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The year ahead does not look promising for those who feel financially stressed.

Economic growth seems to be slowing, as are wage gains. The stock market is in a foul mood, and fast-rising house prices are no longer a given. We know from countless polls and surveys that people are feeling a lot of stress about money. For ideas on how to reduce anxiety levels, I consulted the financial planners, investment advisers and personal finance experts in my LinkedIn network.

The question I asked was this: “What’s the best thing someone can do about their finances in 2019 to reduce their anxiety level?” Here’s a lightly edited selection from among the 100-plus responses.

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Julia Chung, who holds the certified financial planner (CFP) designation, of Spring Financial Planning: “A lot of anxiety comes from shame – whether money or any other kind of anxiety. Start with forgiving yourself for anything money-related that created stress and guilt. Then seek out the help you need. Sometimes a great investment expert is the answer, sometimes it’s an advice-only financial planner. Sometimes it’s a lawyer, an accountant or even a therapist. Seek help without shame and start 2019 with a focus on creating a healthier and happier life, using money as just one of the tools to get you there.”

Stephen Gaskin, adviser at Hollis Wealth: “Pay yourself first by setting up preauthorized transfers to a high-interest savings account. Small regular amounts make the job seem manageable, and they add up quickly and prepare you for the unplanned expenses that life inevitably throws your way over the year that cause anxiety.”

Linda Stern, licensed insolvency trustee: “Track expenses for a two-month period and, after deducting your net monthly income, see what the remainder is. If there is a monthly deficit, cut back on unnecessary expenses.”

Sarah Rahme, CFP: “Have a retirement plan drafted for you and obtain a second opinion on your investment portfolio in order to address these three most important points:

  • Will I have enough to retire? Will it last and provide for my goals? If not, what can I do differently?
  • Do I have the optimal asset allocation that will allow me to reach my financial goals without taking more risk than I am comfortable with?
  • How much am I paying in fees, and is there a way to cut them while continuing to get value and proper advice?

Richard Colton, who holds the chartered financial analyst (CFA) designation: “‘Tis the season to start a diet – but this year, start a spending diet. It might only last a few weeks or months, but it might stick for good.”

Gordon Stein, author of Cashflow Cookbook: “Examine recurring expenses. Virtually every one of them can be reduced and the cash used for debt repayment or incremental investment.”

Jane Bolstad, CFP: “Invest in yourself and your financial well-being by becoming more financially literate. Learn basic personal-financial management and investing concepts by taking a course or reading material from a non-promotional source. Arming yourself with knowledge will go a long way to helping you make better decisions with your finances and lowering your anxiety. I have seen this time after time with my clients and in the courses I teach – the more people learn, the more empowered they become.”

Riccardo Romeo, CFA: “Take profits and reduce stock market exposure in order to reduce risk and lock in gains.”

David O’Leary, CFA: “Sunlight is the best disinfectant. There’s a lot of talk about how the [investment] industry provides very little transparency to Canadians. But this applies equally to the wilful ignorance a lot of us participate in when it comes to our money. We’d rather avoid thinking about our financial situation because we’re afraid of what we’ll find. But the best way to reduce our money anxiety is to turn toward it, not away.”

Natasha Knox, CFP: “Canadians should not underestimate the power of small incremental changes that, repeated over time, can yield large results. Each week, find one – just one – manageable thing to improve financially. Over the course of one year, if those fifty-two improvements are maintained, the weekly small steps will have amounted to a giant financial leap.”

Meghan Chomut, CFP: “Is there anyone that you respect that you think is a few steps ahead of you financially? Reach out to them. Ask them a question, mention that you’re struggling and ask if they have any tips for you.”

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