Why women suffer more from financial stress

Recent studies have found women feeling considerably more financially stressed than men – but why?

In the United States, a recent study of 10,500 employeesby Salary Finance, found more than half of women born between 1981 and 1996 (millennials) are worried about not having enough to retire. In comparison a third of millennial men have the same beliefs.

The study found similar disparities between men and women in Generation X: 44.8 percent of women born between 1965 and 1980 are worried about money issues most or all of the time, while 36.1 percent of men feel the same.

In Australia, NAB’s Australian Wellbeing reportshowed financial anxiety rose, probably due to coronavirus, in 2020. Women were more worried than men.

According to the research women were more worried than men about raising money in a hurry for an emergency, children’s education and rent or mortgage costs.

The most fearful group of all were women over 65.

It’s been happening for years. Back in 2014, the Australian Psychological Society reported “personal financial issues” were a major source of stress for 53 per cent of women but only 44 per cent of men. The APS found three main causes of stress amongst Australians (in order) were personal finance, family issues and personal health.

AMP’s study found the main financial stressors in people’s lives are (in this order), bad debts, home loans, retirement, supporting the family and budgeting.

In the United States, Californian company Financial Finesse found 55 per cent of mothers earning less than US$60,000 reported “high” or “overwhelming” levels of financial stress. Male parents of a similar age group and income level were 40 per cent less likely to feel as bad.

While there are often only small discrepancies between men and women around financial values and stressors, women almost always report more negative feelings about money, even if only marginally.

One explanation for women’s financial stress is historical and current pay inequity. On average Australian women in fulltime work earn 17.3 per cent less than men ($277.70) according to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency. That gap has “hovered between 15% and 19% for the past two decades”.

In the US, the difference is starker: women on average are paid a third less.

At the same time, women traditionally have had more responsibility for the day-to-day running of the home, such as domestic duties and childcare. In recent times though, generally speaking, women’s involvement in financial decision-making – and sharing costs – in relationships has increased.

One could speculate shouldering more financial responsibility while still earning less and doing more than men at home might be a factor in women’s higher levels of financial stress. There is also evidence that risky behaviours with money, such as impulse spending, are linked to feelings of stress, guilt, boredom and anger.

The problem with financial stress is that it does not just impact our finances, it can have a significant effect on our wellbeing including our physical and mental health along with our relationships, work, behaviour and potentially our environment.

Seeking help around our finances and feelings of financial stress eventually becomes essential.

The help required will vary for individuals. It may be practical financial support, or learning budgeting skills, or seeking assistance to manage the stress of money worries.

One solution for some sufferers of financial stress is to become financially mindful.

Financial mindfulness, is an active process of paying attention to your finances, financial behaviours, attitudes and beliefs around finances. It is keeping awareness of your thoughts, feelings, actions and financial environment in mind so that you can make better financial choices.

Happy holidays: stress less with mindfulness this Christmas

Christmas and the holidays are mostly feelgood times. At least the ideas behind them are positive, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t stressful. Clinical Neuropsychologist Dr Michael Takagi, says there’s plenty of evidence to show stress comes from happy occasions too: “Planning a wedding is a joyful, positive occasion, but very stressful. For many people it is overwhelming.

“Christmas is on a smaller scale, but it can be a bit like that. So, can holidays.”

A big issue with positive life events is they usually come with expectations, that’s just human nature, right? It’s normal to expect Christmas to feel familiar, even similar to previous years. It’s also pretty normal to expect gifts from people we are close to. So, what if they forget, or buy something we don’t want? It’s usual too, to expect our holiday will feel relaxing in a way that we want. But what if the holiday cabins you usually book aren’t available, and the alternate choice doesn’t measure up? The family probably complains, that’s what.

It’s important to note that Christmas isn’t positive for everyone. Research done by the Salvation Army in 2018 found that 7.6 million think Christmas is the most stressful time of the year. One in four Aussies experience anxiety at this time, while the same proportion spend more than they can afford.

