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The coronavirus pandemic left millions of Americans unemployed and wondering how they were going to cover the bills or keep a roof over their heads. As employment and inflation problems continue to ripple out during the pandemic, financial difficulties cause stress for many.

With health and financial concerns piled up, your mental health can take a serious toll. But it doesn’t always take a global crisis to trigger concerns about getting out of debt or planning your short- and long-term financial goals.

When financial stress sets in, you can feel it in more than just your wallet. According to at least one study,1 stress over money can translate to increased psychological stress, lower self-esteem, strained interpersonal relationships and difficulty being productive and focused at work.

But there are ways to manage money anxiety – and they hinge on having a solid financial plan.

“If you don’t have a clear strategy of how your money can align to your life, then you will have stress,” says Riley Poppy, behavioral financial adviser and founder of Ignite Financial Planning. “Developing strong financial habits are a keystone that can help bring together other areas in your life.”

With that in mind, here are five productive ways to manage financial stress and build a positive relationship with your money.

woman with laptop and holding iphone Photo by on Unsplash

1. Start with a budget

A budget is one of the simplest tools you can use to alleviate financial stress, but it’s one many people do without. Creating a workable, realistic budget is especially important if money stress is due to a loss of income because you’ve been laid off or your hours have been cut at work.

Creating a budget doesn’t have to be complicated. A basic budget just involves comparing your expenses to what you earn to determine how much you save and spend each month.

Creating a budget doesn’t have to be complicated. A basic budget just involves comparing your expenses to what you earn to determine how much you save and spend each month.

Budgeting apps can make tracking expenses easier so you can determine where you can reduce or eliminate spending to save money. You can also save by negotiating bills, says consumer savings expert Andrea Woroch.

Her best tips for doing so include taking these steps:

  • Calling service providers and asking for a discount
  • Comparing pricing from different providers, such as insurance companies, to find the best rates
  • Reducing your cellphone plan or switching from contract to prepaid
  • Raising insurance deductibles to lower your premiums
  • Taking advantage of free streaming and digital downloads offered by your library

These are small but actionable things you can do to lower bills that can have a big impact on alleviating stress, according to Woroch.

2. Create a plan to reduce debt

Debt can be a source of financial stress if you’re making payments but feeling like you’re getting nowhere fast. The first step in successfully tackling debt is knowing what you owe.

“Many individuals who have fallen well into debt sometimes don’t even know who they owe money to,” says bankruptcy attorney Karra Kingston. Or, you may know who your creditors are but are clueless about how the balances add up.

Kingston says pulling your credit reports to see where you’re at can be a step in the right direction for managing debt. From there, you can decide on specific strategies for paying off your debt.

For example, Woroch suggests transferring credit card balances to a new card with a 0% introductory APR. “This way, the payments you’re making are going toward the balance and not just interest,” she explains.

If used correctly, a balance transfer credit card can help you get out of debt faster by saving money on interest while you pay down the original amount. Transferring a balance is fairly straightforward and an easy way to get a break from fast-accruing interest. Some cards even offer as long as 18 to 21 months of zero interest, giving you plenty of time to pay down the balance before the regular APR kicks in.

Aside from credit cards, consider other options for managing debt to minimize financial stress. For example, your options might include these:

  • Using a personal loan to consolidate debt
  • Refinancing private student loans to take advantage of lower interest rates
  • Refinancing your mortgage if you own a home

What’s most important is taking action and not allowing yourself to become paralyzed by debt stress.

“People think if they can try to ignore their debt and not come to terms with it, the problem will just go away,” says Kingston. “Unfortunately, the problem only becomes worse.”

3. Establish emergency savings

USA dollars in wallet, isolated on white background Photo by Kostiantyn Li on Unsplash

Having an emergency fund can help you stay afloat and minimize financial stress during tough times. For example, if you get laid off from work or you get sick and can’t work, your emergency savings can help to pay the bills.

If you don’t have emergency savings – or you have some cash tucked away but not enough to make you feel comfortable – it’s important to focus on building it up.

Reviewing your budget again to find expenses you could cut is one way to find money to save. But if you’ve already trimmed your budget down to the bare minimum, that might be difficult.

In that case, Woroch says the answer is simple: Find ways to bring in more money.

“There are so many options for earning extra income that can really help if you’re feeling financially strained,” she says.

For example, you could try one of these ideas as a side job:

  • Get paid to be an online teacher or tutor
  • Become a pet-sitter or dog walker
  • Become a delivery person with Postmates, Door Dash or Instacart
  • Do small tasks through TaskRabbit
  • Become a freelancer

Cash back apps offer another easy way to make extra money, according to Woroch. You can use cash back apps like Ibotta or Rakuten to earn cash back on purchases made online or in-store. And you can easily increase cash back earnings by stacking these apps with a cash back credit card.

