Woman on deck by lake

Women today have so many things to stress about. (Yes, men do as well, but we are going to focus here just on women.) They are supposed to be able to do it all – get married, start a career, raise the kids, stay skinny, and on and on.

While there are starting to be promising signs of change, from #MeToo to more and more women realizing their true value is not just the exterior facade, the media today, particularly social media, gives women so many messages about how they should act and who they should be. Women tend to internalize this, but we can’t all be everything, and it’s impossible to keep it all together all the time.

One area where women feel a lot of stress is with their finances. Do they have enough? Are they spending too much? Will they find themselves divorced (or widowed) one day and suddenly realize the lack of control and transparency with their money makes it so much harder to learn during a crisis? Will they end up having to rely on their kids when they are older and didn’t save enough for retirement? Or what if they feel like they never really can retire? And for women who gave up their income earning ability to have their primary job be running the household and devoting themselves to their families, ‘retirement’ may come very early, via a divorce settlement in their 40’s or 50’s.

These are real concerns and the one area women can completely control is the cash flow needed to fund their life and lifestyle. Enter the dreaded word: Budget. Just like most diets fail, most budgets fail, too. Why? Both diets and budgets can set you up for unrealistic expectations and a deeper sense of failure.  While the temporary euphoria of finally doing something about your weight or your finances is an adrenaline boost, this is typically short lived because diets and budgets come with a sense of restriction and confinement if not set up realistically. ‘Falling off the wagon’ with a failed, or many failed, attempts at change leads to self-loathing, hopelessness, resentment that ‘others can do it, why can’t I’?  Approaching diets and budgets with an all-or-nothing philosophy keeps women in a vicious circle of “If I can’t hit my budget markers this month then forget about the whole thing – I’m buying that really expensive dress.” Here are suggestions to tackle the stress in one area of our lives and try to create some calm.

  1. First and foremost: Eliminate the following from your life: “I have a dumb question”. No. We don’t have dumb questions. We have questions to gain clarity in areas that we don’t yet understand. So replace “I have a stupid question” with “I have a clarification question”. It is a more empowering way to start a conversation to learn something new, and let go the fear that you will look stupid. Who said we need to know it all? This is how we learn- by asking questions.
  2. Talk it out and create a Money Club: You’ve got girlfriends. Why not dedicate one night a month to a bare it all discussion about personal finances? What is working? What isn’t working? Where do you feel shame and embarrassment about not dealing with your finances? What advice would you give your own daughters or young women in order for them to feel in control from a young age?
  3. Stress management: We all need stress management in our lives. Think about ways that you can relieve the stress as you get your financial life in order. Do you like yoga or meditation? Do you like taking a walk on the beach? Going for coffee with friends? Find ways (that can be inexpensive or even free!) that you can relieve both the financial stress in your life and the stress that you carry thinking about other issues.
  4. Ask for and accept help. We are often given the impression that we should be able to tough it out and get through personal and sensitive things by ourselves. Strong women don’t need assistance. Asking for help is a sign of personal weakness. “I’ve Got This”. These might be some of the messages that you hear or think, but they are far from true. Even if your friends don’t talk about the assistance they receive in various areas of their lives – most people have advisors or an inner circle. You might have a diet group for your nutrition needs, and an advisor at work for your professional needs. So, getting a financial advisor involved for your financial needs is really the same thing. This will help you to relax and to pass off some of the stress and burden of your financial questions and pressure to someone else. Why not get that help?

We all want a calm and stress-free life and while we can’t always avoid stressors, we can learn to manage some of them. Your finances don’t have to become an overwhelming stress in your life. By engaging in conversations with your friends and family, finding ways to relieve stress and talking to a professional, you should be able to check this area of stress off in your life.

And then we can discuss that “need” to be skinny.

Michelle Smith is the co-founder and CEO of Source Financial Advisors LLC and the founder and President of Smith Financial Strategies Group.