(The Full Text are from when EOV’s in-person workshops were developed.)
“Money is a terrible master but an excellent servant.” -P.T. Barnum
“You’re never powerful in life until you’re powerful over your own money.” – Suze Orman
“Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people that they don’t like.”- Will Rogers
Money might not seem like an obvious topic to cover in a wellness program, but at EOV, we feel it is crucial to do so because money often turns out to be one of the key factors of stress in our lives. As we’ve seen before, stress has a direct negative effect on our bodies, and our mental health. The American Psychological Association’s ‘Stress in America’ survey revealed that that 72% of Americans felt stressed about money and that it was the top cause of stress in the country. In Canada, insurance giant Manulife’s ‘Financial Wellness Index’ found that 40% of Canadians feel ‘financially unwell’, and as a result, feel mental and physical symptoms of stress. Finances affect our sense of security, our attitude towards the future, our relationship with loved ones and our self-esteem. All of these factors are sharpened when we have large scale global events like financial crashes, or pandemics, and we see how overextended we are as a society. It doesn’t take much to see that financial, mental and physical health are inextricably linked.
The most extreme examples of financial stress are usually seen in compulsive buyers, and in some cases, compulsive buying can go so far as to be a disorder very similar to alcoholism or gambling disorders.
A Stanford University School of Medicine study in 2006 conducted a random-sample national survey of 2500 people in the United States. They found that 6% of people could actually be considered as having compulsive buying disorder. This is a condition that is marked by severe binge-buying of unnecessary and unwanted things to the point that the person suffers financial hardship as a result. People suffering from this condition can rack up high debt and often lie to their loved ones about their purchases. The condition was found to apply the same to men as to women, and extrapolated from the sample, it would mean that nearly 20 million people in the United States could be affected. The study concluded that compulsive buying leads to serious financial, psychological and family problems including depression, overwhelming debt, and the breakup of relationships.
If you have concerns about your money management and spending (as most of us do), the good news is that there are some fairly simple and effective ways to help control spending, improve money management and increase financial wellness.
- Understand your spending triggers. Watch yourself and understand the role that money plays in your life. Very often, our financial behaviors are linked to emotional issues. It could be that shopping is your response to being in a bad mood, making you feel better at least for the moment. Or it could be the converse – you shop when you’re in a good mood, as an act of celebration. Or it could result from family upbringing, and you tell yourself that you couldn’t afford a certain thing when you were growing up, but you get your sense of achievement by being able to buy that now.
- Don’t Shop When You’re Emotional. Everyone knows what happens when you hit a grocery store when you’re hungry. You always end up buying more than you need. Take that further and avoid shopping when you’re feeling strong emotions. It’s also good not to shop when you’re feeling pressured for time.
- Cover the Basics. Before you go out buying anything for fun (clothes, electronics, holidays), make sure you’ve paid your basic bills – electricity, hydro, insurance, phone/internet. Don’t even think about a trip to the mall before you’ve covered those.
- Don’t give in to pressure. Today we are surrounded by advertising that links our identities and our happiness to the products we own. We also want the products and experiences that our peers have. If you’re feeling any sense of pressure to make a purchase, take a deep breath and examine the source of that. Most of the time, you’ll find that the thing you ‘must’ have, isn’t needed at all.
5. Track your expenses.
You know you’re in a financially stressful situation if you find yourself paying only the minimum amount on your credit card bill on a consistent basis, or if your card is always maxed out. If you’re not spending on anything large, it can be easy to justify to yourself that your expenses are reasonable. But even little purchases can really add up, and that’s why tracking is important. Once you’re aware of where you typically spend, you’ll be in a position to make smarter choices. Just cutting back on a latte every day, and making your own sandwiches for lunch could mean savings of $200 a month!
- Control your environment. If certain places make you want to spend – a mall, a particular store, or website, take the temptation away by steering clear of these environments. Or if you must go, take someone whom you trust, who can help you weigh your spending decisions. For online shopping, leave your purchase in the cart for a night rather than checking out right away.
- Make a budget. The easiest way live within your means is to stick to a budget. That way, if you’ve already spent your monthly allocation on clothes, then you know you have to wait until the next month before you go clothes shopping again. Make sure your budget has a a portion of your pay cheque (10-15%) transferred to a savings account. This is called ‘paying yourself first’ before you go out and give your money to a shop.
- Stick to Cash. The convenience of credit cards make them an easy conduit to overspending. With cash, you physically see how much you have, and how your funds are diminishing with each purchase. So, give your credit cards a break and see if it will curb your spending habits. Take only the amount of cash you anticipate you’ll need when you go shopping and leave the credit cards at home. If you’re an online shopper, having your credit card information saved onto your shopping profile is convenient, but delete it and force yourself into the extra step of having to reach for your card and enter all the details each time. Every obstacle you can put between yourself and ‘one click’ purchases, can save you money.
Remember, like any learned behaviour, it takes time and dedication to change your spending habits. It requires constant practice and vigilance and experimenting with some or all of the suggestions above. But with practice, and setting enough safeguards, you can increase your willpower and cut your spending. Importantly, it’s not all about denial, and it need not be lonely. Rather than view it as things that you are depriving yourself of, see reduced spending as a positive, quantifiable goal such as “I am going to reduce my eating out to $200 a month”. Find ways to enjoy participating in the outside world that are not linked to eating or entertaining – go for a hike, take a picnic. You can be just as social in this process, invite your friends and family, and you may find that it isn’t any less enjoyable than a fancy meal together. And while you’re about it, don’t be ashamed or scared to let your friends and family know that you’re trying to spend less. Like any kind of wellbeing, if you surround yourself with people who will support you as you work toward your financial goals, you’re more likely to get there.