How to make your money worries disappear

Most Americans, whatever their income level, spend at least some time worrying about money. Indeed, fears about money -- and how to manage it -- can have a huge impact on our lives in many ways: for example, "money issues" are one of the leading causes of divorce. Spending tons of mental and emotional energy fretting about money won't do you a bit of good; what's more, getting rid of those fears can be easier than you think.

Identify your money fear

For most financial fretters, worry about money isn't a general thing; they have specific concerns, whether it's having enough money saved for retirement, being able to afford an upcoming large expense such as college tuition for the kids, having tons of credit card debt, or some other concern. If you can pinpoint the exact money issue that's causing you the most mental anguish, you can start working to resolve the problem or at least take steps that will reduce your stress level.

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Understand the problem

Let's say that you've narrowed down the real cause of your money stress to your heavy debt load. The next step is to figure out just how much of a problem you have. Pull out all your credit card statements, student loan statements, mortgage statements, car loan statements, and documents for any other debt you might be carrying and write down exactly how much you owe on each of these debts. Many people who are anxious about something avoid the subject they fear, and if you fall into this group, you may only have a hazy idea of how much you actually owe. Once you run the numbers, you may even be pleasantly surprised to discover that your debt load isn't as bad as you thought.

Set a goal

Once you know the exact scope of your problem, you can determine how you want to go about fixing that problem. For example, if your biggest concern is your debt load, you might start by setting a goal of paying off all your credit card debt over the next two years. If your biggest concern is saving for retirement, you might set a goal of raising your retirement contributions to 15% of your income within the next 12 months. Whatever goal you set, it should be specific, achievable, and have a definite deadline.

Make a plan

With your goal in front of you, it's time to figure out how you're going to get there. This may not be as simple as you'd think. For example, if you have $9,000 in credit card debt and you want to pay it off within two years, you can't just divide $9,000 by 24 months to figure out the necessary monthly payment, because your credit card debt will be accruing interest and the balances will keep on growing during that repayment period. If your credit card is charging you 18% interest, making payments of $375 per month would get you paid off in 30 months, not 24. A credit card payment calculator can show you how long your proposed payment amount would take to pay off each card; the results may cause you to shift your goal forward a bit. Another option is to use balance transfers to reduce or even get rid of interest during your repayment period, which would give you a significant advantage in paying off the debt.

Sticking to it

Most people find that just having a plan and a goal makes them feel much better and lowers their stress levels significantly. Understanding your problem completely and coming up with a way to fix it, even if it'll take a while, puts you in control of your financial situation -- and that can be a huge relief. But it's also important to follow through on that plan if you really want your money worries to be gone for good. You'll probably need to sacrifice in the short-term to keep your plan on track, but at least you'll be in a much better headspace while you're doing it.