How to Manage Money Anxiety While Paying for Your Wedding

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By: Naoimh O’Hare- The Knot

Managing your finances as a couple can be tricky to navigate at the best of times. Add in a big mutual saving goal, like your wedding budget, and it’s not unusual to feel stressed out about your bank balance. If worrying about your finances is a regular occurrence, or if you feel like stress about your wedding budget is starting to take over your life, financial anxiety may be at play. We caught up with three finance and wellness experts to break down exactly what money anxiety is, how to tell if it’s affecting you and what to do about it while budgeting and planning for your wedding.

What Is Financial Anxiety?

“Financial anxiety is an intense emotion of worry, stress, fear or anxiety that comes up when you are talking about or engaging with money or finances,” says licensed mental health counselor and financial wellness specialist Aja Evans of Aja Evans Counseling.

While it’s not currently noted as an official diagnosis or disorder in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), money anxiety does share some characteristics with traditional anxiety, says Jeff Shinal, licensed professional counselor and experienced financial therapist. “In essence, it’s anxiety specifically attached to one’s relationship with money,” he adds.

Financial Anxiety vs. Financial Stress

Because they can seem quite similar in a lot of ways, it’s important to understand the difference between financial stress and financial anxiety. “Financial stress is usually attached to a specific event,” says Shinal. “When the event goes away or is completed, often so will the stress.” If you expect feelings of financial worry to subside after your wedding, you’re likely experiencing financial stress. On the flipside, if those feelings existed before you began to budget for a wedding (or you expect them to remain afterward), you could be experiencing financial anxiety.

What Does Financial Anxiety Feel Like While Wedding Planning?

With the average cost of a wedding coming in at $28,000, feeling emotional about spending your hard-earned savings certainly isn’t unusual, even if you’re planning to spend far less than that. “Money and emotions are intertwined, not just a matter of math,” says Shinal.

So how can you tell when the emotions you feel about spending money for your wedding are an issue? According to Evans, there are some tell-tale signs associated with financial anxiety. “Feeling anxious, uncomfortable, unsure about your decisions, worrying about what others might think, sweaty palms, increased heart rate and trouble sleeping are all symptoms that can arise when looking at spending money on your wedding,” she says.

The variety of symptoms associated with anxiety, and by extension, money anxiety, can make the condition difficult to decipher. Even if you don’t spend every waking moment mulling over your wedding budget, look out for any unusual physiological or behavioral symptoms that have recently cropped up. “Stress and anxiety lead to other things, so you might have stomach problems, you might have headaches or you might be spending some of your work time stressing over money, which makes you less productive in the work environment and/or agitated with the people around you,” says Erika Wasserman, professionally certified financial therapist and founder of Your Financial Therapist.

Woman writing in notebook financial planning for wedding
GaudiLab / Shutterstock

How to Talk to Your Partner About Financial Anxiety

Our company data shows that, on average, couples are trying to balance four different saving goals in addition to paying for their wedding. Most commonly, this includes saving for their honeymoon, saving for a home, paying off student loans and contributing to their 401K. Whether you and your soon-to-be spouse have all of this going on or you’re just focusing on the wedding right now, communication is essential.

“Have a discussion with your partner about what you both are comfortable spending, what is a priority for each of you, and how you may want to approach anyone else who may want to contribute to the wedding,” says Evans. Setting a solid financial foundation early on will make it easier to address any issues that crop up later in the planning process (such as anxiety about spending money).

Talking about money in your relationship can be difficult, but there are ways to make those first steps easier for both of you. “Because this has been a problem, I created a deck of cards called Let’s Talk About Finances, Baby!,” says Wasserman. “It’s 50 questions to get those conversations started.” These discussion-sparking cards are especially helpful for engaged couples who are about to merge their lives—and in a lot of cases, their finances—together. Understanding each other’s financial beliefs and experiences is an essential part of that process.