Just remember to pay your balance in full to avoid interest charges, since that can take away from your cash back earnings. And consider keeping cash back savings in a high yield savings account to earn the most interest on your money.

4. Work on your credit

person holding rainbow credit card Photo by Paul Felberbauer on Unsplash

A good credit score can make it easier to borrow money at favorable rates when you need it. If you haven’t gotten your emergency fund fully funded yet and you need a small personal loan, good credit can make borrowing less expensive.

Kingston says one of the first steps toward better credit is reviewing your credit history and disputing errors. You can dispute credit report errors online with all three major credit bureaus.

If you don’t have a lengthy credit history or you have bad credit, opening a credit card account can help with improving your credit score. In the case of bad credit, you may need to start with a secured card first.

Once you have a credit card account open, these habits can help you build good credit:

  • Paying your bill on time or early each month
  • Keeping a low balance relative to your credit limit or, better yet, paying in full
  • Holding off on applying for new credit unless it’s absolutely necessary
  • Keeping accounts open and active as your credit improves, rather than closing them

Signing up for a free credit monitoring service can help you track your credit score progress from month to month. Credit monitoring can also help you detect potential fraud and avoid credit score damage related to identity theft.

5. Get professional help if you need it

If you’ve tried these tips and are still having trouble with money stress, it might be time to call in the pros.

“Knowledge is also a treatment in managing financial stress, which is why it’s so important to acquire the right knowledge or work with someone who can serve as your guide,” says Poppy.

Poppy explains that a certified financial planner who has a background in behavioral science or behavioral finance can be helpful in creating a financial plan that addresses money anxiety. But if you can’t afford the fee, there are plenty of ways to get low-cost or free financial advice.

Knowledge is also a treatment in managing financial stress. -- RILEY POPPY

For example, you could work with a nonprofit credit counselor to get advice on budgeting or creating a debt payoff plan. Government websites, financial nonprofits and personal finance websites can also be excellent resources for financial advice. In the worst-case scenario, you could also consider getting a free consultation from a bankruptcy attorney, suggests Kingston.

Those are ways to address the financial side, but you may also want to consider working with a therapeutic counselor to address the mental health effects of money stress. The more well-rounded your approach to managing financial anxiety is, the easier it may become to cope with money challenges.

1Sturgeon, John A. PhD; Arewasikporn, Anne MA; Okun, Morris A. PhD; Davis, Mary C. PhD; Ong, Anthony D. PhD; Zautra, Alex J. PhD The Psychosocial Context of Financial Stress, Psychosomatic Medicine: February/March 2016 – Volume 78 – Issue 2 – p 134-143. doi: 10.1097/PSY.0000000000000276

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This article first appeared here and is republished with permission.

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Like many of the recent Marvel Cinematic Universe films, LGBTQ+ fans awaited the release of Thor: Love and Thunder in open anticipation of the inclusivity that both Marvel and Disney had promised. However, the fans were only setting themselves up for disappointment when the film was finally released.

Despite passionate assurances from studio heads to key actors, Thor: Love and Thunder was NOT spectacularly gay. It wasn’t even that good…

Premiere Night Promises

A bolt of lightning cuts across a rainbow on a dark and stormy night.

Lightning bold across the sky

Photo by Bill D.

Standing on the red carpet at the London Premiere of the film, director and actor Taika Waititi and fellow cast members Natalie Portman and Tessa Thompson were offered up the inevitable question: “How gay is the film?

Amidst some laughter from the crowds, Waititi gestured towards Portman to respond. The actress (who plays Thor’s love interest, Jane Foster, throughout the franchise) raised the microphone to her lips and thought for a moment, before delivering a quiet yet fateful: “So gay!

Barely a moment had passed before the gathered fans went wild and Taika Waititi gave his own verdict: “Super gay!”. Tessa Thompson made no statement on the ‘gayness’ of the film, instead opting to swing her microphone around suggestively. As more cheers erupted, a second round of “super gay” slipped out of Waititi’s mouth, before he urged the fans to enjoy the film.

Thor: Love and Thunder’s LGBTQ+ Potential

Thor’s movie-goers were definitely hyped up for a gay extravaganza and they had a specific character in mind. The fan-favorite Valkyrie, played by Tessa Thompson, stumbled her way into the MCU during Thor’s third film, Ragnarok. The Asgardian warrior won many people over with her wit, sarcasm, and pure badassery.

