The Cost of Worrying About Money

US News

If money worries are getting you down, you might want to figure out how to release some of that tension. A new survey suggests that financial worries eat up a substantial portion of one's day - and that, in turn, can be a costly distraction from work.

In a survey of more than 1,000 people, the McGraw Hill Federal Credit Union found that 36 percent of respondents said they spend at least two hours a day either worrying about their finances or handling them. (The survey took place in the spring just before taxes were due, which might account for such a large portion of the day spent on money matters.)

That's a lot of time to spend worrying while at work. And it comes on the heels of another study, "Stressed at Work," from Bensinger, DuPont & Associates, an employee-assistance program provider, that suggests almost half of workers are so stressed out that it interferes with their ability to get their jobs done. About 44 percent of male respondents and 49 percent of female respondents said they had "difficulty concentrating" as a result of "personal problems and stress." Meanwhile, Gallup's 2013 State of the American Workplace report finds that 7 in 10 workers are not engaged with their work.

[See: 10 Smart Ways to Improve Your Budget.]

Employers might want to take note: According to "Stressed at Work," stress costs American businesses a total of around $300 billion every year, with about half of American workers saying they are less productive as a result of stress. Bensinger, DuPont & Associates urges employers to consider offering their employees wellness programs to help them manage stress.

The Gallup report comes to a similar conclusion: Companies that boost workers' well-being see higher productivity levels as well as lower medical costs. Helpful benefits include health-related ones, such as access to healthy snacks and exercise equipment, as well as financial ones, such as 401(k)s.

Shawn Gilfedder, president and chief executive of the McGraw-Hill Federal Credit Union, based in East Windsor, N.J., says helping people get on top of their finances can go a long way toward relieving some of that daily pressure they feel, which in turn lets them focus during the workday.

"So many people go about their lives living paycheck to paycheck, and they don't have a plan in place. They don't have a simple budget," Gilfedder says. The problem is compounded by the fact that consumers easily spend money they don't even have. "When I grew up, you dove into dad's wallet, and that was the entertainment budget. In today's electronic world, [money] is intangible," he says. That makes it harder for families to plan out their spending and stay within limits.

[Read: A Financial Checklist for 30-Somethings.]

Employers, he says, can help lower the stress levels of their employees by helping educate them about finances. Even simple steps, such as helping them organize or pay off debt, avoid credit card fees or get all of their financial accounts organized, can go a long way, he says.

Gilfedder says employers should think of financial wellness just as they do physical fitness. "If [employers] give you $40 a month and you go to the gym, you're a lower health risk for their plans. Why not do the same thing on the financial side?" he asks. People with personal trainers are more likely to show up at the gym, he adds, just as people with financial planners can be more motivated to stick to their financial goals.

For stressed-out employees, Gilfedder has some words of wisdom, too: "The first thing you have to do is not panic," he says. The best approach varies by person. When he first met his wife, for example, she showed him a block of ice in the freezer that held her credit cards. She called it her "debt management system."

[See: 50 Smart Money Moves.]

"Not everyone will do that, and that's why it's important to have resources in place to help you live a healthy financial life," Gilfedder says. Those resources can include an online management system such as Mint.com, which members of his credit union have access to through their accounts. The aggregation tool lets them put all of their financial information in one place, he says. Certified financial planners and counselors can also help.

While getting on top of finances helps relieve daily stress, the bigger pay-off comes when something unexpected - a car accident, health scare or other negative event - threatens to throw everything off course. "Without a plan, when life happens, it becomes that much more insurmountable," Gilfedder says. "It pays dividends when things are going well, and it really pays dividends when things are not going well."



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