Expanded Lesson 10 min read

Want to be happier, healthier and more productive? Try learning about money.

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We’ve all heard sayings like you can’t buy happiness or money is the root of all evil. While people may have negative feelings around money due to bad experiences in the past, that doesn’t mean that money can’t be a positive part of a person’s future. Money isn’t the most important thing in life, but it can help someone achieve their goals in other areas such as providing for their family, having more freedom around lifestyle choices and taking care of their health.

Online payment. Cheerful black man using credit card and smartphone for purchasing goods

The negative impacts of money related stress.

“Chronic stress about money seems to activate that [fight-or-flight response] system at a very high level.”

 

Having a healthy relationship with one’s finances has benefits that go beyond the bank account. People who can manage their finances may live happier and healthier lives. In an article published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, it’s been reported that “high financial debt relative to available assets is associated with higher perceived stress and depression, worse self-reported general health, and higher diastolic blood pressure. The results suggest that debt is an important socioeconomic determinant of health.” 1 The effects of lower financial health on a person’s mental and physical well-being shouldn’t be ignored.

Stress caused by money may be particularly harmful because many money problems take time to resolve, causing chronic issues and mental fatigue. Teresa Seeman, professor of Medicine & Epidemiology stated that “chronic stress about money seems to activate that [fight-or-flight response] system at a very high level.”2 Further exacerbating the problem is the fact that many people avoid dealing with their money issues, which just allows the problem compound and remain unresolved.

Money related stress not only affects your mental and physical health, it can also affect your productivity at work. In an article by the Society of Human Resource Management it’s been reported that lower financial health may cause higher absenteeism from work and lower productivity. Workers who face challenges in their personal life such as divorce, significant medical expenses or are forced to take out payday loans may bring that emotional burden into work. That means less focus on the job and more time at work spent on dealing with personal money related issues.

While money isn’t everything in life, it certainly affects many different areas. If you have money related stress that you feel is negatively impacting your life, here are some suggested tips to help you manage it.

How to manage money issues.

Face it head on

Money issues are not easy to deal with. There are a lot of factors that can go into our ability to solve these types of problems such as limited income, lack of knowledge or resources, or even not having enough time in the day to deal with it. We may have other short-term priorities that hold our attention, like taking care of family or work obligations.

However, the biggest mistake you can make when it comes to money problems is ignoring them. They are not going to go away by themselves and they may (especially in the case of high interest debt) compound and grow over time. The faster you can confront the problem and understand it, the better off you’ll be. Writing down the financial problems you’d like to solve in a journal or list can help relieve some of the mental burden as well. Crossing off completed tasks can help visualize your progress and gives you some positive reinforcement.

We all know how painful it can be to look at a monthly credit card balance or bill when we already know we won’t have enough money to pay it off right away. But trust me, you’ll feel better when you keep track of your obligations.  At least that way you know what you’re dealing with.

Make a plan

The next step to tackling your money issues is to create a plan of action. Once you’ve confronted the problem, you can then start to come up with the best course to take. To make a plan, use the following steps.

1. Research – no matter what money related issue you’re facing, it’s always a good idea to understand what options you have. There are a lot of great resources you can use including podcasts, books, videos and blogs. Find a medium that you know you’ll be able to stick with (don’t force yourself to buy personal finance books if you’re not a reader) and dive into some of the topics relating to your problem.

2. Organize – once you have a better idea of your problem and some of the strategies that people have used to deal with it, you can start creating your own personalized strategy. When doing this step, it’s important to organize your thoughts. Create actionable steps, milestones to reach, and visualize what life will look like and how you’ll reward yourself once you accomplish your goal!

3. Implement and Refine – you’ve organized your plan and it’s time to test it out. That means starting to take the action steps you’ve created for yourself. It may also be a good idea to take some time to reflect on your progress on a weekly or monthly basis. Use a journal or spreadsheet to track your progress and check to see if there are any areas of the plan you can refine or make better.

Reach out for help

You don’t have to face your financial problems by yourself. If you seem like you’re in over your head and don’t know where to start, reach out to trusted friends, family members, or professionals for advice. Getting feedback and multiple opinions from your network (personal or professional) will help you better understand the problem and lower your stress by making it seem more manageable. Working with a financial advisor or coach will not only give you access to their advice or experience, but may also make it easier to stick to your plan through regular check-ins. Telling people about your goals will create a social contract and may help keep you motivated and accountable. Having a support group can give you encouragement if you feel like you’re getting off course and will make problems seem easier to tackle.

What money topics should I learn about?

If you want to brush up on your financial knowledge to live a happier, healthier, or more productive life, start off by learning the basics of the following topics.

Cash management

Cash management is important to understanding where your money is going and where it’s coming from. If you find yourself living paycheck to paycheck or have problems overusing credit cards, this topic would be a great place to start. Use technology to help you keep track of your spending habits and see where your cash is going. Many financial institutions already have apps or other digital tools that can help you consolidate all your accounts into one, easy to understand dashboard. If you use mobile banking apps with your bank or credit union, check out the different features and notifications they offer to make cash management that much easier.

Planning for unexpected events

People generally underestimate the possibility of bad things happening and consequentially fail to plan for them. Planning for unexpected events not only provides peace of mind, but also can help prevent financial stress. These unexpected events may come in the form of natural disasters, health events, car troubles, loss of income, or even veterinary bills for your pet.

The first step to planning for these events is to create a cash emergency fund with approximately three to six months’ worth of expenses. This can be used no matter what the event is and should not be accessed for other purposes. The next step is to make sure you have the appropriate insurance coverage for various situations. Insurance can help reduce the financial risk of unexpected events and will prevent you from having to pay too much out of pocket.

Investing basics

Investing is an important skill to learn that will help you meet your long-term financial goals. Some people may find investing too intimidating, but it doesn’t need to be overly complicated. When investing, use tax advantaged retirement accounts, find investments with low fees, invest in broad indexes or other diversified funds to reduce risk – and do so consistently over the course of your career. If you don’t feel comfortable investing by yourself, seek the help of a financial advisor or take a look at online investing platforms to get started. You can even use automated investing services that can walk you through the basic steps.

Manage your credit and debt

Having good credit will make your life a lot easier when it comes to applying for different loans. It can also help you get lower interest rates which could potentially save you thousands of dollars over your lifetime. Learn about the factors that can affect your credit score and avoid building up high-interest debt. If you already have debt like credit cards or student loans, learn about strategies that are specific to that type of debt. Having low amounts of debt will go a long way toward lowering your financial stress and helping you speed toward goals like saving for retirement or buying a home.

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