Steps to Take Toward Financial Wellness and a Healthier You
How do finances fit into a conversation about health and wellness? The answer is, very well! They’re as much a part of the equation as what we eat, what our mental state is and how our body feels. Remember, everything we do is connected to everything else, and while many things have an impact on our overall wellbeing, there are very few that have the far-reaching effects that financial stress or financial wellness do. That’s why we have to think about our finances in holistic terms and why this is such an important topic to cover in the health and wellness space. It’s also why I went to best-selling author, money expert, and speaker Ellen Rogin to find out how shifting our mindset can shift our reality when it comes to financial wellness. She explains how that happens and shares steps we can take that will move us from financial stress to prosperity and overall wellness.
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Before we can look at what financial wellness is, we need to look at what it isn’t. That’s so we can identify what most of us are up against in one way or another. Ellen thinks about financial stress in two ways. She says there’s the tactical or practical part, which might be “if someone loses their job and all of a sudden doesn’t have cash coming in. They don’t have an emergency reserve. Maybe they’ve gotten too far into debt and feel like they’re going down a dangerous path where they don’t see a way out, or maybe they’re fighting with their partner about money. Those things can bring up an incredible amount of stress.” The other way of thinking about it is where we create stress for ourselves that doesn’t always have to do with reality. According to Ellen, “That might be worrying about the future, such as ‘am I going to be okay down the road? What if I lose my job? What if the economy goes bad again? What if the markets go down?’ All of those spiraling fears that we can talk ourselves into. That is insidious.”
If you’re among those who find themselves in either of these categories, you’re certainly not alone. According to a 2017 report by CreditCards.com, 65 percent of Americans say they lie awake at night worrying about money. Thirty eight percent say they lose sleep over health care and insurance bills, 37 percent say retirement savings has them awake at night and 34 percent cite educational expenses, especially millennials (ages 18-26).
So what kind of toll is this taking on our health and overall wellbeing? A tremendous one, both physically and mentally. A study published in Social Science & Medicine, shows “that reporting 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.” We also know that stress causes weight gain, HPA Axis Dysfunction (Adrenal Fatigue), and that not sleeping well is very unhealthy for our bodies and our mind.
As evidence of the mental toll financial stress takes on us, Ellen cites the book Scarcity, which found that “when people are in very dire financial straits, when there’s really serious money issues, their IQ actually drops. It’s really hard to get out of a situation when you’re so worried that you can’t even think things through.”
In case you’re thinking that you wouldn’t worry about money if you just had more, think again. That doesn’t seem to insulate you either. Ellen points to studies that show that 20 percent of people with $5-$25 million dollars of net worth say they worry they won’t have enough to last throughout their lifetime. If people that fall into that category are worrying about money, how can anybody else have any hope? That’s where the concept of financial wellness or as Ellen prefers to call it “prosperity” comes in.
“It’s also this idea of having your financial life equate to your values so that you’re really feeling content in your whole life.” – Ellen Rogin
Financial Wellness and Prosperity
Ellen says that “financial wellness equates to contentment.” It may be that you’re feeling secure that you have enough emergency reserves, or that you’re on track for some of your bigger goals like being able to change jobs at some point, starting a business, or that your kids can go to college without running up huge amounts of debt. But she says, “It’s also this idea of having your financial life equate to your values so that you’re really feeling content in your whole life.”
Ellen likes to use the word prosperity because its definition is “the condition of success or thriving.” If you think about someone who has more money than they could ever spend, but their relationships are terrible, or their health is terrible, or their kids have no purpose in life and they’ve become addicted to drugs. It could be argued that’s not prosperity. The other side of that is that we do live in a material world and things cost money, so she says, “It’s creating a balance between what you value most and how you see your money.”