Could mindfulness help? It’s never been a magic cure for the kinds of issues noted above, but there’s plenty of evidence that shows mindfulness has a positive impact on our mindset and behaviour.

So as long as our expectations are modest, a few basic mindfulness techniques can take the edge off Christmas and holiday stress.

It’s a good idea to do a little unpacking to make your mindfulness techniques effective this Christmas and holiday season, Dr Takagi says anticipating potentially stressful events can improve our chances of reducing stress. So, let’s dig a little deeper. Christmas and the holidays have the capacity to stress us out in several ways:

  1. Financially
  2. At work
  3. The celebration/s
  4. Relationships
  5. Post-holiday blues

Below we’ll look briefly at how mindfulness works and then unpack each of those trigger points.to see how mindfulness can help.

HOW MINDFULNESS WORKS

In a nutshell, by reducing the stress hormones that course through our minds and deactivating the parasympathetic nervous system that sparks the flight, fight or freeze responses. Our muscles relax and loosen, our breathing slows down and becomes deeper. We feel less agitation and can think clearer and make better decisions.

But those effects are the end result not the instructions for getting there.

It’s a misconception that mindfulness is clearing the mind and calming down, though we might get those benefits when we approach mindfulness with a good understanding of what it is.

“A big part of mindfulness is learning to be present in the moment, Dr Takagi says. That is easier said than done, it is normal for your thoughts to wander and go off on a tangent or focus on stressful things in your life. With practice, you learn to bring your thoughts back and stay in the moment.

“What we are trying to do is be aware of how we are feeling, the emotions, the sensations, how the moment is impacting you and acknowledging your reactions are normal.

“Accept your thoughts and feelings without judgement, so for example, if you’re anxious, acknowledge it and reassure yourself that feeling anxious is neither good nor bad. We try not to expect that we should be feeling this way or another way.”

Just accepting your feelings and thoughts and concentrating on your breathing, or relaxing the muscles in your body one at a time, or a very simple visualisation, and letting thoughts go, this can reduce stress. “Feelings and thoughts tend to pass and move on if you let them,” Takagi says.

Why do we need to reduce stress at all? Because continually operating with feelings of stress can interfere with good decision-making. It’s a theme we’ll come back to several times.

FINANCIAL STRESS AND SHOPPING

Situations like rushing to buy presents at the last minute on Christmas Eve, or in a 30-minute lunch break, or having to weave through big crowds to find items in short supply, or trying to tick off a long list of gifts on a budget. These trigger a stress response, even though in evolutionary terms this was obviously not what our stress response was designed to handle.

We are similarly ill-equipped to cope with financial stress, which happens when we experience chronic worry about money.

There’s no doubt stress is a useful immediate reaction for humans in some situations, like, being faced with a life-threatening situation: we can decide under pressure to run, jump, hide, or even fight.  But operating for prolonged periods in a stressed state can lead humans to make bad decisions.

Perhaps nowhere is this more evident with spending money as an attempt to quell stress. Research done by Financial Mindfulness in 2017 found financial stress had damaging effects on relationships and our mental health. Things only got worse during COVID-19, with big increases in level of aggression, isolation and distress due to financial stress.

How often do we make spending decisions we regret later? Most people would probably identify with this when they reflect on purchases made without planning – especially with Christmas gifts and Christmas shopping. Overall, we spend far more at Christmas than any other time of the year and it’s growing every year. Roy Morgan Research predicts Christmas period spending in Australia for the six weeks leading up to Christmas Eve will be $54.3 billion, up 2.8 per cent from last Christmas.

‘Mindless’ shopping – where we are not fully aware of our financial position or what it is what really want to buy – can become a vicious cycle whether we are doing it online or at a real ‘bricks and mortar’ store. Spending too much quickly results in financial stress, which creates uncomfortable feelings that we paradoxically deal with by buying more for the quick feelgood hit of dopamine.

