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Workplace Award Take control of your finances to reduce stress at work and at home

This is part of a series looking at micro skills – changes that employees can make to help improve their health and life at work and at home, and employers can make to improve the workplace. The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell have created the Employee Recommended Workplace Award to honour companies that put the health and well-being of their employees first. Register your company now at www.employeerecommended.com.

How many weeks could you go without a paycheque? Whatever your answer, ask yourself, "Why is this the case?"

Some of us have defined and structured monthly budgets, with the discipline as to how we save and spend money. Some have not.

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One of the fastest growing concerns for many young and old employees is their financial health. It's estimated that 61 per cent cite finances as their No. 1 stressor.

If financial health is an area of stress for you, there may be a few things you can do that over time can improve your situation.

This micro skill focuses on how we spend money and the benefits for increasing awareness on our daily spending decisions. If you're stressed about your finances it can negatively impact your health and your productivity at home and at work.

The typical person spends money in three ways:

· planned spending (such as regular monthly bills, retirement)

· disposable spending (such as coffee, meals out, entertainment, clothes)

· unplanned spending (such as unexpected car or home repairs)

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How long you can survive without a paycheque often is defined by your spending choices. Some people use every dollar wisely. Others may not have a structure or discipline around how they spend their money.

If you don't have a financial plan you may be surprised by what you can learn by spending an hour or two with a skilled financial planner.

Too many people don't pay attention to how simple decisions like spending $20 here and there can impact their overall financial situation over time.

Here are a few ideas to help you establish a financial plan and reduce your stress related to your finances.

Develop awareness of your monthly spending pattern.

The first step to improving your financial health is understanding how you are spending money each month. Take your last six months' bank statements and list your spending in three columns. This will help you define what percentage of your income is being spent in each of the three ways: planned, disposable and unplanned.

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Here's an example. By analyzing her spending over a six-month period, Samantha sees that of her $4,000 a month after taxes, $3,000 goes to bills and savings, and $1,000 is spent on incidentals. She doesn't have a plan for putting money away for emergencies.

She notices that unplanned spending like fixing her car automatically goes on her credit card, averaging $250 a month. But She has no plan to pay off the balance of $8,000 on which she's paying 19 per cent interest.

Samantha discovers that she's spending around $12,000 a year on things she doesn't necessarily need but wants.

Upon reflection, Samantha determines that if she restricts her spending to $600 a month she could put $300 more on her credit card to pay it off, and $300 into an emergency fund for unexpected spending. Based on her current income, over the next three years she could pay off her credit card balance and put away some money to cover unexpected expenses, instead of adding to her debt. She sees that if she follows this discipline she will be on track to more financial freedom and less financial stress.

Create a personal spending budget.

Create a budget and measure it monthly for each of the three spending buckets. Pay close attention to planned spending. Sometimes, we can live above our means and have no room for emergency or disposable spending. It's important to determine your spending mix; only you can decide what's right for you. What's important is to plan for each area of spending.

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Practice conscious disposable spending.

There's an old adage that says cash is king. One way to create a discipline for disposable spending is to use only cash. If that doesn't suit you, keep track of your spending daily so you can limit what you buy.

By being more conscious of and taking control of your spending can reduce your financial stress, and less stress can improve your health and well-being overall. Workplaces can also help employees gain more financial control by offering workshops and other tools that help employees manage their money.

Bill Howatt is the chief research and development officer of work force productivity with Morneau Shepell in Toronto. He is also the president of Howatt HR Consulting and founder of TalOp, in Kentville, N.S.

This series supports The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell's Employee Recommended Workplace Award.

This award recognizes employers who have the healthiest, most engaged and most productive employees. It promotes a two-way accountability model where an employer can support employees to have a positive workplace experience.

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You can find all the stories in this series at this link: http://tgam.ca/workplaceaward

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