According to a new survey on the impact of the pandemic on our mental wellbeing, 30% of people in the United Kingdom have worries about money. So how do money worries affect people’s lives and their general sense of wellness? And what steps can you take to alleviate them? PATRICK CAIRNS looks at the evidence and makes some suggestions.
A financial wellbeing survey conducted by Perkbox at the end of 2019 painted a worrying picture. It found that money is the biggest cause of stress in the UK.
In total, 61% of the people surveyed reported that money was a source of stress. Over a quarter of them said that they feel stressed about their finances every day.
They also said that this had a range of negative effects on their lives, including on their health and productivity at work. Most notably, just over half said that financial worries had impacted their relationships.
In fact, a survey by legal firm Slater and Gordon in early 2018 found that money worries are the top reason for divorce in the UK. Couples are splitting up because they are under financial stress and cannot agree on how to deal with it.
What is even more concerning is that this is the case even though, in other parts of their lives, people in Britain are getting healthier.
A 2018 study found that over-40s in the UK in general believe they are fitter and more health conscious than they were in their 20s. An England-wide survey of 5 000 adults by Public Health England at the start of this year showed that eight in ten adults have made a decision to change their lifestyles in 2021. This includes eating healthier, exercising more and losing weight.
This shows how physical wellness has become more and more important to a lot of people. Many businesses recognise this too and now offer wellness programmes for their employees.
Financial wellness, however, remains largely neglected.
To a large extent, this is because many people don’t feel that their finances are under their control in the same way that their diet or exercise routine can be. You can choose what food to put on your plate, for instance, but most people don’t get to decide for themselves how much they get paid.
You can also commit to going to the gym three times a week. But you can’t dictate what return you are going to get from the stock market this year.
This can make a lot of people feel like their finances are dependent on too many external factors for them to fully have a hold on them.
Control the things you can
However, when it comes to wellness of any sort, the principles are really the same.
Nobody really has full control over their health. Even if you eat well and exercise regularly, you don’t know what viruses you could be exposed to in everyday life. You could also still get injured in an accident at any time.
Wellness is therefore not about eliminating all the risks or being in complete command of what will happen to you. It is about understanding the things that you can control, and managing those in the best way possible.
As P T Barnum, whose life story was told in the movie The Greatest Showman said: “money is a terrible master but an excellent servant”. Taking control of your finances is about making that switch – seeing money as something that you can make work for you, rather than being in its power.
Achieving this is also not that daunting. It requires only four things:
Firstly, gain control over your daily and monthly expenses. In other words, know where, and how much, you are spending. Getting that picture will allow you to see where your money is going, and whether you are spending it in ways that are productive and enhance your life.
Secondly, set up a savings account for emergencies. Life will happen, and you need to have some protection against unexpected events when it does. If you are living pay cheque to pay cheque, you won’t be able to meet a large, unforeseen cost without taking on debt. And that potentially only creates more problems.
Thirdly, understand and take control of your debt. Loans can be a great enabler in many circumstances, but debt is also the biggest financial killer when it spirals out of control.
And, finally, get help. Even if you are in reasonable financial shape, managing your money can be hard and time-consuming, and still ultimately stressful. The support of a financial adviser not only lightens that load, but can also provide the reassurance that you have a professional supporting you in reaching your financial goals.
One of South Africa’s most respected financial journalists, PATRICK CAIRNS is a trusted commentator on the world of investments and the quirks of behavioural finance. Over more than a decade he has built a reputation for keeping the industry honest, and putting the interests of investors first.
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