Of all the lessons we’re taught in school, money management and financial skills aren’t usually part of them. Yet money and finances are what makes the world turn, and without them, you may find yourself literally unable to live. The uncertainty of your next paycheck, worries over keeping a roof over your head or food on the table can lead to a variety of problems. In fact, for many people, economic insecurity is the root cause of many of their health concerns, including decreased self-esteem, lack of sleep, anxiety, poor cognitive functioning and even physical pain, as research shows. Just because no one taught you how to deal with financial issues and the stress that results from it doesn’t mean you can’t learn on your own now.

Whatever the cause of your worries, be it debt, market fluctuations, or overspending, just worrying about it won’t resolve anything. The key to getting beyond this is to change the way you deal with money, regardless of what you earn. By learning how to properly manage your finances, no matter the income, you will regain control over your money, improve your health, and your life.

1. Find the root

Financial difficulties are usually not the root problem, but a symptom of another underlying problem. For example, unemployment or low income may lead you to use credit to pay for expenses, putting you in a cycle of debt. Having another child may also be a cause of financial issues. Determining the real reason behind the financial stress is the first step to resolving it.

Don’t beat yourself up over mistakes you’ve made in the past, however. This isn’t about being regretful or ashamed. Use this opportunity to analyze and determine how you got to this point, and then focus on changing the things that are within your control. This will allow you to make better choices in the future, creating better habits and improving your financial situation.

2. Track, then budget

Creating a budget is an obvious step to easing financial stress, but the first step to creating a budget is tracking where your money currently goes. You need to track every penny before you can determine where you can make cutbacks and changes. Whether you use excel sheets, apps, envelopes or something else, tracking will allow you to detect your impulsive, unnecessary purchases and give you some immediate options to eliminate. If you have a family, each member’s spending should be tracked.

Once you’ve tracked your spending, you’re in a position to create a monthly budget. You should use this to cut all unnecessary expenses and pay for only the essentials. This will allow you to get into a better financial position, at which point you can reconsider how to spend your money. The most important part of this step is to stick to the agreed budget and keep yourself accountable.

3. Define your priorities

You may think that you can’t cut back on your expenses. Start by organizing them and prioritizing them. When in debt, paying it off should be a top priority, as this will allow you much more freedom with your money. Define the necessities, and then look at what’s left and determine where you can make cuts – even if they’re cuts you’d rather not make.

The changes you make may be small tweaks that add up over time, or they may be broad changes that make a huge difference all by themselves. Regardless of your situation, there will always be something that you can eliminate if you evaluate your spending honestly.

4. Make a financial plan

Now that you’ve tracked, analyzed, and minimized your expenses, it’s time to set some goals for financial security. You need to be honest with yourself and set realistic goals that you can achieve and that will keep you accountable. You need a budget that is sustainable – which means spending less than you make and living within or below your means.

Identify and write down your goals. Determine where you are now in relation to achieving those goals and figure out the steps you’ll need to take to get where you want to be. Between goals and a well-planned budget, you’ll be able to determine manageable payments, which will help you get out of debt faster. Make this lifestyle a habit, rather than a short-term ‘get out of jail free’ plan.

Saving money and getting out of debt, should become a habit. Use automation and other options to continue saving for a rainy day even after your immediate financial stress is over. When you face hard times, reach out to people that you respect who are financially stable and ask them for advice and suggestions on how you can accomplish the same thing. Borrow books from the library on money management and use social media and other methods to connect with those who inspire you to learn more about managing your money properly.

All in all

When you don’t know what you’re dealing with, the lack of information can intensify the stress and make things feel much worse. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Financial education can change your future and your entire life. Quite possibly the best part of learning about money management is that it will not only improve your life, but it will enable you to teach your children how to manage their money, liberating them from the life you’re currently living before they ever get into it.

Heather Redding is a tech enthusiast and freelance writer based in Aurora, Illinois. When she isn’t working, Heather loves to read and swim. She is also a coffee snob with a passion for photography. You can reach Heather via Twitter