“Trying to relieve short term emotional discomfort around money by compulsively purchasing things will compound a difficult financial situation and produce even more stress. Doing a few minutes of mindfulness can stop that cycle and having a mindfulness practice can turn that behaviour around.” Dr Takagi says spending is a behaviour positively impacted by mindfulness and mindful practices.

WORKPLACE STRESS

Everyone knows it: that special kind of pre-Christmas madness in the office. We feel pressured to finish up all projects before going on leave.

If you consider the alternative – leaving projects and tasks half done – the Christmas work rush actually makes a lot of sense. Who really wants work hanging over them while they’re on holiday? It’s as reasonable expectation from our partners and families that we will not be doing work, or obsessed with work, while we are with them on Christmas Day and on holiday.

Dr Takagi says the rush to clear the decks is a big cause of tension and stress at Christmas but it can be difficult to avoid. “Sometimes wrapping everything up before Christmas isn’t reasonable but other times that’s just how it is. It depends on the company, the project and the commitments made.”

Dr Takagi admits being one of the many trying to find extra time to finish work before Christmas. “I’m trying to find an extra half a day each week to finish five different jobs. Yesterday I was writing an email which reminded me to make a phone call and that resulted in sending a different email, I was a bit all over the place and overwhelmed. Then if I’m not mindful a five-minute break turns into half hour and I’m really behind. It’s a really common behaviour to have a ‘quick-fix’ behaviour to deal with uncomfortable feelings that seems to work at the time but has negative consequences later.

“I take short breaks and concentrate on my breathing for a few minutes and that helps me to focus and stick to my priorities. Mindfulness is very good at helping me to make better decisions.”

Here are some questions to ask yourself that might help you get that Christmas rush into perspective:

  • Who wants the project wrapped up, you or your boss?
  • Will the project fail if it isn’t finished before the break?
  • Is this part of a bigger piece of work that will continue well into 2021?
  • Is completion prior to Christmas realistic?
  • Will you be likely to obsess over work, or even dip into it, on holiday if you don’t finish it?
  • Will you be more productive if you go for a week or two without doing any work? Why?

CHRISTMAS CELEBRATIONS

The traditional nature of Christmas plans – whether we gather to celebrate on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day or Boxing Day – are enough to stress out most hosts.

All indications are that Aussies are that planning to splurge on Christmas gifts and food too this year, to make up for the social distancing and belt-tightening that happened earlier this year due to COVID.

Roy Morgan Research has forecast a massive 10 per cent increase in spending on food, which means crowds, long waits and products selling out across Australia from fish markets and department stores down to local shopping centres.

Heavy spending and a desire to provide guests with ‘the perfect Christmas” without doubt creates pressure which can lead to minor or major conflicts and tension.

Mindfulness can help us in several ways around the actual Christmas celebrations:

  • Planning accurately so we don’t buy too much food and serve so much that we end up throwing food away;
  • Catering to the tastes of all invited guests, not just expecting everyone to eat the same as us;
  • Having clear, simple boundaries around how much we consume so we avoid over-eating and drinking too much;
  • Being clear about the food and drinks we want and need to avoid, i.e. allergens, emotional eating, alcohol if we need to drive home;
  • Taking mindful time-outs if family gatherings are triggering instead of numbing emotions with alcohol and/or drugs; and
  • Sticking to pre-considered time limits at a gathering if we are likely to be triggered by the people present.

RELATIONSHIPS DURING THE HOLIDAYS

Isn’t it sad that one of the best things about Christmas and the holidays – spending time with loved ones – can actually be the first casualty of festive stress?

We all value family harmony highly for good reason. But under high stress we can become difficult to be around, either because we feel angry or because of another behaviour we use to cope – such as drinking alcohol, gambling or taking drugs.

Even without damaging coping strategies, innocuous and unexpected pressures and expectations can arise that can cause tension. “It happens with my sister and I. I love her dearly, but we really know how to push each other’s buttons too, better than anyone else. It’s always great to see each other but we can also drive each other crazy!”

