If you're feeling anxious about money in these unstable economic times, you're not alone. A recent TODAY/Yahoo! Financial survey identified the most common money concerns, which are explained here. Then Laura Rowley — a Yahoo! Finance columnist and author of "Money & Happiness" — offers tips to help you find financial peace of mind.
A new survey by Yahoo! Finance (fielded by Decipher Inc.) finds that the vast majority of Americans are suffering from high anxiety about the broader economy and personal financial issues ranging from job insecurity to soaring food and energy prices to consumer debt.
Approximately 2,000 adults were polled about their financial anxieties earlier this month. Among the findings:
- The rising cost of living is the No. 1 concern. Nearly two-thirds of respondents said they were "very worried" about inflation, and another 30 percent were "somewhat worried." Nearly three-quarters were concerned that their salaries won't keep up with rising costs, including food and gasoline; half of those polled expressed similar concerns about health care costs. And more than a third said they were somewhat or very worried because their rent consumes at least half their household income.
- Consumers are also fearful about the economic downturn and job insecurity. Eighty-eight percent are worried about recession; 38 percent are concerned about being laid off from their jobs. Nearly two-thirds are worried about the stock market decline.
- Consumer debt is a significant trouble spot. Among the two-thirds of respondents who carry revolving credit card debt, 63 percent were worried they have too much. Among people with student loan debt, 55 percent are troubled by the amount they carry; among consumers with outstanding medical bills, half say they are worried they can't pay them. And 40 percent of homeowners with a home equity loan or line of credit are anxious that they can't afford the payments.
- The housing crisis is causing distress. Among homeowners, one-quarter were somewhat or very worried that they may be foreclosed on; 45 percent are concerned that rising property taxes could force them from their homes; and half are anxious because their homes require basic maintenance or repairs they can't afford. More than half are worried about falling home prices and their homes losing value.
- Consumers are anxious about savings. Some 58 percent are somewhat or very worried because they have nothing saved for retirement and can't afford to save — the figure was 70 percent among people age 31 to 50. More than one-third are worried because they have nothing saved for college.
- Along with broader financial issues, the TODAY/Yahoo! Finance survey also found a huge number of consumers troubled by their everyday transactions. Three-quarters of those polled said they're somewhat or very worried "that most retail and service companies play games with pricing and it's hard to get a fair deal."
Achieving financial peace of mind takes thought and discipline. If you share some or all of the concerns mentioned above, here's what you can do:
Track your spending
This can be as simple as writing down every penny you spend for one or two months, examining those numbers and setting priorities. Visit www.moneyandhappiness.com for a free how-to guide. Online services can help track spending electronically; and there are several types of software, such as Quicken or Microsoft Money, that can do the same. Find the method that works for you and stick with it.
Set goals, timeline and automate savings Focus on two or three specific goals — buying a home, saving for retirement or saving for college. Break down those goals into small monthly steps, then automate your savings with automatic deposits.
Eliminate revolving debt Don’t carry revolving debt — you should have a specific plan to pay it down. Small changes make a huge difference. If you put $1,000 on a credit card at 18 percent and just make minimum payments, it will take 12 years to pay off and you’ll pay $1,100 in interest. Put $20 more a month toward that card and you would pay it off in just over two years with only $226 in interest. Go to finance.yahoo.com and look at the calculator called “How long will it take to pay off my credit card?” and see how an extra payment affects your pay-off time.
Spend time, not money, togetherDon’t shop for recreation. There’s so much else you can do with family and friends that requires little to no money. Have more meals at home, limit the kids to just one souvenir purchase, take snacks and water with you when you go out, and keep an eye out for free or low-cost events in your neighborhood. Be generous with your time and money, which makes you grateful for what you have.
Full survey results and analysis can be found at .