They say money can’t buy happiness — but that doesn’t mean your finances can’t affect your wellbeing. Your financial health can impact several aspects of your life, and if you’ve ever experienced stress or anxiety due to money, like 60% of Americans report, you know it’s not always so easy to separate financial and mental wellness.
By keeping tabs on your financial health and conducting regular check-ins on the vital aspects that affect it, you can better manage financial stress, get closer to your goals, and improve your wellness overall.
What is financial health?
Your financial health takes into account several factors of your personal finance situation (like your net worth, credit score, debt, savings, retirement fund, etc.) to give a holistic look at how prepared you are to meet different financial needs. Simply put: Your level of financial health indicates your readiness to pay for things now and later, expected or not.
Factors like steady income, low debt-to-income ratio, and consistent retirement investments may indicate a strong financial health. On the other hand, inconsistent income, lots of high-interest debt, or a lack of an emergency savings fund may weaken your financial health.
Why does financial health matter?
Financial stress and anxiety are real — and the majority of Americans have felt it at some point. Whether you worry about being able to retire on your timeline, stress about having enough money for next month’s rent, or even feel anxiety about going out to dinner with friends due to cost, these are all feelings that can arise from your financial health not being where you’d like it.
Everyone is affected differently by their financial standing, but poor financial health can impact far more than just your wallet. The stress of money can impact your mental and physical health in a number of ways. For example, experts say negative or anxious feelings toward your finances can hurt your social life and relationships, lead to poor focus if you constantly have money on your mind, and cause reduced sleep or sleep quality.
As you improve your financial health, you’ll hopefully find that you don’t think about money as often and aren’t worried about paying for future planned or unexpected expenses.
Money stresses me out. Can’t I just avoid thinking about it?
When your financial health is in poor standing, it can be difficult to address the situation. Some people feel the easiest way to deal with money and financial stress is to simply avoid it — you know, doing things like not checking your bank account regularly or not reading bills thoroughly. If logging into your mobile banking app makes your heart race or stomach churn, it’s natural to avoid doing so. But denial and avoidance when it comes to your finances will only lead to increased stress and loss of control over your financial health in the long run.
Taking control over your financial health means you have to look some numbers in the eye, and it’s possible you won’t always love what you see. But you can’t improve what you don’t know. Making the most of your financial wellness begins with recognizing where you currently stand so you can create a plan to move forward.
How can I stay on top of and improve my financial health?
One of the first steps toward boosting your financial health and your overall monetary, mental, and physical wellness is expanding your financial literacy and education. It can be tough — and overwhelming — to budget, improve your credit, or make the best monetary decisions when you don’t fully understand why or how to do so. Ally’s Wallet Wise® program and our Do It Right blog are great places to get started with your financial education or give yourself a quick refresher.
Once you feel familiar with the basics of your financials, keep an eye on these following facets of it to gauge your overall financial health standing.
Your credit impacts many aspects of your financial life, from your ability to take out a loan to the mortgage and accompanying interest rate you qualify for. But building up — and keeping — your credit score in a healthy range isn’t always easy, and it can take time, consistency, and diligence.
Needless to say, if you’ve had a rocky credit history or are having trouble boosting your score, it can take a toll on your financial health and even affect your day-to-day life. But the good news is your score isn’t permanent. To get on or stay on the right track with your credit, it’s smart to check your score and credit report regularly (at least once a year), so you know where you stand and if you may need to work on improving it.
We hear you: Debt can be stressful. But not all debt is necessarily bad. Before you let debt stress take over, start by putting it in perspective with your overall financial (and life) situation. For instance, consider your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio. This percentage looks at how much of your gross monthly income (your pay before taxes and other deductions) goes toward paying off debt — including credit card debt, student loans, mortgage or auto payments, etc.
To keep your stress levels in check, know that not all debt is created equal. For example, high-interest credit card debt will likely be more detrimental to your overall financial health than debt incurred by student loans for going back to school. That’s because some debt (like education-related loans) is taken out with the potential to increase your net worth later on — making it akin to an investment in your future. Whereas other debt (credit cards or loans for depreciating assets like cars) won’t generate future income and will likely become more expensive the longer you have it.
Does the thought of a future financial emergency keep you up at night? Building a healthy emergency fund may help lessen the anxiety. A savings safety net that can act as a cushion should you lose your job, have a health emergency, or need to pay for an unexpected home repair is a critical pillar to financial wellness and should be a top priority for anyone seeking to reduce their financial stress.
The typical emergency fund recommendation is to keep three to six months’ worth of living expenses in an accessible savings account, like our Online Savings Account. For most people, this is a lot of money — so don’t be discouraged if you aren’t there. It takes time and financial stability to build a savings fund you can rely on. Start with a savings amount you can realistically work toward and continue to expand it as you reach your financial goals.
Want to kick your savings up a notch? Take advantage of all the tools and features offered as part of our Online Savings Account. With recurring transfers or our Surprise Savings booster, you can safely turbo charge your contributions to your savings, and with our buckets tool you can easily organize all your separate savings goals.
Keeping a budget is an essential tactic to ensure your finances stay in line — and making sure that budget is realistic and achievable is even more important. That’s because to live within an impossibly strict budget can be discouraging and frustrating and may lead to ditching it altogether — creating an endless circle of negativity. When you create a budget that honestly reflects both your needs and your wants, you’re more likely to stay on track and achieve your financial goals (without going crazy). And it’s normal for spending needs, savings goals, debt repayments, and more to fluctuate and evolve — so you’ll want to adapt and adjust your budget periodically.
Build an emotional support system.
When your financial health is causing you stress or anxiety and manifesting into other aspects of your life, it may help to find others with whom you can talk to and work through the situation. Whether it’s family, a partner, friends, or a professional, having a support system in place that you can lean on can be a helpful way to manage and mitigate difficult financial circumstances. For some, working with a financial advisor or counselor could be necessary step. For others, simply speaking through a sticky situation with someone like a close friend or parent could be enough to ease your worries.
You’ve heard it before: All the money in the world can’t solve all your problems. But there’s no denying that your finances can either exacerbate or lessen the stress and difficulties of daily life.
If you’re unhappy with your financial standing, are recovering from or in the midst of a financial hardship, or just want to reduce the money-induced stress in your life, start by taking small, albeit meaningful, steps to improve your financial health. By incorporating behaviors like monitoring your financial status and creating an appropriate budget, you can start to chip away at your stress and move toward your goals — while also increasing your mental, physical, and overall wellbeing.