Once upon a time, in decades past, we would have poured an extra drink or taken multiple cigarette breaks to get away from family for a few minutes. But today we have more awareness and better options. Again, Dr Takagi, suggests taking a breather in sustained close proximity to family, perhaps to do a 5-minute progressive muscle relaxation exercise.

It may seem obvious, but given the stresses of any year – especially one with a global pandemic – and the fast-paced closure of the calendar year, we do actually need to relax and recharge before going back to work.

“Stress and relaxation are mutually exclusive,” Dr Takagi says. “You can’t really relax while you are stressed.”

POST-HOLIDAY BLUES

What goes up must come down and we all know that is true of the relaxed sense of wellbeing and calm we get from a great holiday. But we have to come back to earth and face the prospect of returning to work, school and our normal lives.

A good holiday often brings introspection too: we can reflect on how to the good, the bad and the unhelpful behaviours and habits that might have stressed us throughout 2020. For many of us those included:

  • Unhealthy eating, drinking or substance use
  • Compulsive spending, overspending, gambling or shopping
  • Avoidance of our true financial position
  • Overworking or avoidance of work
  • Unresolved relationship issues
  • Thankfully, January always brings the opportunity to start the New Year in a positive way, which means a clear-headed assessment of what might have been holding us back in 2020.

Beginning a mindfulness practice can help us to see and accept reality, perhaps helping us to make form some new plans and take a few small steps towards the kind of 2021 we really want to live.

After all, we could probably all do with a better year after 2020!

Want to avoid financial stress: ask yourself these questions

Want to avoid financial stress: ask yourself these questions
There’s never been so many options for accessing cash quickly as there are today, and that’s very appealing around this time of year – especially this year, with many more people unemployed as a result of the ‘pandemic induced’ economic disruption.

Nobody wants to be in financial stress (or distress) or have money worries. But sometimes a quick fix becomes a long-term problem if we ‘go there’ over and over.

We all know the quick fixes to cashflow problems available today. On top of the huge success of ‘buy now, pay later’ products like Afterpay and ZipMoney, people are increasingly signing up to so-called ‘pay-on-demand’ services that – for a fee of around 5 per cent – will let you draw cash against your pay before it is deposited into your bank account.

New financial services arise (and succeed) because someone has identified a need and met that need. That’s fair enough. Financial products and services that give people flexibility and help them out of a squeeze are welcome. There are a lot of positives when one considers all the angles and different perspectives.

These new services, referred to above, are sign of the times. They also tell us some important things – that many people basically live paycheck to paycheck and that there is a groundswell of support for the idea that employers shouldn’t pay in arrears and instead should pay as people earn.
We need to be clear – and we urge mums, dads and singles to be clear about what these services really are: they are loans that have to be repaid.

As a rule, we cannot endorse the regular use of fee-based short-term loans to get by every week.

Why? Here are at least four reasons:

  1. Paying regular fees for basically spending your own money is just adding another debit to your account, and it’s not insignificant (Think about it: how often would you pay $15 to withdraw $300 from an ATM?)
  2. The second reason is there’s a basic truth that these service providers (let’s call them small lenders, as that’s what they are) want you to ignore: spending more than you earn every week is a dangerous habit.
  3. Financial stress. See points 1 and 2.
  4. We believe that with ‘mindful spending’ – spending done with full awareness of your financial position and your needs and wants – you can reduce, and avoid, damaging financial stress.

The good news is that by using awareness and acceptance of your financial position, you can feel much more in control of your personal finances and your week-to-week expenses. With a healthier financial mindset – where you aren’t experiencing the symptoms and impacts of financial stress – short-term loans become what they were designed for: a useful solution to an emergency cash flow problem.

Here are some questions to ask yourself if you regularly use ‘buy now, pay later’ services like Afterpay, and have used – or want to use – ‘pay on demand’ apps and services.

