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Gail MarksJarvis: Money anxiety continues to take a toll on Americans

February 16, 2015


Although the jobs massacre of 2008 and 2009 has come to an end and people are seeing the value of their homes and 401(k)s shoot up, Americans remain seriously stressed over money.

About 64 percent of adults say that money worries are a significant source of stress for them, according to a recent survey by the American Psychological Association. Thatís an improvement from the start of the recession and housing bust, when about 73 percent of Americans said they were stressed about money.

But money anxiety continues to take a toll on Americans, even causing health to suffer. About 42 percent reported lying awake at night due to stress during the past month.

"People can work themselves into a stew and not do simple things that could give them a sense of control," said Lynn Bufka, associate executive director for practice research and policy at the American Psychological Association.

Those who are the most stressed are parents, young adults, women, and, not surprisingly, people making less than $50,000. But the scars from the financial crisis remain, even among fairly affluent people.

Americans are less worried about losing jobs than in the midst of the recession, but thereís still an overhang of job insecurity and pressure. In 2007, 74 percent of Americans were stressed about their jobs. Now itís 60 percent, according to the survey.

Money remains by far the largest area of stress in Americansí lives, far more than family responsibilities or health concerns. Those concerns afflicted about 47 percent of people.

Meanwhile, a quarter of Americans said their money worries are so intense they feel stressed about money most of the time. About 54 percent of Americans agonize over handling unexpected expenses and 44 percent said they even worry about paying for essentials like utilities, food and rent.

Parents and millennials fret the most about essential expenses. Seniors are the most comfortable. They reported stress levels almost half the level of middle-aged and young people.

Another study by St. Louis Federal Reserve economists points to why younger Americans may be the most stressed over money. Although Americans, as a group, have recovered the wealth lost in the recession, the average young family hasnít. Many stretched to buy homes near the peak of the market; then struggled with debt as the economy weakened and job troubles hit. Generally, older Americans had purchased homes years earlier and had equity that allowed them to borrow in tough times.

Many millennials remain laden with student loan debt, and millennials are the most likely of all generations to say their stress has increased in the past year ó 36 percent of them versus 24 percent of baby boomers.

Women on average earn salaries lower than menís, and according to other studies they generally tend to worry more than men about various matters, not just money. Bufka said the reasons for womenís higher stress over money are complicated. The survey found 40 percent of women feel uncomfortable simply talking about money. But only 31 percent of men share the emotion.

Regardless of the cause of money stress, the American Psychological Association found people dealing with their stress in unhealthy ways: spending lengthy periods in front of computer screens or TVs, eating too much or unhealthy food, smoking and drinking.

The majority of Americans are trying to do something to improve their lives economically, according to the survey. Popular approaches: shopping during sales and using coupons, cooking at home rather than eating at restaurants and cutting back on nonessentials.

While economists had assumed that low gasoline prices would prompt Americans to spend the money on other items, in December they increased their savings rate to 4.9 percent while consumer spending fell.

The American Psychological Association has found that people relieve stress if they write a plan for reducing expenses, and then note progress. For credit counseling, seek help from such organizations as the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, rather than some questionable counselors who sometimes advertise on TV or radio. Through garrettplanning.com, ask for a certified financial planner who works with moderate-income people on an hourly basis.

If you feel paralyzed by stress over money and are developing health problems, Bufka said a psychologist could help.

 

 


McClatchy-Tribune Information Services