You're not "bad at money," you may just need a new strategy that works for you.
Advertisement
Coins in vice grip, close-up
Credit: Getty Images

For many of us, managing personal finances is a bit like going to the dentist. We all need to do it, but rarely do we get excited about it—and sure, we can keep putting it off, but that will only make matters worse over time. So managing finances, like getting our teeth cleaned, is just something that we have to sit down and do (or have done). However, that's often much easier said than done.

Unless you have a degree in finance and a passion for crunching numbers, things like budgeting, paying off loans, and figuring out your taxes, can feel overwhelming and intimidating. If you have other constant stressors in your life, are struggling with your mental health, or have never been educated about personal finances, these tasks can feel even more difficult to tackle—and the advice to "just do it" isn't exactly helpful. That's why we tapped a licensed therapist and financial experts for tips on how to make personal finances feel more manageable.

How to Make Finances Feel More Manageable

Resist shame

With financial wellness influencers and the highlight-reel nature of social media, it's easy to feel like everyone has their life figured out except for you. But that's simply not true. According to a recent survey from Credit Karma, more than two-thirds of Americans say they've experienced stress or anxiety related to their finances. 

Amber Hawley, a licensed therapist who specializes in working with ADHD and neurodiverse individuals, says on the Money Confidential podcast that it's important to practice self-empathy when navigating stressful things like managing money. "We've grown up in this dogmatic understanding of money and how to approach it and we've heard it for so long that it becomes our own narrative," she says. "And so we beat ourselves up and we have all these stories about how we're not good with money." These shame-centered money mindsets and resistances to finance topics can be made even harder when dealing with neurodiversity, Hawley adds.

"We need empathy for ourselves," Hawley says, because, "when we're in a place of shame, we don't make good choices." Resisting shame and being kinder to yourself is the first step in being able to think about your finances more clearly and assess your money habits.  

Getting to a place where you can effectively analyze your finances and create better habits is the ultimate goal, but along every step of the way it's important to remember this: "Numbers on a spreadsheet do not tell us anything about how good of a human being you are and how you are showing up in the world and what you have to contribute," Hawley says. "They're just one metric to let us know about our money."

Grab a buddy

As the survey mentioned above showed, you are far from alone if you're feeling stressed or anxious about finances—and you don't have to be alone when managing your money. 

Colleen McCreary, financial advocate and chief people officer at Credit Karma, recommends talking to someone who you feel comfortable with about money. "It may give you peace of mind to know that you aren't alone, and someone may have some great advice," McCreary says. "Money has traditionally been a more taboo topic to discuss, but it doesn't have to be. These conversations may be tricky to start but may ultimately help you find a solution."

Just having someone around when you're managing finances can also be an effective way to keep you on task. This tactic actually has a name, it's called body-doubling, and it's a popular productivity hack for people with ADHD. For anyone who has trouble staying focused, Hawley says that simply having somebody sit with you while you work on a task, like budgeting or taxes, can be really helpful in helping you to stay focused and avoid distractions. That person doesn't even have to be working on that same thing with you, sometimes you just need them to be there.

"Now, for some people, it has to be somebody that they actually respect," Hawley says. "For other people it could be, Joe or Bob off the street. And for other people, it's like, 'No, I need somebody that I would actually feel bad disappointing to be that person who's with me.'" So if you're having trouble getting started on financial tasks, don't be afraid to grab a buddy—or a body double—to help you get on track.

 

Get a change of scenery

Sometimes we need to trick our brains to find ways to make stressful tasks feel exciting, or at least, less stressful. "My partner and I found that getting out of the house and doing [our finances] in a less stressful environment worked for us," says Heather Comella, certified financial planner and planning success lead at Origin. "For example, we took a laptop and a notebook to our favorite restaurant to discuss our budget and spending goals over dinner. The ambiance with great service, background music, and being able to devote our full attention to the conversation made a stressful topic more manageable."

Set micro-goals and rewards

Part of the struggle of handling money issues—like paying off debt or budgeting for a major expense—is that they can feel really big. So it helps to break down money goals into smaller, more surmountable pieces.

"I cannot emphasize enough how effective it can be to start small," McCreary says. "You don't need to have an emergency fund fully funded overnight, and paying off your student loans in one payment isn't realistic. What is realistic is starting small with things like creating a budget, and tucking away money into a dedicated savings account to help you start saving with intention. From there, you can chip away at tackling things like debt or saving for your future."

To get started, McCreary recommends setting micro goals for yourself. "Set one goal, for one month, and see if that works," she says. "If it does, keep it going, and if it doesn't, adjust." For example, if your goal is to pay off your debt, you can set other goals to help you get there, like setting a goal to pay off a smaller percentage of your debt. "You may be pleasantly surprised at how your relationship with your money changes once you're working toward something that seems more attainable," McCreary says.

You can also shift your relationship to money by rewarding yourself for small accomplishments along the way. "It may motivate you to continue working toward your goals if you know there's something fun waiting for you once you get there," McCreary says. "You don't have to go overboard with the reward—it can be treating yourself to your favorite dinner, or buying something small for your apartment. There are even fun things to do or to give yourself that are free."

Utilize autopay

When feeling overwhelmed by financial tasks and responsibilities, Comella says it's important to try to "minimize friction as much as possible." One way to do this is to set up autopay for things like bills or automatic savings. "The more work required to manually issue payments or transfers will just build up as a barrier psychologically and you may want to push the can down the road instead of just getting it done," Comella says. 

Outsource the tasks

What if we told you that you don't actually have to do those financial tasks that are stressing you out?

"If something is really painful for you or you find that you really struggle with it, stop doing it. Outsource it," Hawley says. "When I work with people who are really struggling with their finances or getting their taxes done, and then they tell me they're doing it all themselves, [I say] 'Don't do that.'"

Of course, the initial cost of a financial planner may be a barrier to hiring one, but the investment can pay off if you're really struggling to get your money sorted out on your own. "It's worth every single penny not to deal with that stress and to have a professional do it. This is why we have these people," Hawley says.

RELATED: Do You Need a Financial Planner? Here's How to Know—Plus How to Find One

Comella also advocates for using a financial planner—but she says to be cautious and particular about selecting one. "A well-matched planner understands your concerns, your values, and can relate to you," she says. "Don't be afraid to seek a planner who you share something in common with—for example, a female divorcee may prefer to work with someone who has shared this experience." She recommends searching through the XY Planning Network, which allows you to browse their network of planners filtered by specialties, geographic locations, or other keywords. "They have a range of fee options and are all fiduciaries," she says. (Fiduciary planners are legally bound to act in your best interest and put your needs before their own.)

Hawley adds that it's also important to get a planner who you find supportive. "If you're going to a financial expert to get support and to get help and they're being very judgmental, that's not going to be a conducive place for you to make changes," she says.