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Ease Your Money Worries

Make a list of what's bugging you.
Sometimes we don't really know why we're worried about money; it's just a vague, uncomfortable feeling that sits with us. Confront your anxiety by writing it down: Are you concerned about paying bills late? Deciding whether you can afford to quit work and stay home with your kids? Sometimes just seeing your worries on paper can make them seem more manageable. You don't need to ponder solutions yet. Just write down what's bothering you.

Set a "worry appointment."
Ellie Kay, mom of five and author of The Debt Diet, says she's learned to fit money worries into her busy schedule without letting them take over. "My grandmother taught me to pick a specific day and time to worry. If I was anxious about how we were going to afford the next baby, for instance, I'd tell myself, 'I'm going to think about that on Tuesday at ten a.m.,'" she says. "Of course, that exercise often helped set aside my worry. But if it was still nagging at me, I'd use that hour to do some research or talk to friends about the problem." Use the time each week to tackle one of the things on your list. For instance, if paying for college is stressing you out, use your worry appointment to learn about 529 plans (special funds specifically for education savings). The site Savingforcollege.com has a great introduction to these plans, as well as details on each state's plans, so you can actually get started.

Reduce surprise expenses.
We're talking about budget busters like big winter heating bills or unexpected car repairs. Shannon Plate, a mom of two, professional budget counselor, and author of Degunking Your Personal Finances, has an easy solution: Estimate any expenses that could pop up periodically throughout the year -- gifts for holidays and birthdays, summer camp for your kids, and car and household repairs. "Divide these annual expenses by twelve. That's what you should plan to save every month to cover your costs. You can start a separate savings account for this money or categorize it separately in your checking account if you're careful about it," she says. One way to eliminate the surprise factor in your monthly utility expenses: Most gas and electric companies offer no-cost "budget" or "even-pay" plans. The company simply reviews your utility bills over the past year, determines your average monthly cost, and charges you an even amount every month. No more surprise $400 heating bills in the middle of January.

Figure out one way to save on regular expenses.
Concerned about how much you're spending on diapers? Wondering whether your daycare is too expensive? Kay suggests focusing on just one area of potential savings each week. If you try to overhaul your spending habits all at once, you'll quickly overwhelm yourself. Instead:
? Try online comparison shopping at sites like MySimon.com and PriceGrabber.com for anything from microwaves to toys.
? Call three or four other daycare centers and compare their rates to what you're paying now.
? Focus on the items that cost the most -- and on those that can save you a lot. Don't waste time figuring out how to save ten cents on baby food.

Teri Cettina, a mom of two, also writes for Bankrate.com and Woman's Day.

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