Financial worries are a fact of life for most Americans, and there are some common areas of concern that affect almost all of us. In fact, a recent survey conducted by Northwestern Mutual showed that 59% of Americans are worried about the rising cost of healthcare; 55% are concerned about unplanned financial emergencies; 53% worry about unexpected health emergencies; 48% worry about their income; and 48% worry about how much money they're saving.
With so much to be concerned about, it's not surprising that the same survey found money was the dominant source of stress for Americans, ahead of worries about both personal relationships and work issues.
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And while these issues are worth worrying about, stressing about them won't fix them. Instead, it's a good idea to take a few concrete steps to tackle these big areas of concern so they can stop causing anxiety. Not sure how to do that? Here are some suggestions for alleviating the biggest financial worries most Americans face.
How to handle rising healthcare costs and plan for unexpected health emergencies
Healthcare has gotten more expensive in recent years, with healthcare costs outpacing inflation. As care prices rise, it's no wonder so many families are worried about how to handle both higher prices for routine procedures and big costs for major emergencies.
In order to be prepared to cover costs if you or a loved one gets sick:
- Make sure you have the right insurance coverage: If you anticipate having high healthcare needs, it's worth paying higher premiums for more comprehensive coverage. Consider past healthcare spending and future life changes -- such as having a baby or planned surgeries -- when selecting your policy during open enrollment each year. If you buy individual insurance, check Healthcare.gov annually to see if you could be eligible for subsidies, and compare prices on policies in your area.
- Invest in a health savings account (HSA): If you have a qualifying high-deductible healthcare plan, you can take a tax deduction for money invested in an HSA. There are annual limits on how much you can invest, and you should always try to max out your HSA whenever possible. Unlike flexible spending accounts (FSA), which must be provided through an employer, you can open an HSA yourself with any brokerage or financial institution. And unlike many FSAs, you don't lose the money you didn't spend if you invest in an HSA. Funds can be invested and allowed to grow from year to year. When you withdraw money from your HSA, you also don't pay taxes on withdrawals, which means you benefit from both tax-deductible contributions and tax-free growth.
- Talk with your doctor about keeping care costs down: A study from Duke University found costs rarely comes up in discussions between doctors and patients, with financial issues broached in only about 30% of clinic appointments. In cases where cost was brought up, cost-savings strategies were discussed in close to half of all cases. These strategies include switching pharmacies, strategically timing tests after deductibles are already met, and switching to lower-cost treatments.
- Take advantage of free preventative care: Most insurance policies, even those with high deductibles, cover disease screening and other preventative care. By taking advantage of all of this free care, you can stay healthier and hopefully catch problems before they become hugely expensive issues.
How to prepare for financial emergencies
Financial emergencies are another major concern for most Americans, largely because most people don't have the cash to cover unexpected expenses that crop up. But by planning in advance for inevitable emergencies, you won't have to worry about a surprise cost you can't pay for.
The best way to make sure you're ready for a financial emergency is to have an emergency fund in a dedicated savings account. This fund should ideally have three to six months of living expenses. Saving this much is likely to take a long time, but you can start by saving roughly $500 to $2,000 for a fund that will cover most emergencies.
If you get a tax refund or a bonus at work, putting this money into a savings account is a great way to get your emergency fund started. You could also pick up a side gig temporarily until you've saved up a few hundred or a few thousand dollars for an emergency fund. Or you can sell unnecessary items to build up your fund quickly.
You can also work on growing your emergency fund over time. Try to cut back as much as possible on spending until you've got this money saved, foregoing eating out and other unnecessary expenses until you've got your cash cushion. If you save aggressively at first, you can build up at least a small fund and then work on growing it with automated monthly contributions of $50 or $100, or as much as you can afford. Once you have an emergency fund, leave the money alone unless a true emergency crops up. And if you spend the money on an emergency, cut back on spending again and work to aggressively build your fund back up.
Since this process takes time, you may also want to look into applying for a 0% APR credit card, which is a card that will charge no interest on purchases for a limited time after the account is opened. Most accounts give you 12-15 months interest-free. Keep this card available to cover emergency costs while you work on building up your emergency fund so you won't have to worry about paying interest should an unexpected expense happen to you.
What to do if your income is too low
Boosting income is a bit trickier than the other items on this list, but there are definitely steps you can take to increase what you earn. Some ideas to raise your income include:
- Negotiating your salary when you get hired for a new job;
- Asking for a raise, especially if your salary is below what people in comparable positions are making;
- Looking for a new higher-paying job;
- Increasing your skills; and
- Taking on a part-time side gig on evenings or weekends.
The nice thing about boosting your income is that there's no limit to how much more money you can make. So get creative about looking for side gigs, or put together a convincing presentation today for your boss about why you deserve a higher salary. The more extra income you have, the easier accomplishing other financial goals will be and the fewer money worries you'll have.
How to boost a savings rate that's worrying you
If you don't feel you're saving enough, tackling some of the other items on this list can help -- including raising your income and opening dedicated savings accounts for healthcare and emergencies. But you also need to make sure you're on track to save for retirement and other big goals you want to accomplish. To start saving more:
- Live on a budget that prioritizes savings. By making a detailed budget, you can allocate a set amount of money to savings, and work other spending around that.
- Automate contributions to savings accounts. If you have money transferred automatically to your 401(k), emergency fund, or other savings accounts on payday, you can make sure you get contributions made to these accounts before spending money on anything else.
- Bank your raises. Each time you get a raise or earn extra income, automatically transfer the new funds to savings so you never get used to living on the increased amount. You'll save more without feeling as though you're sacrificing.
- Have dedicated savings accounts for different goals. You should set detailed goals for how much you want to save for specific things, such as retirement and vacations and a home down payment. Have a separate account for each type of savings so you can track your progress and so you'll be more motivated to put aside funds.
Now you know how to tackle some of your biggest money worries
Hopefully these tips will help you take steps today to reduce your financial concerns. While healthcare inflation, wage stagnation, and retirement shortfalls are big problems that are going to require systemic change, at least there are things you can do now to ensure you don't have to worry quite so much. If you can save for care costs, build up an emergency fund, find ways to increase your income, and take steps to boost your savings, you'll have a lot less reason to be anxious about money, and should sleep much better at night.
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