Being an adult often means being worried. We worry about our relationships, our children's future, climate change, and whether we'll find a parking spot -- among many other things. Of course, we worry about money, too. In fact, money is often a top concern.
Here's a look at the three most common money worries and how you might make them go away -- or at least have them trouble you a lot less.
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Survey says ...
The folks at Lending Tree recently asked more than 1,000 Americans about their top financial concerns in 2018, and got these results:
Few of the above responses are surprising. If your job doesn't feel secure, you'll naturally worry about losing it. With interest rates rising, those who are thinking of buying a home are worrying about how much more they might pay in interest and whether they'll end up priced out of the home they want. Renters reasonably worry about whether their next rent increase will be manageable.
The top three responses stand out, though, as they were cited far more often than any of the other options. Let's dive into each.
Worry No. 1: Unexpected expenses
If you're not worrying about unexpected expenses, maybe you should be. According to a Federal Reserve report last year, fully 44% of Americans didn't have funds ready to cover an unexpected $400 expense and would have to resort to borrowing money or selling something. A report from Bankrate.com reveals that 24% of Americans have no money socked away for a big unexpected expense such as a job loss or a big medical bill, leaving them just one financial emergency away from disaster.
That's not good -- especially because it's probably more likely than most of us think that we'd encounter a significant unexpected expense. Indeed, per a 2015 report from the Pew Charitable Trusts, fully 60% of American households "experienced a financial shock" over the previous year, with about a third of them experiencing two. The median cost of households' most expensive shock was $2,000, or about half a month of income. More than half of households had trouble making ends meet after experiencing their shock.
You may not expect to lose your job anytime soon, but lots of people who are laid off didn't see it coming, either. A costly medical issue can derail you financially, too.
It's risky to go through life without available emergency money. Most of us should have an emergency fund ready -- ideally funded with six to 12 months' worth of living expenses, which include not just food and rent or mortgage payments, but also utilities, taxes, insurance, transportation, and so on.
Worry No. 2: Making ends meet
The second most common financial worry is closely related to the first. Even if you have a well-stocked emergency fund, you might still be worried about how to pay all your bills without tapping into it. One great way to get more control over your finances is to do some budgeting. Start by getting a complete picture of your current cash inflows and outflows. The inflows are usually easy. You might have just a salary, or you might have work income plus a little dividend income, alimony income, gift income, or extra income from another activity.
It's less easy but even more important to figure out where all that money goes. To do so, you'll need to track every dollar you spend every day, whether it's in a notebook, a spreadsheet, or a smartphone app. Do this throughout the day as you're spending, and if you can keep it up for a month, you'll have a pretty reliable picture of your everyday spending.
Budgeting apps can make this much easier than it used to be, and it can actually be fun to view and play around with the data collected. You also need to account for less frequent spending, so dig through a year's worth of credit card statements (you may be able to access them online if you no longer have the paper statements) and checks you wrote. This way, you'll be able to include monthly, quarterly, and annual expenses such as utility bills, insurance bills, membership dues, subscription expenses, and so on.
By figuring out exactly how much money is going where, you can more clearly see where you can make some changes, and you can weigh your options against one another more rationally. You might learn that a $4 coffee every weekday is costing you about $1,000 per year, and that your weekly $40 golf lesson costs $2,080. A pack-a-day smoking habit, if cigarettes cost $8 per pack, amounts to nearly $3,000. An extra $40 on your cable bill for lots of premium and movie channels? $480. When you see these numbers, you might realize that you can keep your cable channels and coffee, and that quitting smoking can save your golf lessons, too.
There are lots of other ways to save more and spend less. Downsizing into a less pricey home can save on taxes, utilities, maintenance, and more. Can your household get by with one car fewer? That will save on insurance, repairs, and fuel. Use coupons you clip from newspapers and mailings and ones you find online. Use less heat in winter and less air conditioning in summer. Drop your gym membership and exercise with weights at home and other inexpensive means. Downsize the gifts you give, too. Saving just $25 per week amounts to $1,300 per year. Here's another trick: Try to pay for as many things as possible with cash. Studies have shown that paying with cash tends to result in spending less.
Worry No. 3: Healthcare costs
Healthcare has grown so costly that it's weighing on us not only as individuals, but as an entire country. Steep medical bills have led millions into bankruptcy. Even if your situation isn't quite that dire, here are some ways to keep your medical bills under control.
One great strategy is to try to avoid big healthcare bills in the first place, getting as healthy as possible and staying that way. Being smart about your health insurance is another approach. For example, it can make good sense to get a plan with a high deductible, especially if you're healthy and expect low healthcare bills. Remember, though, that if a health crisis strikes, you'll be on the hook for some hefty cash outlays. Can you afford them? Give that some thought. (High-deductible plans can permit you to take advantage of Health Savings Accounts, too.)
Be sure to understand how your plan works. Many plans will cost you less when you see in-network doctors and/or are cared for at in-network facilities. It can pay to be sure that any care you're getting, including diagnostic tests and procedures, is entirely within your network. If a biopsy is sent to an out-of-network pathologist for evaluation, you may receive a surprising bill.
When it comes to prescription drugs, know that most insurers have lists of drugs that are preferred and for which they will charge you less. Use that list and share it with your doctors, so that they can keep it in mind when prescribing medicine. Whenever possible, generic alternatives are usually the best bet. It's also worth asking your doctors if they have any free samples of prescribed medicine. They often do, and that's free -- saving you a small bundle.
When you get bills, check them for errors before paying. If they're steep, know that many hospitals and doctors will negotiate with you -- especially if it means getting paid something instead of nothing. It won't always work, but it's usually worth trying to get your bill reduced. It can help to research what a typical cost is for a certain service and then ask to be charged that.
You may even be able to negotiate with your health insurer -- and at least get an extended payment plan. Some providers may accept less if you simply offer what you can pay today, as it will assure them of some payment and save them the trouble of chasing payment later. (Don't expect them to accept $10 instead of $5,000, though.) Get a written copy of any agreement reached. Providers or insurers may be able to connect you with helpers such as social workers, who can help you, too.
And if you're 65 or older, or will be soon, get the most out of Medicare.
The more you know and the more money-saving strategies you employ, the stronger your financial health will be. Your retirement may be much more comfortable, too.
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