Consider your own financial stress: what do you feel when your card has been used fraudulently? Or your bank account hacked? Anger? Fear maybe?
What about when you get a Christmas bonus? Relief? Joy? Do you jump to expressing your love for someone by spending that money?
How about when you go to the ATM a few days before you get paid? Or at the supermarket check-out? Fear that you might not have enough left to pay?
Financial stress isn’t just about being in hardship, even though that’s what the phrase brings to mind.
It’s often about struggling with financial decisions and commitments, and not being able to get past the feelings which that struggle – or any struggle related to money – brings up.
Not many subjects are as emotional as money is. And if we are prone to reacting to strong emotions, then there’s a good chance that any negative underlying beliefs we have will affect our relationship with money – spending, earning, saving, even thinking about it.
In part one of this series we looked at three beliefs society holds about financial stress – that it’s everywhere, that it’s not a big deal and that it’s about hardship. Today we look at three more personal beliefs about financial stress.
Belief 4 – I’m no good with money / I can’t seem to handle money
If we heard a friend say this we’d probably rap them over the knuckles and point out how negative it sounds. But how many of us believe this deep down?
Is it any wonder people who carry this emotional boulder around never seem to get anywhere financially?
Human beings seem to have fairly set beliefs about money, beliefs that can be hard to shift. More than likely they come from our upbringing.
ANZ’s 2015 Survey of Adult Financial Literacy in Australia identified four main attitudes about money, two broadly positive and two less so. They were “impulsivity” and that “dealing with money is stressful” (even when things are going well).
Moving from a spending lifestyle to a saving one requires a desire to learn, practice self-discipline, goal-setting, persistence, restraint and organisation. Sometimes it takes a shift in mindset that feels next to impossible.
At its most basic level, money is about keeping our numbers in the positive. It’s objectively achievable; many people successfully move from a lifestyle of spending and excess to saving and modesty, usually as we mature. An industry worth billions has grown out of our desire to do better with money. But arguably that industry can be as concerned with collecting fees as empowering change in people who have blocked thinking about money.
Belief 5 – Financial stress will go away if I have more money
A windfall or payrise is the holy grail for the chronically financially-stressed, but unless you are debt-free – or are one in a million and suddenly get rich – it’s unlikely to work for long.
Chances are the reasons you are chronically stressed about money are more complex than how much you earn (or the state of the housing or job market). It may seem the outside world is causing your financial stress, but it’s also possible at least some of your financial stress comes from inside you.
If you can be prone to impulse spending, wanting to buy the latest expensive gadget, or even have a tendency to shower people in your life with gifts, it’s likely you will spend much of that extra money.
Or if you committed yourself to spending 40 per cent (or more) of your salary on your mortgage or rent and a pay rise gets your head above the waterline, might that extra income justify the risky decision you made to over-commit?
If a windfall was really the cure to financial stress, then the ultimate solution would be a lottery win, right? Wrong. A shocking 70 per cent of lottery winners end up bankrupt, according to America’s National Endowment for Financial Education.
The truth is that the cost of living, especially in a capital city, combined with servicing debt caused by a lifestyle beyond what you really need creates financial stress. Full stop.
When it comes to dealing with or preventing financial distress, it is not just about how much money you can acquire. That may be missing the point.
So time to be honest: how much true freedom do you really have around your spending?
What may be causing you as much distress as the dollar figures keeping you up at night and distracting you at work, is the stress itself. In other words, ruminating on the problem of ‘how do I get better with money’ is probably a painful process.
Perhaps it’s time to go back a step and examine your whole relationship with money?
Belief 6 – You can only help someone under financial stress by giving them money and/or financial education
There’s no doubt the answer to financial stress – which at least superficially, presents as having trouble meeting financial obligations – has a few elements.
Some of those include effectively setting goals that promote change, learning more about how to manage money – because, as acknowledged by the Federal government, “financial ignorance can carry an invisible lifetime cost”.
ANZ’s national survey of adult financial literacy showed many Australians have strong levels of understanding, but there was still a large number of people who didn’t save on a regular basis (23%), and did not feel in control of their finances (22%).
“Those most likely to feel out of control were … household incomes of A$65,000 or less with children at home and people with a mortgage of A$300,000 or more and a household income of less than A$100,000,” the report found.
The wonderfully-named American scientist mentioned above, J Galen Buckwalter, who identified the disorder of “acute financial stress”, is among psychologists who recommend mindfulness as part of the solution. He also advises “exercise and relaxation”.
Marc Richardson, psychologist with Financial Mindfulness, says mindfulness can be very effective at changing old, hard-to-shift negative beliefs we have about money, such as “I’m no good with money”, “spending makes me feel better” and “money is stressful”.
“Through mindfulness we are able to raise awareness of our thought patterns,” Richardson says.
“It’s only through raising awareness of when our negative emotions arise that we can develop capacities to deal with thoughts and feelings. Mindfulness is a really useful strategy for breaking the cycle of negative thought patterns that then lead to negative feelings and enhance feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and then the negative behaviours that can follow.
“In fact without mindfulness it would be very hard for us to catch the underlying attitude which then governs our thoughts, reactions and behaviour.”