Money worries can take a toll on your health, but there’s hope.
Do finances keep you up at night? Are you spending time at work dealing with creditors? How about raiding your retirement account to survive, or taking out payday loans? Trying to figure out the next thing you can pawn or hawk on Craigslist for some fast cash? If any of that sounds familiar, you’re likely feeling money stress, and it’s taking a toll on your health.
As it has for Kimberley Moran, a teacher in Hampden, Maine, who makes $39,000. Her husband, Dick, is a custodian at the school and makes $17 an hour. Their debt isn’t crippling—only about $4,000 in addition to a mortgage, but making ends meet, supporting two kids, driving broken cars and being one paycheck away from disaster has made its mark. “I eat to relieve the financial stress. This means I’ve gained 40 pounds in four years,” Moran said. “This amount of weight is causing other health problems and I keep telling myself if I start walking and writing and not spending money things will be better just because of that, but I don’t do it. It feels like a mental problem sometimes or like an addiction.”
She says they are both in denial about their financial state. “I’m not the kind of person who doesn’t buy lunch when I might not be able to pay the mortgage. Instead I buy lunch to make myself feel like there is no financial stress. This is better than my husband’s attitude, which is to completely ignore the financial situation until it’s desperate. We aren’t a good financial team because there’s no moderate one. We are always on the edge of okay and then when I figure out a way to make things better, we tend to amp up our wants and pull us back into the red. Spending money helps us feel like nothing is wrong.”
A nonprofit called Apprisen, which counsels people on financial management, launched an online stress test and found that financial stress goes on for so long in people’s lives that bad habits become a way of life. “One of the major takeaways is that many people are uneasy about where they stand financially regardless of income . In addition, many people are unaware that their financial behaviors are indicative of stress because they have never had healthy financial habits or have lived with the stress for so long it has started to feel normal,” said Tasha Bishop, Apprisen’s director of Strategic Alliance.
Upon hearing Moran’s situation, Bishop suggested she start automating some savings and that she get a financial coach or counselor, stat, to at least bring the issues to light. “Being honest with yourself about your financial situation will allow you to begin the process of accepting the current reality and setting smart goals for your financial future,” she said. “Talk about this with your husband and settle on some achievable goals. Make it tangible. Write down your goals and put them somewhere you can see them on a regular basis. It also helps to keep a reminder in your wallet, right next to the cash or credit cards so that each time you go to make a purchase, you are reminded of the bigger goals you are working to achieve.”
Some common misconceptions about debt, Bishop says, are believing that paying the minimum on a credit card is helping you, and thinking you don’t have enough to save anything—even if it’s just $5 a week. “Creating the habit of saving is the hardest part,” she says.
Indeed, an American Psychological Association survey found that 72 percent of Americans felt stressed about money in the past month—22 percent reported “extreme” stress . In addition to the physical symptoms of stress—depression, anxiety, viral disorders and worse—when people feel like they’re underwater, they’re also unlikely to take care of their health-care needs.
Bishop says the main contributors to financial stress are…
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