  1. When was the last time you looked at your credit card statement? If you are avoiding it, why is that?
  2. How many ‘buy now, pay later’ accounts do you have?
  3. Do you keep track of the total amounts owed? Are those totals increasing over time?
  4. How often do you use buy now pay later services?
  5. What do you buy using these products? To solve emergency money issues, or for normal living expenses? (Note: clothes and haircuts are rarely an emergency)
  6. How often would you use ‘pay on demand’ (getting an advance on your pay) apps and services?
  7. What would you buy with the money you receive from ‘pay on demand’ services?
  8. Is your overall financial position better or worse after using ‘buy now, pay later’ and/or ‘pay on demand’ services?
  9. What would it really take to improve your overall financial position?

The real cost of gift-giving: financial stress (part 3 of 3)

In ancient history giving gifts began as part of the ritual of worship and over the centuries it has morphed into a show of appreciation. In the age of mass consumerism gift-giving has become an expensive habit too, especially in holiday season.

While most of us worry about money to some degree, gift-giving has costs we usually bear without much complaint; giving is a respected value, it feels good and it’s accepted as a cultural obligation. Besides, we have special labels for people who don’t play along with gift-giving: who wants to be labelled Scrooge or the Grinch?

Let’s take a look at one specific festive custom: the excessive expectation everyone will have a present for everyone else who arrives on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day – whether they are young nieces and nephews, twentysomethings, cousins, partners of relatives. Even exes in attendance get a gift. It’s probably no exaggeration to say half the gifts exchanged in these situations are politely put in a cupboard when they arrive home – and forgotten. The obligation to provide a pile of gifts – of appropriate value – across extended families can add tension to what is often already awkward family gathering. It almost certainly adds to seasonal financial stress.

Never mind that in the affluent West that many of us take months to repay debts incurred at Christmas time and in Black Friday and Boxing Day sales. So, at least reasons to buy expensive gifts are out of the way after Christmas, right?

Wrong. February and March tend to have the most weddings in Australia, which means wedding costs and wedding gifts for guests. February and March also have a lot of birthday spending, as those are the second and third most common months to have a baby. From there, the retail calendar kicks in: with gift-giving the norm in Easter, then for Mother’s Day – not to mention birthdays and anniversaries for the rest of the year.

Another type of gift-giving that is anecdotally growing is also worth noting: buying ourselves gifts and treats for our birthdays or just ‘getting through hard times’ such as COVID, often just because we see appealing items in big seasonal sales.

So, how can we avoid the financial stress that comes from adding new debt to existing debt, and the symptoms and impacts of that financial stress?

Some of us at some point have completed a budget (even if we can’t always stick to it) and humble enough to get financial advice to try and do better. We are not clueless.

But without an overhaul in our thinking, choosing gifts will remain stressful for many people. There can be a huge array of options and a nagging temptation to show our appreciation – for ourselves and others – by over‐spending.

If you have tried every trick to rein in spending on gifts it could be time to try something new – using mindfulness with your finances, also known as financial mindfulness. Mindfulness is described as moment‐by‐moment awareness.

Take the example of a teenager who “needs” for a sleek iPhone 10 as a gift, if not the newest flagship Apple phone, an iPhone 12 Pro Max. An iPhone 11 Pro Max will set you back at least $750 and a Pro Max 12 starts from the mid $1500s and rapidly goes up beyond $2000.

“We all have urges that we really, really want a new gadget like an iPhone, including me,” says Financial Mindfulness CEO and Founder, Andrew Fleming.

“It feels good to take it out of the box and start using it. The feeling of having the latest technology makes you feel cool and the children love it. Like anyone else I’ve learned those feelings don’t last long and they certainly don’t improve your life, despite what the ads tell us.

“Always having the latest iPhone won’t make me or anyone else truly happy. In fact always giving in to buying the new iPhone – or the latest of any brand of device – will actually decrease happiness because it will probably contribute to increased financial stress.”

