This is the latest installment in a series of articles that offers an overview of a single budgeting tool; either a money management skill, or one of the supplies you will need. Today’s skill is stress management. You will be better able to manage your finances over the long haul if you can improve your focus on the task each time you sit down to pay the bills.
Often people who are committed to achieving their financial goals become distracted by a possible future outcome. It could be a good or a bad financial possibility; meeting your savings goal or worrying about defaulting on a bill. Thoughts like this naturally occur to many people as they work on their bills. For example, as you review your bank statements, you might find yourself obsessing about how far from your savings goal you are, or fretting about a certain debt or due date.
Becoming distracted or emotional wastes a lot of your time and energy. Too much stress interferes with your ability to complete your task accurately and efficiently. The pressure undermines your commitment to meet your financial goals, and it lowers your motivation to return to the task, next time. Luckily, you can take specific steps to manage stress while you work.
Stressed? Avoid escape, stay present
When you find yourself becoming overwhelmed by your finances, remember first that any outcome you imagine is only one of an infinite number of possibilities. And second, remember that it is a possibility that belongs to a future time, not now. Stop focusing on your end goals or on dire, imaginary consequences if you do not achieve those goals. Bring yourself to the present. Here in the present, you will find neither catastrophe nor victory. Today, you need to take only a small step toward your financial goals. Right now, you have to sign this check, stamp this envelope, or record this payment. You will find the real work actually waiting to be done at the present time is less dramatic and less stressful.
Every time you find yourself too distracted while working on your bills, return mentally to the present, and continue your task. It is important to remain non-judgmental when you turn your attention back to budgeting. Judging takes too much time and energy. Your energy is better put toward paying attention to and finishing your task. So as soon as your attention drifts or you start feeling anxious, simply stop. Look at the time on a clock, or the date on a calendar, and actually remind yourself what time, day and year it is. Be fully present, then non-judgmentally, return to your finances.
Budget like a professional
The more you practice returning your attention to your finances and the present, the easier it becomes. You do yourself a favor by saving your energy for the task, rather than wasting it by feeling stressed out. There are plenty of ‘tricks’ you can try to keep your stress in check and stay on task. Here are a few ideas…
Track how much time it takes you to complete your task. And as you become more experienced at balancing your budget, adjust your expectations and adjust your schedule. Give yourself more time to review and pay your bills or to balance your checkbook if you need to. Keep monitoring your time. As your skills improve you may finish up in less time.
Use a kitchen timer to help you stay focused. Set it for 15 or 20 minutes, and work on your finances until the timer goes off. Promise yourself a break when the time is up, and keep your promise. When you break, set the timer for 5 or 10 minutes, and then finish your task after your break.
Make full use of natural motivators. Whenever you are able to, use calendars or personal checks that contain inspirational quotes. Make sure you work in a sufficiently lit space, near a window with plenty of natural light, if possible. Bring some water to sip on, or a light snack, if that helps you stay on task.
Finally, recall a basic self-care acronym, HALT. Each letter stands for a basic need. Never let yourself become too Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. If you get stressed while working, prepare to non-judgmentally turn your attention back to your present finances, and think “HALT.” Ask yourself if you are any of these. If you are, then tweak your bill-paying schedule. You may need to schedule working on your finances at a regular time when you are less tired or after you exercise, or after you have eaten, for example.
Set yourself up to succeed
Remember that everyone has a hard time working on their finances. People who make having a balanced budget look easy are really doing all the same thing you are. Like you, they are committed to their goals. They are responding to their financial issues as best they can, and trying hard to concentrate while they are working on their bills. And like best of them, you can set yourself up to succeed by working on your finances and practicing your skills regularly.