Are you “at peace” financially — or do you find that money causes stress that sometimes gets the best of you?
Over half of Americans — 56% — are more stressed about money now than they were this time last year, according to the Principal Financial Well-Being Index. In other words, if money worries have ever kept you up at night, you’re not alone. But that doesn’t mean you can’t reduce your financial stress. The trick is finding out what financial peace means to you, and then putting a plan in place.
Discover What Financial Peace Means to You
According to The 2023 State of Women survey from HerMoney Media and Principal Financial Group, women (40%) are more likely than men (32%) to say financial wellness feels like “being at peace” (without financial stress).
The concept sounds simple enough: The greater our sense of financial wellness, the more peace of mind we’ll have about our money. But, as with most things in life, there’s far more to it than meets the eye. For starters, everyone’s financial situation is different, as are our goals. That’s why we like to say that personal finance is much more personal than finance. For example, financial peace for someone who wants to purchase a second home and retire early will look very different from someone who would prefer to downsize and keep working part-time.
There’s also a gender divide when it comes to just how much financial peace men and women experience. For example, significantly more men (28%) than women (18%) reported a reduction in their stress levels after participating in financial wellness programs offered by their employers, again according to The 2023 State of Women survey.
While these programs — which can offer a roadmap to saving for retirement, budgeting advice, disability insurance, financial education and more — can help us shed our money fears, there’s no one-size-fits-all path to completely eradicating financial stress. There are, however, steps we can take to help give us the confidence we need to improve our financial lives.
Why Women May Have Greater Financial Worries
“In everything that I’ve ever researched or experienced, women are excellent decision-makers,” explains Heather Winston, certified financial planner and director for Retirement and Income Solutions at Principal Financial Group. But, because many women are still finding their voice with money, they may believe they’re not deserving of the right to make those decisions.”
In addition to the gender wage gap — the term used to explain the fact that women are still paid just 83.7% of what men earn — women’s participation in the financial world is relatively new. It wasn’t until the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974 — 54 years after women got the right to vote — that it became illegal to deny women the right to open a bank account or a credit card based on their sex, race, or marital status. In other words, women were shut out of the financial system for centuries, and we’re just now gaining a solid footing.
Perhaps because we’ve been behind the financial 8-ball for so long, many women have become expert budgeters and planners, explains Rochelle Odesser, a Certified Financial Planner at Madison Planning Group in New York. We’ve learned to control the things that were within our purview. But ironically, the desire to have our plans “perfected” often comes with a tendency to worry more.
“There are always the worriers. They could have millions of dollars, and they’re still going to worry that they will run out of money,” Odesser says. “This is why I try to help my clients back up and look at the big picture, because very often they’re looking at one piece of their financial lives, rather than the whole.”
Thankfully, the tendency of women to feel financial stress may be waning as we come into our financial power.
“In the last couple of decades, I’ve seen things change significantly for women. We’ve seen not only a shift in confidence, but also in awareness — and in recognizing our full potential,” Winston says. “While there’s still a gap to close, society has come a long way toward having a sense of shared responsibilities and capabilities among the genders for financial success.”
How to Find Financial Peace
Having a long way to go only makes it more important that we put a plan in place ASAP to find the financial peace we deserve. Here are a few of the best, tried-and-true, methods for women (and all genders) to start making headway on that journey.
1) Take a deeper dive into your employer’s financial wellness program
If your employer offers a workplace financial wellness program, utilizing all components of this program can be one of the best ways to boost your financial confidence and visualize a path toward reaching your goals, Winston says. “You’re really digging in and using those tools and resources to put principles in place, so you’ll know you’re on track to optimize what you want to accomplish,” she explains.
All too often, people may only scratch the surface of what their workplace financial wellness program offers, Odesser cautions. “If the person doesn’t take the next step and filter the information for their own particular financial situation and their own personal circumstances, they may still feel that sense of uncertainty,” she says. “So, dive in fully, and really look at how the information relates to you.”
2) Evaluate… and then re-evaluate your goals
Are your goals attainable and realistic? It’s an important question that Winston says we don’t ask ourselves often enough. “We have a tendency in our society today to think that our goals need to be universal: ‘I need to retire at 65,’ ‘I need to buy a house,’ etc., but it all depends on the individual person. We all have a very different view of what retirement looks like.”
In other words, yes, we need money for our futures — but money “is just a tool that helps us achieve other things,” Winston stresses. “Having ‘more money’ shouldn’t be the goal. The goal is what we can achieve with those dollars.”
And exactly what we want our hard-earned dollars to do for us is something that we should question constantly, Odesser says. Many people fail to look at how much they’re really going to need for retirement, which can result in either saving too much, or saving too little — both of which can cause unnecessary stress. “How are you going to know if you’re saving enough at 45 if you don’t know what you’re saving for? You have to get a handle on exactly what your goals are,” Odesser says.
3) Challenge old habits and implement new ones
Time is one of our most precious commodities, but dedicating more of it to map out our financial goals — and evaluating our progress towards those goals — can help reduce stress and increase our ability to retirement confidently.is one of our most precious commodities, and many of us need to spend more of it focusing on our money.
“If you don’t make time for things you think are important for your future, how are you truly going to have success at the end of your working career?” Winston asks. “You’re not. It’s a bit of tough love, but we all need to be more focused on how much we spend, save and invest.”
With that in mind, we have to be willing to inspect our financial decisions closely, and get more serious about budgeting, investing, and paying down debt.
“Make a commitment to yourself no differently than you would for ‘Meatless Monday’ or ‘Dry January.’ You’re forming a new habit, and educating yourself along the way,” Winston says.
4) Prioritize — and practice — your money
One easy new habit you can implement ASAP is to begin to “practice” your money, Odesser says. Think of it along the lines of a yoga practice or a Pilates practice. Now, you’ll have a money practice, too.
“Quarterly, you should pull out your bank statement, pull out your 401(k) and pull out your credit card statement. Have you been saving enough? Have you been shopping too much? This is where you’ll start to see trends,” Odesser says. “If quarterly is too often, then do it every six months. The point is that you’re doing it.”
Winston acknowledges the idea of sitting down and looking at our balances can be incredibly stressful. “But the more you do it, the less stress you feel. It’s when there is no plan, no path, and nothing for us to follow that we feel that sense of insecurity,” she says.
Until we prioritize our financial lives, our money is just one in a set of 100 other priorities that we have day to day, Winston explains. But once we get our arms around everything we have and spot gaps in our own awareness, we can start to reduce our money worries and find lasting financial peace.
Get more strategies to decrease financial stress and build wealth at principal.com.
This story was sponsored by Principal Financial Group®
About Principal Financial Group®
Principal Financial Group® is a global financial company focused on improving the wealth and well-being of people and businesses. In business for more than 140 years, Principal® helps customers plan, protect, invest, and retire, while working to support the communities where they do business, and build a diverse, inclusive workforce. Learn more about Principal at principal.com.