You may find it easier to avoid thinking about finances than ignoring physical fitness and personal health. However, personal finances have a long and lasting impact on our ability to live full and healthy lives. If your finances need some attention, it may be time for a financial health check.
Financial wellness is a measure of your attitude toward your relationship with money and how well you understand personal finances. In the U.S., finances are one of the most common stressors—with approximately 72% of adults saying they worry about money every month. Stress isn’t just a thing we experience. It can have a lasting negative impact on your physical and mental health. When you experience stress, you may have trouble sleeping, increased overall fatigue, muscle aches and headaches. Stress can even cause your body to produce cortisol, a stress hormone that impairs your brain’s ability to create long-term memories.
When considering your total health and wellness, you can’t ignore money matters. Improving your financial knowledge can help you feel more confident and reduce stress.
Decrease your money stress
Addressing any anxiety you feel about money is a major part of achieving financial wellness. Taking action is difficult because people don’t want to think about stress—avoiding the cause of stress is a common method for coping. Unfortunately, this is unlikely to solve the root issue, and with finances, avoidance will likely make matters worse. Facing the source of financial worries is the first step.
To decrease your stress, you first need to identify what’s causing you the most anguish. What worries you most from month-to-month? Where would you like to be financially in 5 or 10 years? What’s the largest barrier to achieving your goal? Some of the biggest causes of financial stress are:
- Credit card debt
- Retirement savings
- Healthcare costs
- Living paycheck to paycheck
Regardless of the cause of your stress, one option for anyone facing financial worries is talking to someone. When sharing your concerns, you don’t need to speak with a professional—just a friend that will listen without criticism or judgment. By voicing your fears, you can release the mental burden of keeping the stress pent up inside. Once you’re comfortable enough with expressing how you feel, you can take steps towards addressing issues and pursuing goals. Continue to rely on friends and family for emotional support whenever you’re feeling overwhelmed—remember that you’re not alone and that most people have similar worries.
Understand your finances
What you don’t know about your personal finances can impact your ability to achieve financial wellness. Understanding how much you earn each month and knowing how much you spend on necessities like rent and food is a good place to start. From there, you can work on setting a budget and sticking to it.
If thinking about your finances causes you to feel stressed, start small by focusing on small steps to change. It may not seem like much at first, but your goal is to take ownership of your financial future and make establish beneficial habits. Achieving sustainable financial wellness is not going to happen overnight.
Here are some tasks you can do in an evening to gain a better grasp of your financial situation:
- Make a list of your debts: reviewing debts will help you make a repayment plan that fits your short- and long-term goals. For instance, you can list all of your credit card and loan debts and order them by interest rate. A common way to eliminate debt is to pay off the balance with the highest interest rate first and then roll those savings into payments for the other debts.
- Review your expenses from last month: If you don’t know exactly how much you’re spending each month, it’s impossible to determine how much you could be saving. If you mostly use debit and credit cards to make purchases, it’s easy to get a list of your transactions. Go over each expense and ask yourself if it was worth it and if it was necessary. Make a note of expenses that weren’t necessary or didn’t improve your life in any way. Then make a plan to reduce similar costs in the future.
- Create a basic budget: Budgeting helps you know where your money is going. Create a list of necessary expenses like rent, utilities, groceries and minimum debt payments. Once you’ve budgeted for the basics, you can track your expenses and plan for your savings goals. Get started with a budget template.
Listing your debts, reviewing your expenses, and setting a budget is a great start to handling your finances. Your greatest takeaway from the exercise is that it doesn’t end here. This is one of many steps you’ll take during your financial journey. Next, schedule time to check on your finances each month. Consistently revisiting your finances will be critical to long-term improvements.
Growing your financial knowledge
For most Americans, financial education is not a part of the standard curriculum. Only 20 states have laws requiring high schools to teach personal finance courses, and Oregon and Washington are not among them.
However, adults living in states without financial education mandates do not fare much better than anyone else. An analysis of over 200 financial literacy studies found that the lessons learned in financial education courses degrade rapidly. By the time a high school student grows up and needs to put their education into practice, they’ve forgotten the lessons.
In this regard, consistently practicing financial lessons can help you maintain and grow your understanding. Wherever you are on your financial journey, it’s never too late to understand money and debt and how best to use them to reach your goals. At OnPoint, we believe that everyone in our community should have the opportunity to achieve their financial wellness goals. Visit our free education center to get personalized resources to improve your financial knowledge.