After the events of Avengers: Endgame *spoilers*, Thor Odinson gives up his claim to the throne of Asgard and names Valkyrie as king in his stead. This left many fans excited to see what would become of the character, especially after certain revelations were made at the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con:

“As a new king, she has to find her queen. So that’ll be her first order of business.”

With these words, Tessa Thompson threw her LGBTQ+ fans into a frenzy, with heavy expectations for the then-upcoming fourth installment of the Thor films. Indeed, in an interview with the LA Times, shortly before the film's release, Tessa Thompson was asked to comment on the sexuality of her character. She responded with several promising remarks, including “there’s a lot of folks that are righteously very hungry for that representation to exist in these movies, as am I”.

*Warning: spoilers ahead!*

So, How Gay Was Thor 4?

To put it simply: not gay at all. Not only did Valkyrie end up without a fabulous new queen, her non-heteronormative sexuality only got the barest mention (a brief line about a previous, now dead, girlfriend). Valkyrie may have made bedroom eyes at some pretty ladies before an action scene spoils the moment, but that’s about as much as we get.

The film does get some credit for introducing a trans character in a minor yet significant role. Thor returns to his people (after a brief stint as a Guardian of the Galaxy) only to find out that the daughter of one of his closest (and deceased) friends is now a boy. The issue is, whether due to personal prejudice or some alien inability to grasp the concept of being transgender, it does take Thor a frustrating few moments to come to terms with the change. And to stop deadnaming.

In fact, the only concession to the queer community was Taika Waititi’s extraterrestrial character Korg finding a husband in one of the closing scenes. This heartfelt moment was somewhat underscored by the revelation that Korg’s entire species is male, meaning he had no other choice but to be ‘gay’.

This Is Not Marvel’s First Queerbaiting Attempt

Close up of an eye reflecting an unknown scene as a rainbow crosses the image.

Photo by Harry Q.

This is, by far, not the first time that LGBTQ+ fans have been sorely disappointed by the workings of Marvel and Disney. In fact, people across many social media platforms have been chiding expectant viewers for once again falling for classic queerbaiting tactics. “Being queerbaited by the MCU is like being a golden retriever with a human who always pretends to throw the ball”, one Tumblr user declared.

Captain Marvel, starring Brie Larson, was the perfect moment for the MCU to introduce its first lesbian lead. Larson’s character seemed to have an intense relationship with another woman, going so far as to help raise her child (before Larson’s Carol Danvers disappeared from Earth for 6 years). Despite leaning into several romantic tropes, the status of their relationship was never fully fleshed out. However, it was also the franchise’s first female-led superhero movie, so maybe they thought that introducing her as a lesbian would make the film too awesome.

The heavily anticipated Avengers: Endgame was also slated to introduce the MCU’s ‘first gay character'. While many fans were excited, particularly as this would be the second of Larson’s appearances on screen, the big gay build-up was a massive letdown. The film’s director Joe Russo made a cameo as a blip survivor mourning the loss of his husband. A five-second throw-away scene that had no impact on the outcome of the film. Big whoop...

Even when we did see a film with a gay lead, The Eternals, there were also ten other straight leads. At that point, it just seemed more like basic probability than an attempt at pushing LGBT+ superheroes into the spotlight.

Why Can’t Disney Let Marvel Be Gay?

The big problem with allowing a few characters to be anything other than cishet is that there are still many countries in the world that outlaw homosexuality. As much as we like to think that the MCU is being made for comic book fans, we all know the purpose of the films is to make money for Disney. And without certain markets in Asia and the Middle East, Disney wouldn’t be raking in up to (and over) one billion dollars per theatrical release.

Is There Any Hope For LGBTQ+ Fans In The MCU’s Future?

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, the second in the much-loved Black Panther arc, will be released in cinemas this November. The studio has confirmed that the film will contain a queer character. Actress Michaela Coel will play Aneka, a warrior, and trainer of the king’s guard. Whether or not her diversity will stand out in the film (let alone endure for more than a 10-second scene that can be easily cut) remains to be seen.

Next year’s The Marvels film, starring Brie Larson, Iman Vellani, and Lashana Lynch may offer the MCU a chance to redeem itself in the eyes of its LGBT+ fans. The studios may feel it’s finally time to offer us the heartwarming lesbian relationship between Larson’s Carol Danvers and Lynch’s Maria Rambeau that seemed to be teased in the first Captain Marvel. Don’t raise your hopes too high, though, as you may yet end up as a stubborn golden retriever waiting for a cinematic universe to finally throw that rainbow ball.