Drowning in financial stress? 

Apirl 2023 | The Learning and Wellbeing Team

Financial stress has been cited as one of the top three sources of stress for students during their studies and remains a significant source of stress for many adults throughout their lifetimes. In fact, 1/3 of Canadians and Americans state that problems with money adversely affect their health, well-being and relationships. The impact of financial stress on individuals is so great that many school boards have begun teaching financial literacy in both elementary and secondary schools.

Effectively managing your financial stress depends on a number of very different behaviours and attitudes, including how to budget your money, how to manage your spending, and how to deal with the worries, doubts and what-ifs that come with not being able to cover your costs, as well as dealing with feelings of hopelessness that can arise with the difficulty of paying off large amounts of debt with little ability to do so.  Let’s walk through all the different elements of effectively dealing with financial stress.

Five things you can do about it.

There are a number tips and strategies that can help you to reduce stress and get your finances back on track. Click on any of the following links to jump straight to that strategy. 

(a) track your spending
(b) develop a budget for the week and month
(c) look for opportunities to reduce your expenses

(d) reduce your impulse buying
(e) increase your money supply 
(f) fact-check your financial worries, doubts and what ifs
(g) get help 

(a) track your spending

One of the most important and effective strategies for managing your financial stress is to start tracking your spending. Tracking your spending will help you understand where your money is going as well as identify opportunities for spending less. As you get close to your weekly or monthly budget tracking your spending will help you to adjust your behaviour and spending habits to ensure that you remain on track. Hundreds of research studies have shown that the simple activity of monitoring your own behaviour, whether it is changing your levels of physical activity, eating behavior or financial behaviour, will, in fact, lead to immediate and lasting gains.
There are lots of ways to track your behaviour which include simply recording everything that you spend on a simple single piece of paper over the span of a week. To get a better idea of where your money is spent and whether or not your revenue (i.e., what you earn) is enough to cover your expenses, download our monthly budget tool, which will help you immediately tally revenues expenses and also help you keep track of those wishes that you’d like to buy but perhaps don’t have enough money just yet.

(b) set a budget for the month,

The next step once you’ve understood what your expenses are is to set a budget. Again you can use our monthly tracking tool to help you identify how much money you need for everything that you need to have, such as rent, food, phone, and utilities) as well as How much is leftover for extras, such as movies, coffee, going out for lunch, going out with friends.

If, after recording all of your needs, such as food, phone and utilities, you’ll see how much is left over for extras, such as coffee or movies. If the budget tool tells you you’ve got $100 a week, then that’s your budget. You may have more, or you may not have any. Either way completing this budget tool will tell you where your expenses are going and how much money you’ll need to cover your expenses.

(c) look for opportunities to reduce your expenses

After completing the budget tool, you may become aware of opportunities where you can save some money. Think about what you can do to relieve some pressure on your budget. If you make your lunch rather than buying lunch, then you may be able to get lunch is out of your food budget, which will leave you a little bit more money for coffee and going out.

The coffee thermos

One other way to reduce your expenses is to invest in a coffee thermos and bring your own coffee with you. A single coffee can cost as much as three or four dollars, and if you have three or four coffees a day, that’s going to add up fast. Coffee can easily run you $70 a week. A coffee thermos costs about $20, and a container of coffee even less. The amount that you save will cover the cost of your thermos in your first week, and you’ll be saving money every week after that.

The shopping list

One other easy and effective way of saving money is to make a budget and a shopping list so that you can cook your own food at home. Buying a lunch, even in a cafeteria, can cost you as much as $10 or $12, and that’s about $60 a week if you do it every day. Making lunch will cut that at least in half, and it’s probably going to be a healthier lunch too. However, making lunches can be a hassle. But you can save yourself time by making some salads on the weekend, making enough dinner so there’s a leftover, or keeping it really simple such as just chopping up vegetables, taking two pieces of fruit, Or keeping those sandwiches simple – P&J one day, cheese and next, and leftovers every day after.

(d) reduce your impulse buying
Most of us have bought something on impulse. You didn’t need it. But you still bought it. It’s easy to impulse buy. It’s nice having new things. It’s nice to have things that everyone else has. Buying something that’s new and you really would like to have can you make you feel better at the end of a stressful day or week.
Impulse buying is one of the ways in which you can blow your budget and accumulate lots of debt fast. Here are a couple of tips that you can use to rein in your impulse buying.

#1. Ask yourself if you really need it.
Whenever you see something you would like to buy (e.g., a new shirt or shoes), write it down on your list of “wants” and postpone purchases for at least a week.

#2. Carry cash.
One of the easiest ways to prevent impulse buying is to use cash for day-to-day expenses. Decide how much money you would like to spend in a week. Put that amount of cash in your wallet. Every time you buy something, you’ll see how fast your cash is disappearing, which will give you an opportunity to adjust your spending immediately. When the cash runs out, then you’re done. You need to wait till the beginning of the next week when you’ve got more cash. It’s harsh. You can always get more cash. But the benefits of carrying cash our immediate. It is one of the fastest ways to reduce your spending and make sure that you stick within your budget.