Once you’ve set the tone for how you plan to manage your finances in the leadup to your wedding, Wasserman suggests keeping on top of things with frequent meetings. “Make it a very specific goal for each of your meetings just like you would in the workplace,” she says. That way, you won’t get sidetracked and can keep the conversation productive and to the point.

How to Address Money Anxiety for Your Mental Well-Being

Although figuring out how to get over financial anxiety might feel difficult at first, there are lots of benefits to working through it with your other half. “Couples that grow together, especially during these kinds of situations, are more likely to stay together,” says Shinal. “Viewing these situations as a learning event will make it much more palatable and much easier to move through, as mindset matters,” he continues. We’re sharing our experts’ top tips for dealing with money anxiety below.

  • Come up with a code word. If emotions start to run high when talking about your finances, Wasserman suggests coming up with a code word. “When you come up with the code word, come up with how you’re going to come back to the conversation,” she adds. You don’t have to resume the discussion right away, but it’s important that a final decision is made or the issue is resolved.

  • Have a worry chair. When thoughts or feelings about your financial situation start to overwhelm you, have a place you can go to acknowledge them. “That allows us to have more control over it,” says Shinal. Wasserman recommends designating a worry chair that’s away from other safe spaces. You don’t want to bring stress or worry into your bedroom or office.

  • Improve your self-care. Often when there are new stressors, it’s an indicator that your current self-care program is insufficient, says Shinal. He suggests mindfulness practices such as yoga, meditation or focused breathing. “There are a lot of apps that are out there that help with this kind of guidance,” Shinal continues. Headspace is a popular option that can help with meditation, getting better sleep and more.

  • Practice positive messaging. The way you talk to yourself about finances can have an impact on your overall perception of the situation. Instead of thinking, “I’ll always be in debt,” Wasserman suggests shifting to a growth mindset, such as, “Once I’m out of debt, I can plan this wedding.”

  • See a professional therapist. If financially planning for your big day brings up relationship conflict that just isn’t getting resolved, Shinal recommends seeing a financial therapist or a traditional therapist for treatment. A lot of professional therapists offer their services online nowadays, making counseling more easily accessible. There are also apps, such as Talkspace, that can connect you with an online couples therapist.

How to Address Money Anxiety for Your Financial Well-Being

Of course, financial anxiety isn’t just related to your mental health. When figuring out how to stop money anxiety in its tracks, it’s important to think about how well you manage your finances. Use these helpful tips to make managing money for your wedding (and the rest of your future together) a much smoother experience.

  • Have a plan for paying off debt. “If you have debt before the wedding, talk about it, and come up with a plan of how you’re going to pay that off,” says Wasserman. Having a plan in place for establishing financial independence before you get married will make it easier to manage your money in the future.

  • Build up financial resilience. Shinal recommends improving your financial resilience to protect yourself from unexpected future expenses. “It’s the ability to withstand life events that impact one’s income or assets,” he explains. For example, many experts recommend having an emergency fund in place before you start saving for your wedding or another financial goal.

  • Use visuals to stay on track. “Visuals are really important if you’re saving money for your wedding,” says Wasserman. She suggests putting up a fundraising thermometer in your kitchen. “When you have the visual and you see every day what you’re working for, it makes it easier to make decisions.”

  • Stick to your budget. “As much as you can, stick to your budget plan—it is your guide to know where you may be comfortable,” says Evans. Using our free online wedding budgeter is an easy way to estimate your wedding costs and keep track of your actual spend. Wasserman recommends having a contingency plan of around 10% of your total wedding budget as a safety net.

  • Seek outside help. If you’re struggling to keep on top of your finances while wedding planning despite your best efforts, it’s probably time to call in a professional. If it’s purely financial guidance you need, Shinal recommends a traditional financial planner. If you’re also struggling with the emotional side of things, then consider a financial therapist. “A lot of good resources are out there, we don’t have to do this alone,” says Shinal.

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