How to Deal with the Anxiety of Consumer DebtMar 17, 2019
As a woman juggling financial obligations and family responsibilities, does this sound familiar? You’re tossing and turning at night, and your stomach turns every time you pay a bill or even think about your finances. Worry is your constant companion because you just can’t see how you’re going to get rid of the consumer debt you’re carrying.
It’s not a fun place to be.
With an average personal debt load of $10,000, Generation X (35-54) is the age group with the most consumer debt right now. Add to that high mortgage payments, kids’ recreational and extracurricular activities, plus the costs of living like groceries and utilities, and the raises can’t come in fast enough.
For Gen X women, the anxiety of carrying consumer debt can be especially challenging to deal with.
While you’d like to just get rid of all outstanding balances, life’s not that simple. There are competing priorities for your money and time — kids’ needs, aging parents, retirement savings — and costs keep rising.
Our 2018 Affordability Index poll found that women (52 per cent) are more likely than men (45 per cent) to carry heavy debt. Women are also more likely to struggle with affordability. And they are more likely to find it harder to save for retirement.
One of the primary reasons Gen X women feel anxious about consumer debt may be that they don’t have a strong enough foundation in financial literacy.
In a 2018 publication, The Economic Well-Being of Women in Canada, Statistics Canada reported that women’s financial literacy scores remain lower than men’s. As a result, they tend to borrow more, carry high debt loads and accumulate less wealth.
Improve financial literacy to reduce anxiety
The best way to deal with the anxiety caused by being in debt is to get out of debt. That’s not going to happen overnight.
But improving your financial literacy will allow you to put a plan in place so you can see that you’re moving toward your goal of being debt free. This, in turn, can relieve some of your worries.
Steps to take include:
- Get a clear picture of your finances. If consumer debt makes you anxious, there’s a good chance you’re ignoring it to some degree. This isn’t going to make it go away.
Anxiety comes up when we don’t know what’s going on and consequently don’t know how to respond. When we face our challenges head on, we can develop a plan to address them.
Gather all your financial information and determine where your household stands. Where is the money going? Is it going where you want it to go? Be honest with yourself.
- Put tools to work for you. Develop a budget. Research apps that track your spending. Look into debt repayment strategies and use a debt calculator to determine how much you need to put toward debt each month to start getting rid of it.
With the right tools, you’ll be able to see where you stand financially at any given time. This gives you a sense of control over your finances, reducing anxiety.
- Get the kids involved. As mothers, we can feel anxious about our children’s financial futures. What if they get into debt?
Teaching our children the necessary financial lessons is the best way to ensure that they’ll have a positive relationship with money — and stay out of debt — as adults. In fact, that’s why Hamilton entrepreneur Teresa Cascioli wrote her series of children’s books, M is for Money.
Introduce your kids to the concepts you’re learning about and the tools you’re using to stay on track. Discuss the value of saving and the negative aspects of debt, including the anxiety it causes.
If you’ve decided to cut costs so you have more money to put toward reducing debt, make a game of it. Track your falling consumer debt on a whiteboard and celebrate reaching milestones with free or low-cost family activities.
Many Gen Xers are in debt. But those who lie awake all night worrying about it are losing more than sleep — their health and well-being are impacted. Taking steps to improve your financial literacy puts you back in control of your money, allowing you to slowly but surely eliminate consumer debt.
Are you lying awake at night worrying about your consumer debt? Tell us your story on Twitter. #LeaveDebtBehind #WomenAndMoney #FinLit