Trying to make ends meet, dealing with credit card and student loan debt and paying unexpected bills while saving for retirement can be challenging regardless of where you are in life.

It’s not surprising that personal finances are employees’ number one source of stress, according to MetLife’s 17th annual U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study. Luckily, there are a few basic steps you can take to ease your anxiety and improve your financial future.

Planning is key
Contrary to what you may think, financial wellness has less to do with the size of your bank account and more to do with taking charge of your money. Simply put, it is three key things:
1. Having control over day-to-day finances;
2. Being able to absorb unplanned expenses; and
3. Creating a plan to fund future goals and then staying on track to meet them.

Perception vs. reality
With today’s strong job market, tax cuts and household income gains, many employees are feeling confident about their personal finances, with over 63 percent reporting they feel this way.
It turns out, however, there is a disconnect between perception and reality. Findings from the EBTS more fully illustrate the extent of the problem:
• Personal finances are the number one source of stress for employees
• 49 percent of employees report living paycheck to paycheck
• 30 percent of employees with a defined contribution retirement plan have dipped into it.
• Only 50 percent of employees are directly allocating part of their paycheck to a savings account

Many of us may prioritize the short-term over the future by inadequately budgeting, neglecting to save a portion of each paycheck, or dipping into retirement plans to cover immediate financial needs, such as credit card debt. These actions suggest an inability to balance unexpected costs with planning for the future, which are two key elements of financial wellness.

Separate myth, reality
Figuring out how to manage your finances can be overwhelming, especially if you are struggling to meet your daily expenses and facing student loan debt. Taking small steps now can make a big difference in the future. To start, it is important to dispel some popular misconceptions.

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