Prosperity on Purpose
How you see your money is the idea that drives Ellen’s concept of “prosperity on purpose.” It means that “people can be much more deliberate in creating prosperity in their lives” by coming up with a picture of what they want their lives to look like in the short-term and the long-term. This then becomes a type of visual financial plan and goes along with Ellen’s strong belief in picturing what you want and the power of our minds to create our reality.
Once you have your goals in mind, it’s time to take action to achieve them. That means saving, investing and those kinds of strategies. In addition, Ellen strongly believes that “generosity is the driver for prosperity, so it’s having purpose behind that. Goals show up in your life much more quickly when there’s someone else benefitting from it in addition to you. If you’re adding value for someone else, if you’re making a difference in some other way, things just happen more quickly for you.” The key to all of this is shifting our mindset around the word prosperity. It’s not just for “wealthy” people. Ellen thinks of it as “Are you happy? Are you contributing? Do you have what you need? Are you reaching your goals?”
Steps to Take Toward Prosperity
To help you achieve all of those things, Ellen offers these tips to get you started toward financial wellness or prosperity.
- Picture what you really want.We touched on this before, but it’s a strategy that can be used in many different areas of your life, including with your finances.
- Learn more. Ellen says that “sometimes people are financially stressed because there’s just things they don’t know and understand.” Twice a week do a search for a financial term that you’ve heard and don’t know what it means. Before long, you’ll be feeling much more confident when it comes to financial lingo and concepts.
- Be a good saver. This sounds simple, but people don’t do it. Ellen reminds us that while it’s best to start as young as possible, it’s also NEVER too late to start. To help with that, set your savings on automatic pilot. If you have a retirement plan at work, have the money taken out of your paycheck. If you’re self-employed, have money taken out automatically from your checking account to go straight into an investment or savings account. For most of us, it’s simply easier if it happens without us having to think about it. Another key to being a good saver is to spend less than you take in. While it’s perfectly fine to have as a goal that you’re going to make more money, you also have to be realistic about where you are right now. Getting your spending under control is that critical first step that will give you at least a little extra each month to put into savings.
- Set up automatic giving. Start with a percentage that makes sense for you and have money taken out automatically from your checking account and put into another account that’s designated for giving. Ellen believes that giving makes you feel more prosperous and supports the idea that you have more than enough.
- Develop a meditation practice. Yes, you read that right as a financial planning strategy. As Ellen mentioned before, “When you’re really stressed, and your mind is spinning, it’s hard to make good decisions.”
- Get some help. Ellen reminds us that we don’t have to do this on our own. Don’t be afraid to ask a financial adviser for help. Chances are, things aren’t as bad as you’ve built them up to be and hearing that from a professional can help to ease your stress. Or, simply get a friend involved. Sometimes you just need to talk things out and gain another set of eyes on a solution that you might not be seeing.
- Practice gratitude. When you’re stressed about money, take a moment and focus on what you’re grateful for, whether it’s that you have a roof over your head, a job or food on the table. Ellen says that this is a great stress reducer and “energy shifter” around your perceived financial wellbeing.
There are numerous resources out there around financial planning, but I strongly suggest that you start with Ellen’s book with co-author Lisa Kueng, Picture Your Prosperity: Smart Money Moves to Turn Your Vision Into Reality. I’m not recommending the book because I interviewed Ellen, I wanted to interview Ellen because I’ve read the book a couple of times now and go back to it occasionally to give myself reminders. That’s how good it is! It definitely helps to think big picture, while also suggesting practical steps you can take.
To help you develop a spending plan, Ellen recommends apps such as mint.com (free) and You Need a Budget. To help educate yourself about financial terms and language, she suggests Investopedia as a free resource. You can ask questions and search their glossaries, so if there’s a term you don’t know, you should be able to find it there.
Bottom line: Your outlook and your reality surrounding your financial situation impacts your health and your overall wellbeing. When we lose control of our finances, just like with our health, it’s easy to feel like we’re caught in a downward spiral. As we’ve seen here, you can take control and see that a more prosperous and healthier reality is within your reach.