The 2017 Stress in America™ Survey revealed that 62% of Americans reported money was a significant source of stress in their lives. This is nothing new. Work and money-related stressors have consistently topped this survey.
Regardless of if we can say that money is the #1 source of stress these days or not, one thing is certain. Financial stress and anxiety remains a prevalent issue with far reaching implications. The side effects of poor financial health include stress-related illness, decreased work productivity, absenteeism, marital discord, depression and anxiety so no matter how you interpret the Stress in America survey, personal financial wellness and the future of the country are indeed intertwined.
Perhaps the key to addressing the potentially crippling financial wellness issue in America is to identify a healthier alternative. The opposite of financial stress and distress is an increased sense of financial wellness. However, financial wellness suffers from several myths. Here are some common misconceptions about becoming financial healthy that need to be addressed:
1. Financial wellness is just a feel-good buzz word
Financial wellness is more than retirement preparedness, credit repair or debt management. True financial wellness initiatives are broad and deep while focusing on the mission to change lives. Financial wellness is also more than just an online tool because people still want the human interaction.
Defining financial wellness can be a challenge and many different descriptions of our overall financial health exist. The concept of authentic financial wellness is measured by a combination of factors including the overall satisfaction with our current financial situation, actual financial behaviors (i.e., budgeting, saving, debt reduction), financial attitudes, financial knowledge, and objective financial status. Financial Finesse further defines financial wellness as a state of well-being where an individual has achieved minimal financial stress, established a strong financial foundation, and created an ongoing plan to help reach future financial goals. The mission to improve financial wellness in America is to help create financially healthy people who are able to weather any economic or political challenges.
Stress has been linked to unhealthy habits like overeating, sleep deprivation. When financial stress begins to reach unmanageable levels this can lead to serious health issues. An AP-AOL Health Poll found that people experiencing high stress caused by debt are more likely to deal with depression, anxiety and heart problems than people with low levels of stress caused by debt. They also experience more relationship issues and substance abuse problems. Companies and organizations start to pay attention because the negative effects of stress include lost productivity, increased risk of on-the-job accidents and absenteeism.
Just like health wellness programs took off nearly 30 years ago, the financial wellness movement is doing the same. According to a Fidelity Investments® and the National Business Group on Health® survey, the percentage of middle and large companies now offering financial wellness programs is up to 84%. Financial stress is real and the financial wellness movement is working to counter the negative effects of stress.
2. Financial knowledge is enough
April was financial literacy month and it is always good to see an increased awareness of the importance of possessing financial skills and knowledge. The pursuit of increased knowledge regarding personal financial planning topics is a worthy one, but financial education alone will not change financial lives. Financial education opportunities have been around for decades but we still have poor financial behaviors in the US. The personal saving rate, calculated by the Federal Bureau of Economic Analysis, recently dipped to 2.8% in April. Bankrate’s Financial Security Index revealed that only 39 percent of Americans have $1,000 in savings to cover an emergency expense. A Gallup poll found only about 1/3 of Americans (32%) maintain a personal spending plan (a.k.a. “the budget”). Only 30% of Americans have a long-term financial life plan that includes savings and investment goals that match their financial resources with what matters most to them in life.
Financial knowledge must support measurable action steps. The underlying goal is to achieve a positive sense of well-being backed up by actual financial behaviors that help us instead of create stress. It takes something extra to bridge the knowing – doing gap…confidence. Perceived financial knowledge has been shown to be a better predictor of completing important financial behaviors such as budgeting, saving for emergencies, eliminating problem debt, and setting aside funds for retirement.
3. More money equals greater financial wellness
It is a commonly held belief that more money will fix our problems at the individual level, but financial wellness is not a sole function of your income level or overall net worth. A seminal research study found that income beyond the $75,000 level did not improve happiness. Perhaps the underlying issue is finding a way to better utilize current resources while seeking a balance between living in the moment and planning for the future.
4. You don’t really need a basic spending plan if you can pay your bills
As mentioned earlier, more than half of the U.S. population lacks a general budget or spending plan. This an obvious problem for those who are struggling to make ends meet, but personal spending plans also create awareness of whether or not your spending is in alignment with important life goals. The budgeting process helps identify ways to free up extra money for saving, investing, or paying down debt. This awareness can be a motivating factor and potential difference maker on the path to financial wellness.
5. All financial wellness programs are unbiased.
As financial wellness programs have grown across America, product-focused financial services companies have also latched on to this concept. Some firms are selling financial products and services under the guise of financial wellness programs. It is important for all industry providers to protect the term, financial wellness, since these programs have proven to be a powerful driver of improving employees’ financial security. To prevent confusion, we must ensure that all financial wellness providers act in the best interest of employees by following an established set of standards.