Financial Wellness: Someday, maybe?
By Jeannine Moga, MA, MSW, LCSW, Chief Happiness Officer, VETgirl
Of all the topics related to well-being, the least glamorous of them – and the one we tend to not want to talk about – is financial wellness. For many of us, money is a trigger point: something tied to a deeper, more emotional story about what we are worth, what we deserve, or even a personal history of safety and security. I can tell cash is a trigger for me because of the anxiety it causes. When I’m honest with myself, I know this comes from childhood memories of living lean and working as soon as I was able, followed by living paycheck to paycheck – not always successfully — through most of early adulthood. Social workers aren’t exactly high earners, so much of my 20s and 30s was spent one “surprise” (e.g. the car breaks down) away from a nervous breakdown. Needless to say, getting control of finances — and achieving financial wellness — has been an ongoing process for me.
Financial stress — whether acute or chronic — is tied to other domains of wellness because financial stress and stability exert significant influence on human health and wellbeing. Thankfully, there is increasing attention to the link between money, social class, and wellness because stagnant wages and the rapidly increasing costs of just about everything (health care, housing, education…) are challenging the great majority of American households. Those of us who are/know/love veterinary professionals are keenly aware of financial strain because the conversations about veterinary student loan debt are getting more and more traction. But where do you start when “financial wellness” is a “someday, maybe”? When the big picture is overwhelming, I’m a big fan of starting with small steps:
1) Reality check: what is really going on? [Fear of] Going without, particularly when there is a little bit of a windfall (perhaps after the first decent paycheck), can lead to overspending and blowing the budget – or worse, living without a budget. Be willing to take a good look at your money habits and consider where they come from. Recognizing the source of money problems – not just those external to us, but those in our minds – is the key to crafting solutions.
2) Level with your debt. There are great resources available to help veterinary practitioners craft sustainable, workable debt repayment solutions. If you haven’t yet found a resource that works for you, check out some of the links at the bottom of this post for ideas.
3) Exert control. Compile your financial information in one place and draft a realistic budget. You can do this the old-fashioned way, of course, but there are also tech tools (like Mint.com), that enable you to do this online while tracking your accounts, your credit score, and your spending, all at once. Be aware that online tools will always carry with them a bit of risk related to data security.
4) Get creative to reduce expenses. I hear that even one-percenters (the Unicorns in my universe) are budget-conscious shoppers. Spend less where you can, particularly in areas where consumption is flexible. Explore options for cutting the cord, bundling deals, and using coupons/reward programs… because shaving off pennies here and dollars there does make a difference to your bottom line.
5) Envision growth and security. Get clear on your “why.” Take the time to think about how you want to live your life, and then figure out what you need to do to get there. Financial stability and security require both a meaningful goal and a roadmap. The clearer you become about what you want, the better your chance of charting a course to achieve it.
6) Enlist the help of a professional. Advisors who work with money all day can help you steer a clear course to financial wellness if you find the landscape of cashflow too overwhelming to navigate on your own. Taking the conversation from budgets and debt to the future of investment and retirement takes some skill. Talk to your friends and colleagues for a referral to someone they trust.
Money doesn’t have to be a trap, and financial wellness doesn’t have to be a figment of imagination. With some education and a little ingenuity, all of us can move toward financial well-being.