Things look pretty rosy on the American economic front, with slow but steady improvement in the measures experts use to gauge such things and a stock market that is definitely on the upswing. So how come about half of Americans, even those with six-digit incomes, still say they worry about their personal financial security? Money is, in fact, the number one source of arguments between partners.
What’s in the wallet is not the only measure of monetary comfort. And in today’s world, despite the positive signs, real incomes are not rising much, college costs are off the charts and retirement lasts longer on average. Those are all areas for concern, Marguerita Cheng, a financial planner in Rockville, Md., offers these three ways to keep money concerns reasonable:
Pay less attention to the markets. Worry about the markets seems to be a common stressor, regardless of the amount of the individual’s assets. If you believe more wealth would free you from that concern, forget it. A survey among people with $5 million to $25 million in assets showed they worried too. Psychologists call this “loss aversion.” People tend to fret more over a dip in the portfolio than they celebrate an uptick. A diversified strategy can help you to avoid these lopsided perceptions. Don’t dwell on the market. Do check your portfolio once a quarter. You can be assured that your asset/allocation balance is okay and hopefully fend off obsession with unimportant ups and downs.
Tell someone “Thank you.” People who develop an “attitude of gratitude” for the things they have report themselves to be happier. Try writing a note of appreciation to someone who has given your life a lift at some point. Make it beyond a simple “thank you” card. Be specific about the “gift” you received. People who study such matters report that those who take the time for such niceties are happier. Putting gratitude into writing makes it more real, they say, and takes the writer’s mind off what they do not have in favor of what they do have.
Spend socially. Psychologists report that few people ever arrive at a point that they have enough. And accumulating more and more doesn’t lead to happiness. Strong relationships are more important, whether it is with a spouse, family members, friends or a religious group. Direct some of your spending to others. Plan a family vacation, donate to a charity or simply buy a gift for a friend. In one study, participants were given a $10 Starbucks gift card with instructions to use it, give it to a friend to use or to take the friend to Starbucks and share the gift card. The final choice produced more happiness, the survey said. Giving is a way to boost a sense of well-being.
(These suggestions are adapted from “Never Worry About Money Again,” by Carla Fried, Ian Salisbury and Taylor Tepper. Their article appeared in the July 2015 issue of MONEY Magazine.)