Money is the top cause of stress in the U.S., the American Psychological Association reports, and the leading driver of stress in the workplace, according to studies by the National Business Group on Health, Aon Hewitt, PwC and others. The most common cause of all that anxiety? The feeling that you’re just one financial shock away from disaster.
Why Financial Shocks Are So Common
Financial shocks are shockingly common and, according to the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the capacity to absorb a financial shock is a key pillar of financial wellness.
Roughly two-thirds of U.S. households experience a cut in pay, a health crisis, a layoff or other life event that adversely affects their finances over a typical five-year period, a Pew survey found. Every year, six in 10 people get hit by one of these events or a substantial, unexpected expense such as a leaky roof that needs fixing or emergency car repairs. More than half the survey’s respondents said the financial shock made it hard for them to make ends meet.
Why Financial Shocks Are So Painful
The main reason financial shocks can be so devastating is because relatively few people have enough cash tucked away. A Bankrate survey last year found that 63% of Americans don’t have enough in savings to comfortably handle a $500 car repair or a $1,000 emergency room bill — including nearly half of those who earn $75,000 or more.
Without enough cash to foot the bill, people often turn to credit cards or tap retirement accounts. In a 2017 PwC survey, one in five boomers said they’d had to withdraw money from their plans before retirement and a third anticipated having to do so in the future, most commonly to help manage an unexpected expense.
What, Me Worry?
As the table below shows, despite more years to save, older workers are nearly as anxious about not having a financial cushion as younger ones. When needed, they often tap retirement accounts to cover the shortfall — which doesn’t help their second most common financial concern.
|TOP FINANCIAL CONCERNS||BOOMERS||GEN X||MILLENNIALS|
|Not having enough emergency savings||45%||51%||52%|
|Not being able to retire when I want to||41%||29%||20%|
|Not being able to meet monthly expenses||20%||34%||32%|
3 Steps to Stress Less About Money
That’s why the most important thing you can do to improve your financial health is devising a plan that will help you manage the shocks when they arrive.
“The ability and willingness to plan and save for a financial shock is the most predictive attribute of an individual’s financial health, even after income and other demographic variables are held constant,” notes Laura Cummings in a report from the CSFI/JP Morgan Chase Financial Solutions Lab.
Of course, you probably already know you should have an emergency fund —the equivalent of three to six months of living expenses in a safe account you can get into quickly and easily. Next Avenue recently offered 10 smart ideas to build an emergency fund.
The critical missing piece: Getting yourself to actually do it. How do you turn good intentions into action? I suggest taking these three steps: