We've seen the statistics: 1 in 8 Americans live below the poverty line. 71 million have accrued debt in collections. 55 million of us don't have anything saved in an emergency fund. An estimated 40 percent struggle to cover basic needs like food and housing costs.
We know money struggles are widespread, but the culture of shame surrounding financial instability prevents us from talking about it on a personal level. And that makes it especially hard to ask for help when we need it most.
One recent study found that we're almost twice as likely to disclose problems in our relationship rather than share details of our credit card debt. But financial problems don't just take a toll on our bank accounts, they can impact our mental health as well.
"Financial impotence casts a pall of misery. It keeps you up at night and makes you not want to get up in the morning. It forces you to recede from the world," writes The Atlantic's Neal Gabler, in an essay about his firsthand experiences with financial hardship. "It eats at your sense of self-worth, your confidence, your energy, and, worst of all, your hope."
Researchers have linked mounting debt with anxiety and depression which can take a toll on all aspects of your life from relationships to career ambitions and even self-esteem.
"It's easier to feel extra guilt and extra pain when you assume it's just you," Michelle Waymire, founder of the financial advice site Young + Scrappy, tells GirlBoss. "You assume it's a character flaw. There are a lot of forces working against you, and those are not necessarily your fault."
But the more shame you feel about your money struggles, the more likely you are to deny the root problem. So how do you know when it's time to ask for help? According to Debt.org, there are some red flags that signal you're in over your head and it's time to reach out for assistance. In addition fear, panic, anger and depression over a lack of financial control—all of which can lead to more binge-spending to temporarily relieve the discomfort—there are some everyday, denial-based responses to watch out for, including:
— Underestimating how much you owe.
— Not answering the phone when you suspect a collection agency is calling.
— Leaving bills unopened or just stuffing them in a drawer.
— Opening a new credit card when your old one is maxed out.
Remember: The Average American household is over $130,000 in debt, according to the Federal Reserve, which means you're not alone. But that fact also doesn't make the problem go away. If you're in a desperate financial situation that's impacting your everyday life, it's time to seek financial help. So what are your options?
Reach out to Friends or Family Members
There's no shame in asking for help from loved ones, but you want to be prepared emotionally and practically. If you're approaching a friend or family member about money, be clear about what your needs are—whether it's a loan or just plain guidance on how to move forward. Either way, it's important to have a game plan and a drive for solutions.
"Start by mentioning your goals and how you've been focused on improving your finances yourself, which shows you've been thinking of your future and are solutions-driven," advises Mint's Farnoosh Torabi. "Next, bring up how you've been working towards these goals."
That may mean coming to the table with a draft of your budget and intentions to cut down on your expenses. If you're asking for advice, come prepared with questions about paying off debt as well as career-related ideas you can bounce off your advisor. If you're asking for money, Torabi suggests providing a plan of action for the money you'd be borrowing, and a self-created document that outlines a payback plan. "Create a simple agreement that includes the amount of the loan and terms like interest and payment dates," he writes. "Sign and date it." This will not only make your loved one feel more comfortable with the terms, but will give you a sense of control and structure with respect to returning the money you've borrowed.
Talk to an expert
Not everyone has the luxury of asking for financial support from loved ones—and even if you do, you might not be comfortable with making the ask. The good news is that there are some resources you might not even know exist.
The National Foundation for Credit Counseling provides credit and debt counseling services for very low fees. The non-profit organization matches you with a specialist who will help you understand your options—from basic budgeting to student loan payment options and creating a debt-management plan. The Foundation for Financial Planning is another resource that pairs pro bono financial advisors with those in need of immediate help.
Do Your Research
With a little internet research, you might be able to get your finances on the right path. There are government programs designed to help individuals cover their household bills—from energy costs to telephone services. By contacting your state human services agency or local health center you can find a specialist who can help guide you through the application process.
Depending on what state you live in, you may qualify for financial support in other areas like daycare (New York City, for example, offers city-funded childcare) and grants to keep your small business afloat.
The most important thing to remember is that you're not alone, and there's no shame in asking for help. You've got this.