#3. Don’t get drawn into promotions
one other way to reduce your impulse buying is to avoid being drawn into promotions. That includes both sales, such as seeing something you really wanted at 50% off. It sounds wonderful. You’ll save so much money. There’s know this and are counting on you believing that the sale won’t last. But everything’s on sale all the time. Don’t get fooled into spending money before you want to or can afford to.
The other kind of promotion is the more affordable family pack. Why buy a small bag of chips when the much larger family pack is just a dollar more? Just a dollar isn’t that much, but it adds up fast. One way to ensure that you don’t spend more than what your budget allows is to just buy what you need. Buying a small bag of chips will save you money compared to a big bag of chips, and it will probably be better for you.

(e) increase your money supply

Sometimes saving and economizing are not going to be enough to cover the shortfall. That means you’ll have to consider ways in which you can increase your money supply, everything from working a little bit more if you have a part-time job, talking to a financial advisor at your school about financial aid, bursaries and scholarships, or even talking to the Bank of mom and dad.

These all may seem like long shots. But until you ask and look into it, you don’t actually know. There may be some small jobs on campus, even just three or four hours a week, that together may give you enough. There are jobs like proctoring exams, tutoring students in other years, or taking a single shift in restaurants or retail on Saturday mornings.

(f) Fact-check your financial worries, doubts and what ifs
This last strategy is about dealing with your worries about money rather than dealing with your spending habits. Worries about whether you will run out of money, whether you be able to pay it back, and what mom and dad will think will create another source of stress that can get in the way of you doing your very best at school.

#1. If you are worried about running out of money
If you are worried about running out of money and start to have a flood of catastrophic thoughts, like I won’t be able to finish school, then you’re getting a bit ahead of yourself. Of course, that could happen, but it hasn’t happened yet. Rather than playing those catastrophic thoughts about what might happen or what could happen if you ran out of money, complete the budget tool that can be downloaded here, workout exactly what your shortfalls are going to be, and then start putting a plan in place to cover the shortfall. Once you have an idea about how much money you can realistically save, and know what the shortfall is, then you can get busy trying to cover the shortfall. That may mean talking to mom and dad to help you out for the rest of the semester, working a little bit more in the summer so that you don’t fall further behind or looking into opportunities for some financial aid, bursaries or scholarships.

#2. If you are feeling guilty about spending so much money
If you’re feeling guilty or bad about spending so much money, that’s an opportunity to rethink what your studies are all about. School is expensive, but it is an investment. If you use this opportunity to take these four years of school and turn this opportunity into a job and a career, then the investment, however expensive schools, will pay off. In fact, as far as investments go, it may be one of the most important ones that you make in your entire life. University and college degrees generally lead to higher-paying jobs, which means that your one-time investment will continue to yield benefits for years and years and years to come

(g) Get help 
The last strategy and tip is to get help. Going to school is an enormous undertaking. It takes years of work, and it is expensive. But you don’t have to do it alone. Talk to people in your family, mom and dad, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles — anyone who may be able to help you figure out how to get through this with a little bit less stress. Chances are they’ve been through it before and have some ideas about how to do it differently. Talk to people at the university. They got lots of experience in helping students cover the costs of school. Everything from accessing bursaries and financial aid to finding jobs on campus, jobs during the summer, as well as jobs during the school year.


Understand your hurdles and challenges:
There’s a number of elements to understanding the challenge, barriers, and hurdles to dealing with financial stress. Everything from understanding how you spend money, behaviours and attitudes about spending money, your level of stress and worry about finances in your attitudes towards debt. It can be overwhelming. We have assembled a number of questionnaires that will help you understand where your challenges are and where some opportunities might be found to deal with your financial stress in a different way. Each of these quizzes will provide you with feedback designed to help you to identify a variety of challenges and opportunities that most students experience.

1. Assess your expenses 
Get started on tracking you montly expenses by downloading our budge expense spreadsheet. You can track weekly costs, such as food and entertainment, monthly costs, such as utilities and rent, as well as semester expenses, such as tuition and books. This will quickly show you if your spending is on track and estimate your surplus and deficits for the month and entire year.

2. Assess your spending behaviour and attitudes
Find out if you are a compulsive spender? Can’t stop buying things even though you know it’s going to catch up with you. Take the Compulsive Buying Scale to find how much of your spending might be a problem. 

3. Financial stress and worry
Find out if your stress and worry about money and finances is excessive and quickly becoming its own problem. No matter what difficulties you may have making ends meet, worrying about it can take your difficulties to an entirely new level, affecting your mood, wellbeing and sleep. 

4. Attitudes toward money 
When it comes to money, are you someone who hoarders it, uses it to impress others, or someone who just sticks their head in the sand? Find out what kind of attitude to money you have. 

5. Attitudes toward debt
How you think about debt may be one of the most important factors that will determine how easily it is for you get in to financial trouble. Find out about your attifudes to debt before it becomes a problem — even if it aready is. 

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Maraz, A., Griffiths, M. D., & Demetrovics, Z. (2016). The prevalence of compulsive buying: A meta-analysis. Addiction, 111(3), 408–419. https://doi.org/10.1111/add.13223
Edwards, E.A.,1993.Development of a new scale for measuring compulsive buying behaviour.Financial Counseling and Planning 4, 67–85.

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