'Low-level anxiety' about money was 'constant' for the editor in chief of Marie Claire — here's how she overcame it

Aya Kanai attends the Hearst 100 Luncheon on December 12, 2016, in New York City.
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Aya Kanai became the editor in chief of Marie Claire magazine in January 2020. She has worked as a fashion editor for over two decades on publications like Teen Vogue, Nylon, Shopbop, Seventeen, and Cosmopolitan. But even though Kanai found career success in an industry she loved, her finances were often a source of stress.

"I've always thought that if I had enough [money] to get by, then I don't need to give it much attention. But money doesn't work like that. You need to 'train' your finance muscles — as you would any other — to see them grow," she said in the March 2020 print issue of Women's Health magazine.

Here are three strategies Kanai used to get in good financial shape.

1. Automate your savings

Opening an account for her daughter's education was a goal for Kanai, but she wanted to make the process as simple as possible, to ensure that it would be a habit she could maintain over time. "Set-it-and-forget-it" was ideally what she had in mind.

"Once I knew that I should be contributing every month to my daughter's education fund, I went ahead and set one up," Kanai says. "Now that particular muscle will be flexing on its own for years, growing the fund without any effort from me."

Farnoosh Torabi: Making 5 changes can save you big money

Video by Courtney Stith

A custodial brokerage account or a 529 savings account are ways for parents to get a jump-start on savings for their children. Because of compounding, investing as little as $1 per day could leave a child with an impressive amount of money once they reach adulthood. That money can help them pay for college tuition or provide capital to start a business.

Automation can definitely help. "Have your bank automatically take a percentage of your income or $10 a week or whatever you designate and put it in a savings account," personal finance expert Farnoosh Torabi told Grow.

2. Create structure with a budget

Kanai's previously unstructured money habits were often a point of concern for her. "Knowing I've been disorganized with my finances has left me with a constant hum of low-level anxiety," Kanai says.

To remedy this, Kanai and her husband met with a financial trainer to get on track. "Our trainer used our combined incomes to calculate what we could be saving, how much we should set aside for an emergency, and how we could improve our credit scores, manage existing debt, and utilize credit cards."

"Having systems and structure provides containment for our emotions," Alex Melkumian, a financial therapist and founder of the Financial Psychology Center told Grow. He suggests finding a simple budget, like the 50/20/30 rule, that will give you "the most comprehensive view of what's coming in and what's going out."

How reverse budgeting can relieve money stress

Video by Courtney Stith

If you have a less complex money situation, reverse budgeting can help direct your money towards the essentials: fixed costs, like rent, bills, and transportation and savings goals, like retirement.

"It's basically an easier form of budgeting where you establish what bills you have to pay and what savings goals you are pursuing," Bola Sokunbi, author and CEO of Clever Girl Finance, told Grow last year. After you've put what's necessary towards covering your fixed costs and towards your future, "what you have left is yours to decide what to do with," says Sokunbi. "Depending on your goals, you can choose to spend, save, or put more money towards debt."

3. Be open about finances

When it came time to analyze the couple's finances, Kanai's financial trainer told her and her husband to "come ready to 'get naked' — meaning, to expose everything about our assets and debts."

Kanai and her husband are far from alone in their experience. Brent and Katelyn Gargasz recently told Grow that one of the main reasons they struggled to pay off their debt was "we didn't talk about money with each other."

Being open about money helped both couples create a better financial outlook. The couple's first step was to be transparent: "The first thing we had to do was tell the other person how much the balance was on each of our credit cards," Brent says. "We put it all on the table and then created a very detailed budget, keeping track of everything we spent and how much of that was going towards debt."

For Kanai, that strategy proved to be a success. "Just as with exercise, having an appointment with a trainer made us accountable," Kanai says. "And much like after a workout, when I make smart moves at the bank, I leave feeling healthier, stronger, and more at ease."

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