Many families are experiencing significant financial stress due to unemployment, credit card debt and economic uncertainty. Others are coping with a financial loss, such as bankruptcy, foreclosure, layoffs or downsizing. According to the Stress in America Survey by the American Psychological Association, money continues to be the No. 1 stressor in the lives of three out of four Americans. This can take its toll on the emotional and physical well-being of parents and children. Equipped with the following pointers, families can successfully cope with an economic setback.
- Get honest. Financial stress often leads to money avoidance. Rather than dealing with financial struggles, we often try to suppress them. However, putting our heads in the sand only makes matters worse. Take an honest inventory of your fiscal situation. Grieve the loss of how things were, let go of how things should have been and embrace the reality of how things are. Challenge yourself to identify the role you have played in your financial difficulties. When compared to placing 100 percent of the blame on external factors, recognizing where you may have gone wrong has two advantages. First, it keeps you from repeating mistakes. Second, it gives you the power to set a new course versus accepting your role as a helpless victim.
- Talk about it. During a financial crisis, it is important to create dialogue about the situation. Even in good times, money is a major taboo topic in many households. Parents report that it is easier to talk to their children about sex than about money. But whether they know the details of the family’s money situation or not, kids can sense something isn’t right. Without the correct information, they may make up stories in their minds, sometimes blaming themselves for things they have no control over. We shouldn’t give youngsters too much information about the family’s financial situation. Keep things on a need to know basis. And always ensure that children know that although times are tough, mom and dad are handling it.
- Involve the whole family in the solution. Children should be asked to participate in solving the problem without having the emotional burden placed on them. When given tasks that contribute to a solution, children thrive. So in the case of a job loss, you might say, “Your father lost his job. While he is looking for another position, we need to cut our spending. We’ll be eating in more and cooking together. I want each of you to pick a recipe for us to make.” This lets kids know that a financial setback has occurred and things are going to change. But it gives them a way to help.
- Model healthy monetary behaviors. Use your tightened budget as an opportunity to teach kids how to manage money. Our cashless society has made learning these skills more difficult than ever— especially for youngsters. They don’t see parents saving money for purchases. Instead they witness the swipe of a credit card. Structure some learning opportunities around family purchases. Even if you have the money to buy it now, just slow down. Get a glass jar and let the coins and dollar bills pile up. Save for a couple of months. Let your children see the money grow. Show them how to delay gratification. Discuss the importance of not buying on credit. When the time comes, involve them in comparison shopping for the purchase. Then, have them go with you to buy it. This can be a powerful learning experience.
- Limit your family’s time spent in passive activities. Research shows that unhappy people watch more TV than happier people. They are also more prone to gain weight and have relationship problems. Get outside and get active. Take a break from ruminating about your past and worrying about your future. Make an effort to spend time living in the moment.
- Realize that as bad as things are, some people have it worse. Involve yourself and your children in acts of generosity by helping someone else. Research has shown that volunteering your time for a worthy cause or engaging in community service makes people happier. It helps to keep things in perspective and has the added benefit of modeling altruism to your children.
- Count your blessings. Go around the dinner table each night and ask everyone to say one thing for which they are grateful. Those who take time to reflect on the positive aspects of their lives report feeling happier. People who focus on the negative aspects of life report less satisfaction.
Most people experience a significant financial setback at some point in their lives. In the end though, happiness is not something a new car, clothes or financial success can bring. True contentment lies in our connection to ourselves and to others.