is an important role for schools to play, a financial education should start at home and continue in the workplace.

“Ask your employer if you can speak to a financial representative,” Simms said. “And then, whatever you learn, take that to your children.”

“We talk to our kids about so many things,” he added. “We should also be talking to them about financial literacy.”

How to get your finances in check

When it comes to better managing your finances, one of the most effective tools is to start with a budget, said Sabino Vargas, senior financial advisor at Vanguard — even if that means going back to a basic envelope-stuffing method to stay disciplined in your spending.

Vargas recommends further strengthening your financial standing by paying down debt, particularly high-interest credit card balances, to improve your monthly cash flow so you can set even more money aside in savings. 

“Understand where money is coming from and where it is going,” Simms also said.

“You may not have three to six months in an emergency fund, but try to commit something to savings,” he advised. “Everyone has to start somewhere.”

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To that end, Vanguard’s Vargas suggests paying yourself first. “If you’re struggling to keep track of expenses, try paying yourself first the day your paycheck hits,” he said.

This includes putting money toward emergency savings or a retirement fund and any necessary expenses like rent, car payments and insurance. That will help build up your savings while also prioritizing your largest and most important expenses. (If your employer has a 401(k) plan and offers a match, always contribute enough to get that match, he also advised.)

But just because you’re looking to save more, doesn’t mean you have to give up all indulgences, he added.

To avoid overspending on discretionary items or activities, such as going out to eat, it may help to set a monthly budget for how much you can spend, as well as how often, “so you are not sacrificing the things you really enjoy,” he said.