February 16, 2011
When you think about being healthy, the first things that come to mind might be the foods you eat, how much you exercise, and if you smoke cigarettes or drink. While all of those are important to staying healthy, there is something else to think about: stress.
Studies have shown that stress can harm both your mind – and your body. In fact, The American Institute of Stress lists such things as headaches, chest pain, trouble breathing, and stomachache among its "50 common signs and symptoms of stress."
Put another way, happiness and low stress can keep you healthier. A study found on psychosomaticmedicine.org by Sheldon Cohen, PhD, et. al., finds that people who tend to be happier are better able to fight off the common cold. Another study by cardiologists at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore found that people with heart disease were 40 percent less likely to laugh than people of the same age without heart disease.
So how do you avoid, or reduce, the amount of stress in your life?
It seems that one very important answer to that question comes down to money - and how people handle it. A survey by The American Psychology Association found that most Americans say that money is their number one source of stress. And as of 2008, more than three out of every four American families are in debt.
The good news? There are many ways to improve your financial health, reduce your stress, and help you live a happier, healthier life. We're proud to share with you just a few:
Most, if not all, money experts will tell you that paying off your credit cards should be your number one financial goal. And you do not have to go it alone. There are many credit services that can help you make a plan for paying down your debt. There are also simple tricks like cutting up credit cards you don't need so that you are not able to use them and also only buying things that you can pay for with cash. Not having to pay a credit card bill each month can lower your stress and improve your health.
Not knowing how much money you have coming in and going out each month can be a big source of stress and worry. But when you set up a budget, you can keep track of what you spend, what you make and where any trouble spots are. Knowing what areas you need to address is much less scary than not knowing at all.
College costs are higher than ever and are going up. And the thought of saving enough money to help your child get a good education can lead to a lot of worry. So start saving as early as you can, even if it's only a little bit each month. A state-suppported 529 plan is a great way to automatically put away money for education. It is easy to set up and gives certain tax breaks depending on where you live.
What if my car breaks down? What if the house needs repairs? What if I get sick or hurt? These are just some of the questions that can bring about worry in your life. Having a savings account and an emergency fund can take some of the worry away, because you know that you will be able to pay for some of the surprises that life brings. Financial advisor James Ramsey says that you should keep at least $1,000 stored away. But any amount you can afford is better than no amount.
An emergency fund is a great way to prepare for short-term needs. But what about the long-term needs of your family should you be taken from them? That's what life insurance is for. And to give you peace of mind that your family will have enough, you need to make sure that you have the right life insurance policy. There are many formulas for deciding how much insurance to carry. Talk with a trusted advisor before making any final decisions. But to get you started, here are some key things to think about:
Thinking about the future can easily cause stress, especially if you are not putting away enough money to help you retire. But it's never too late to start saving. Enroll in your company's 401k plan, especially if the company matches some of what you put in. There are many benefits to a 401k plan such as tax savings, "free" money from a company match, and the fact that you can take your plan with you if you change jobs.
It seems obvious, but one of the best ways to spend less money is to buy less stuff. And when you spend less, you should spend less time worrying about your money. So look for cheaper ways to spend your time. Enjoy a home-cooked meal and a rented movie instead of going out. Keep your cell phone as long as you can, instead of buying a new one every two years. Make coffee at home instead of spending $4-6 at a coffeehouse. Learn how to do some minor home repairs yourself. Take your lunch to work. And this is a big one: if you need a new car, think about buying used. Choosing a car or truck that is only 2-3 years old can save you thousands of dollars on the purchase price and on insurance costs. Of course, there are other ways to reduce stress over money. You can probably come up with many more ideas that work for the way you live. The important thing to remember is that you should be in control of your money – not the other way around. And the less you worry about money, the better chance you have of living a happy, healthy life.