Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pound ought and six, result misery. Charles Dickens, David Copperfield.
Financial distress is not a new story. It is an old one and has affected people for as long as money has existed. Even today, money is the number one thing couples argue about in Ireland. One-third of the population is stressed about money according to a recent Bank of Ireland financial wellbeing survey. Our average score on the spectrum of struggling stretched to managing and thriving is 61 which indicates the average person is managing but under financial stress. More than half of people have no pension, according to the same research and one in four wouldn’t last a month without having to borrow if they lost their main source of income.
Financial Wellbeing relates to how we manage money daily balancing current income and wants and needs with those in the future; creating precautionary savings; financing goals; and wealth management and financial confidence.
People are under financial stress for different reasons. Some are struggling to meet their basic needs. This requires a different type of solution and perhaps some external support. This can happen because of a change in circumstance – health, a breakup, losing a job or business stress or kids going to college.
For others it is often more self-inflicted as people choose to spend more than they earn on non-essentials. People in this category could enjoy as good a quality of life with a lot less stress with a bit of planning.
There are opportunities to spend everywhere. Parking, coffees, clothes, nights out, personal care, lunches and dinners out to name a few. Interestingly, one-quarter of the people struggling financially in the same survey are high earners.
We are all bombarded with 4 to 5000 advertisements every day telling us we will be happier, healthier, bigger, better or more beautiful if we do this or buy that. If you are looking for distraction or perfection, it is easy to create a long list of wants and expenses.
I tried an interesting exercise last year. Inspired by a shopaholic blogger and the changes a no-clothes shopping month brought to her, I only allowed myself to buy what I needed – no nice-to-have purchases – bar the odd coffee with friends for one month. At the end of it, I learned how much unnecessary headspace spending money can take up. I also learned that some of what I spent my money on was not really enhancing my life. I now think twice before I shop as I realise that many of the things I have bought in the past have ended up taking up space rather than really adding to my life.
Shopping and getting nice things is fun and enjoyable but all too often we use it as a distraction from problems and what is really important.
Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants. Epictetus
I also like what Henry David Thoreau says:
Wealth is the ability to fully experience life.
Having too much stuff often means more to look after and can often limit your experience of life.
I recently spoke with someone that had been declared bankrupt a few years ago. His number one piece of advice to someone with financial problems is to reduce your expenditures as soon as your income reduces. He didn’t hope that things would get better and debts continued to mount.
Financial wellbeing involves spending less than you earn and providing for current and future needs (and wants) appropriately. For most of the people that come to me with stress, I note that although money often stresses, it is generally not the main problem and shows up as a problem when other areas are out of balance.
If money causes stress in your life, take charge of your spending and make changes. Improving any area of wellbeing involves awareness, making changes in day-to-day life and reviewing regularly until new positive habits are integrated and unhealthy stress is addressed.