The Seven Pillars of W-holistic Wellbeing Part 3: Financial Wellbeing
We live in an increasingly demanding world which requires us to be in peak health all the time so we may deliver a service, keep the economy moving, and contribute to society. But this expectation that we are always in optimal health, ironically, hinders our access to this ideal state of being. In the current system, our economic lives and our health are mutually exclusive.
What’s more, we have been conditioned to measure our worth according to economic success — and the material assets we can subsequently afford and show the world. This creates emotional stress.
Avoiding life’s material necessities, however, is not a good option either. The aim of financial wellbeing is to find a balance, and it is an important quality which I believe people need to cultivate as part of their broader W-holistic Wellbeing. Good financial habits reduce stress and create a foundation of financial security for people to live happier and more engaged lives.
Concretely speaking, what is financial wellbeing? A surprisingly comprehensive and straightforward definition comes from the US Federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which describes financial wellbeing as:
A state of being in which a person can fully meet current and ongoing financial obligations, feels secure in their financial future, and can make choices that allow enjoyment in life.
In my own experience, financial wellbeing as defined above can be achieved by cultivating the following seven qualities: self-awareness, numeracy, organisation, moderation, self-sufficiency, anticipation, and moral rectitude.
Investigate and understand what your emotional relationship with money is
What is your rapport with money? Do you find you never have enough, even when you have a lot? Do you love or resent money? Do you find money enjoyable or cumbersome? What emotions do you associate with money?
Repeat this self-exploratory exercise several times and monitor how your relationship with money changes, as you clear any emotional blockages that limit your beliefs and identities around money.
Assess what you have in assets, liquidity and inheritance
Evaluating how much you have will help guide your financial decisions and anticipate how much you need to earn so your ambitions are met.
Depending on the nature of your job(s), you may benefit from one or more income streams. You need to assess what these add up to on an annual or monthly basis. You also need to bear in mind how much tax you pay on these; how much of your earnings go into a pension fund; whether you have money in investments, bonds or stocks; how much you may have inherited from deceased relatives; how much of an allowance (if any) your living relatives afford you; whether you’re still paying off a debt, student loan, or property mortgage.
Once you’ve tallied up what you own, you need to examine how much you spend each month, and what on. Some people may spend more on holidays; others on clothes. It’s important to assess and quantify your spending habits scrupulously to gain a clearer picture of your finances.
Plan your spending carefully and budget accurately
Like a balanced diet for physical health, a budget can be the first step to better financial health. Only after you have tallied up your earnings can you really plan your spending accurately. This may be the most important checkpoint along the road to financial wellbeing, and one thing I have done religiously since a young age which serves as a mantra to this day. By planning your spending, you empower yourself by gaining greater control over your finances. No longer following patterns blindly, you are able to forecast them yourself.
Spend wisely and within your means
In your mind, learn to separate the WANTS from the NEEDS. These may differ per person: a MacBook Air, for instance, may be perceived by some as a luxury; but to a graphic designer working in the creative industries, it may be a necessity.
Once you’ve acknowledged the difference between the WANTS and the NEEDS, you need to explore what type of spending really brings you pleasure. Perhaps you realise that paying over the odds for dinner in a renowned restaurant does not bring you pleasure so much as it gives you a rush of validation on the night. Or, conversely, you may realise you really do enjoy exceptional food, and that paying a lot of money for it is worth it.
There is no one size fits all when it comes to spending wisely: everyone’s value system and fancies are different. What’s important is to spend according to your means and to set yourself reasonable limits.
Avoid borrowing for essential expenses
Self-sufficiency follows directly from moderation: it’s the positive flipside — or rather the upside — of self-control.
Whilst borrowing money can be perfectly reasonable as when, for example, you take out a mortgage, more often than not it is a sign that you have not been organised, measured or self-aware enough in your spending. Falling into the habit of excessive borrowing can result in the accumulation of debt and subsequent financial anxiety. Avoid borrowing more than you need to, in particular for essentials. Likewise, avoid any financial habits that enable overspending, like overdrafts or other high-interest vehicles.
Prepare for the unexpected
Good financial habits will equip you to face the unfortunate and the unexpected, from simple fines to full-scale economic recessions, market crashes, and redundancy. In other cases, accidents and emergencies may strike out of the blue: you must always have contingency plans for these, either in the form of insurance or of enough money in your savings for expensive medical treatment.
Though rarer, chronic illnesses are even more important to bear in mind as they require regular long term treatment, often by highly specialised doctors who work privately. According to the research done by the Centre for Disease Prevention, 6 in 10 adults in the US have a chronic disease. Furthermore, 4 in 10 have two or more. These diseases are the leading cause of death and disability.
In cases like these, expecting the unexpected pays in ways that can’t be quantified — there is no price on life. The best way to prepare for the unexpected is to build up an emergency fund. Further tips on how to do this can be found here.
7. Moral rectitude
Learn to invest according to your values
Investing in shares, schemes or property is all well and good, but what you really should be investing in is your future. Shares, schemes and property are simply the vehicles for your sustainable financial future, allowing you to safely and comfortably plan for the unexpected and — drumroll — your retirement.
Your investment portfolio should be in line with your core values. Sustainable investment choices offer various ethical options for you to align your financial interest with your ethical code, in order for your moral and emotional wellbeing to coexist with your financial one.
Financial wellbeing comes from cultivating good financial habits from the earliest years. The pursuit should not be a pursuit of money itself, but rather of one’s passions; in other words, money should be the fortunate byproduct of success in a certain domain.
I want to inspire parents and educators to teach children about finance as early as possible. This will, in turn, enable them to live better, more productive, and more balanced lives. Rather than delaying their financial education in a way that sensationalises money into something abstract, intangible and complex, we should engage children in the financial decisions that concern them so that they understand money better and learn to handle it wisely from a young age.
In this vein, RoundGlass is developing various programmes to support people in their journey towards financial wellbeing and independence.