Writing about your money-related stress on a regular basis can boost both your physical and psychological well-being, and help you make better financial decisions in uncertain times.
In 2022, American Psychological Association reported that 65% of adults citedmoney as a source of stress, the highest level recorded since 2015. A closer look at demographic differences showed that 75% of Latino and 67% of Black adults reported money as a source of stress (more frequently than white and Asian adults), with the economy and housing costs being top of mind.
My experience with traditional financial advisors (72.1% of whom are white) was difficult as an Asian American woman. Discussing finances with someone who did not know me personally felt invasive and uncomfortable, especially when they assumed that their money experience was similar to mine.
For example, my last financial advisor was only interested in speaking about investments, when my biggest money stressor was paying my student loans and mortgages because of the deep emphasis on education and the shame around debt I was raised with by my Filipino immigrant parents.
Therapy is an important component in dealing with stress and it can often feel inaccessible for underrepresented communities — not only due to cost and time commitment. Finding mental health professionals who can relate to and understand multicultural experiences is challenging when most therapists are also white (72.6%), according to demographic research from Zippia.
Acknowledge That Your Money Choices Are More Than Just Math — They’re Emotional
As a financial coach, I made the mistake early on of just considering math when teaching students how to pay down debt. I was surprised to learn about the variety of traumatic events students cited that influenced their money choices. They weren’t mathematically sound decisions but protected them emotionally. These choices included:
- Paying for life insurance they don’t need because they saw someone else pass away without it;
- Keeping credit card debt even though they have enough cash because their parents didn’t have much cash when they were younger;
- Avoiding the closure of accounts after a divorce because it reminds them of their ex-spouse; and
- Not investing into their retirement accounts because they lost money in the Great Recession, now more than 15 years ago.
Journaling Can Help Cope With Your Money Stress
While not a replacement for proper financial advising and therapy, a study published by Cambridge University Press found that focusing on emotional or traumatic events through expressive writing, or journaling, generally leads to better physical and psychological outcomes than neutral topics.
The study also suggested that writing both about the event and the emotions tied to a particular trauma was more beneficial than just writing about the event itself.
Participants were asked to write about such events for 15 to 20 minutes on three to five occasions. While in the short term it was upsetting, follow-up studies showed long-term benefits including fewer stress-related visits to the doctor, reduced blood pressure and less absenteeism at work.
Applying this to stress you might feel about your finances, journaling can improve your mood in money decisions by:
- Helping you prioritize problems, fears, and concerns around money;
- Recognizing day-to-day money triggers that cause you to spend negatively; and
- Identifying negative thoughts around money and address them with positive self-talk.
Keep Your Money Journal Simple To Keep It Consistent
No need to turn this into a highly structured activity that adds pressure to your already packed schedule. While there are many tips to journaling that say you should try and do it daily, I find that keeping a goal of once a week for 20 minutes is much easier to maintain. I often end up journaling more than once a week, which makes me feel like I accomplished more, rather than failing at seven times a week.
While some may prefer to journal digitally on a phone or computer, I prefer to use an old-fashioned pen and paper because I tend to remember what I’ve written better rather than typing.
Physical paper also gives me the opportunity to be less structure. I include drawings, mind maps, cutouts from other material that inspires me, and motivational stickers that make it feel less heavy and serious.
It’s still a work in progress, but now I’ve started including this journaling exercise during my regularly scheduled monthly budgeting session. I’ve noticed how when I’ve felt negatively about my budget, journaling helps me process why I was feeling that way, even if it didn’t help resolve it.
While it would be great to set a goal of journaling daily, don’t let the idea of something turning into a task stop you from trying it even just once. One 20-minute journaling session will at least help define how you are feeling about money today, and you can give yourself grace for not being perfect with your finances.
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