By guest expert Rebekah Berndt, BSN, RN
When most women think about money and health, the costs of things like medical care, fitness classes, and good nutrition come to mind. What we often don’t realize is that financial well-being can have a huge impact on our bodies beyond these basic self-care needs. Research is increasingly showing that financial health is closely tied to physical and mental health.
Read on to find out what makes someone financially healthy, how poor financial health can make you sick, and what you can do to turn it around.
What Is Financial Health?
Financial health is a term used to describe how well you can provide for your needs and plan for the future. There are four key components of financial health:
- The ability to pay for housing, food, clothing, transportation, medical care, and other necessities.
- The ability to absorb financial shocks like unexpected house or car repairs and medical bills.
- Low levels of debt relative to income.
- The ability to build wealth to obtain financial security and freedom.
A simple way to get a sense of your overall financial health is to ask yourself, am I spending more money than I’m earning month-to-month? Am I able to save for the future? Am I able to provide for my basic needs and a few extras? If not, learning strategies for improving your finances can have big payoffs when it comes to your happiness and well-being.
The Burden of Financial Stress
The most obvious health effects of financial problems are due to stress. Women are more likely to report symptoms of stress than men, and while money worries are the number one cause of stress for all demographics, women are more likely to report financial difficulties than men.
When you experience a threat to your safety, a traumatic event, or simply struggle with ongoing difficulties, your body releases hormones like adrenaline and cortisol to help your brain and body handle the challenge. When stress is chronic and unresolved, these hormones can cause damage that adds up. Some of the most common stress-related conditions include:
- Headaches: Stress hormones cause your muscles to tense up, leading to migraines and tension headaches.
- Menstrual and Fertility Problems: Stress can cause irregular periods, worsen menstrual symptoms, make it difficult to get pregnant, and cause complications like preeclampsia during pregnancy.
- Digestive Problems: Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea are often signs of acute stress, such as a big, unexpected expense. Continual worries can lead to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a chronic disease characterized by uncontrolled and unpredictable bloating, stomach irritation, and diarrhea.
- Mental Health Disorders: Anxiety, depression, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and addiction are all linked to stress.
- Heart Disease: The adrenaline released during periods of stress causes your heart rate and blood pressure to rise, and can sometimes lead to palpitations, a fluttering sensation in the chest caused by abnormal heartbeats. Over time, this can damage your heart and blood vessels.
- Sexual Difficulties: Stress can lead to a lower sex drive and difficulty becoming aroused and reaching orgasm.
- Autoimmune Disease: New evidence is emerging that shows stress may be a key factor in the development of autoimmune disorders like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and fibromyalgia.
The Long-Term Cost of Money Problems
Long-term financial stress in women can cause weight gain, particularly around the abdomen. This type of fat is associated with abnormal cholesterol levels, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and an increased risk for heart attack and stroke.
As we age, the effects of money problems become more pronounced. Among adults aged 65 and older, higher levels of debt are correlated with higher rates of disease and death. This is especially true when the debt is unsecured, that is, not attached to an asset that can be sold to pay off the loan. Credit card debt is unsecured, while a mortgage is a secured debt.
Interestingly, having no debt at all can also be linked to poor health in later years, as many people who are financially insecure are unable to access credit.
How to Improve Your Health and Your Money
All of us struggle with circumstances that are beyond our control. Whether it’s a lack of generational wealth, discrimination, lack of education and opportunity, economic downturns, inflation, or catastrophic personal events, there are many good reasons people find themselves struggling to make ends meet. In addition, people who don’t grow up in financially secure families usually aren’t taught the basics of managing money.
If you are struggling with any of the health problems described above, financial stress could be the cause. The good news is that you can learn strategies that will improve your well-being— financial and physical— no matter where you’re at. Studies have shown that even people who have experienced poverty, homelessness, and abuse can improve their financial health when given the right support.
Here are some of the most important strategies you can learn to improve the state of your wallet, mind, and body:
- Develop a Spending Plan: Learn to track your income and expenses and create a budget so you can spend your money on the things that are most important to you.
- Pay Down Debt: Unsecured debt like credit cards comes at a huge cost— sky-high interest! Prioritize paying these off to avoid losing money.
- Create an Emergency Fund: Saving several months’ worth of living expenses will allow you to handle the unexpected and give you peace of mind.
- Plan for the Future: Set financial goals, learn to invest, and plan for retirement so you can look forward to what lies ahead.
- Grow Your Income: Look for ways to advance your career and earn more. You can learn to negotiate a better salary, invest in training and education to seek out higher-paying jobs, or learn how to start and grow your own business.
Money doesn’t have to stress you out and make you sick. When you learn the right tools and strategies, you can make it work for you.
Getting the right support is key. Many women, particularly women of color and those from low-income backgrounds, are never taught the ins and outs of money management. In addition, you may have experienced trauma around money that keeps you in a state of anxiety, confusion, and overwhelm when you consider your finances.
A good financial coach who understands your unique challenges can teach you to budget, get out of debt, and start saving, investing, and working toward your goals.
Are you looking to break the cycle of financial stress and sickness? Do you want the learn to take control of your financial future?
The Confident Money Club is especially designed for women who never had the opportunity to learn good money habits. Not only will you learn the basics of budgeting, saving, and investing— you’ll also learn to shed your money trauma and limiting beliefs so you can reach for your dreams.
Fill out our application today!