The reason those sentiments feel uncomfortable is because they’re true. Researchers from Washington University and Seoul National University, Joseph Goodman and Sarah Lim, found that giving ‘experiences’ increases the happiness of recipients more than material gifts – even if people are not socially close.

Hence the boom for online companies selling “experiential” gifts: in Australia, RedBalloon; in the UK, Red Letter Days and in the United States, retailers like Cloud 9 Living and Great American Days.

But focusing on experiential as opposed to material gifts is unarguably only half of the answer. While the research shows a hot‐air balloon ride or chocolate‐making course should satisfy the recipient more than boxed gift wrapped with a bow, if you try to please someone with the dollar value of your gift your debt problems could get worse and that is undeniably a problem. Ever looked at the cost of sky‐diving, rodeo‐riding or maybe cage diving with sharks? You will spend hundreds, if not over a thousand dollars on these.

Financial stress is irrefutably linked to health problems like depression, anxiety and sleep disorders so it’s not a big leap to see that the expensive gifts you buy – whether material or experiential ‐ could paradoxically lead you to feel less likely to connect with other people.

Most of us know overspending will put pressure on us, but since when did knowing right from wrong stop human beings from making mistakes? A parent, relative or partner with poor self‐control around money will often buckle to badgering from a child, or give into a yearning to people‐please, and buy that new smartphone, tablet, a holiday or even a car.

A daily mindfulness practice will lead to a more mindful approach to gift‐giving, so we do not drift into autopilot when buying. It’s inevitable this will lead us to confront some fundamental uncomfortable truths about money. “Mindfulness helps to calm the mind and with a calm mind we make better decisions,” Fleming says.

“Sometimes it’s a better decision to treat ourselves to a book or a movie or a massage instead of the latest smartphone.”

It’s important to note mindfulness is no silver bullet – it can however help you begin to change in that area. From there we can make some deep, meaningful changes: when we are forced to face old assumptions about money.

“There’s a big mindset change some of us need to make at times like Christmas, birthdays and weddings: how much we spend on people is not automatically a sign of our value and love for each other.”

Which brings us back to gifts. You can create lasting memories with creativity and your knowledge of a person.

How about home‐made cookies baked with personal messages – each describing why you love the recipient ‐ hidden in the dough? Or a hand‐made recipe book containing meal suggestions from the recipient’s family members? Maybe get a t‐shirt printed with the recipient’s favourite funny saying or if you have time, plan a surprise outing and put thought into favourite stops and a destination, or even fill a tall jar with inspirational quotes written and printed in different colours.

If you have lots of time, learn the guitar then write someone a song and play it for them. If you don’t have much time, spend a couple of hours hand‐writing a letter telling the recipient what they mean to you. Could any gift feel better and teach about the real meaning of value?

Time is a key resource when it comes to gift-giving; you need to know someone or learn about them to know what might make them happy. And time is valuable. Benjamin Franklin was widely credited with the unforgettable line “time is money” in 1748 (although it’s been shown to have much earlier origins, perhaps even ancient Greece). We can spend money and time, but where spending too much money might cause you crippling financial stress, spending a lot of time only enhances relationships – especially on children – by creating last memories.

Andrew Fleming says getting our minds to a state where we can see that spending time is just as valuable as money when it comes to gifts isn’t easy. “Everyone thinks they are time-poor. One tool I know that can really transform how much time I think I have is mindfulness. Using mindfulness when I’m spending money means I make better decisions – no doubt about it.”

The real costs of gift-giving: Financial stress (part 2 of 3)

Who wants to buy something special for their partner, relative, friend or colleague on Black Friday or this Christmas? It’s a thoughtful idea given how tough 2020 has been – with bushfires, then the COVID-19 pandemic, various lockdowns and financial stress coming at Australians in waves all year.

If we are not aware of our underlying financial stress at this time of year, advertising pressure can trick us into an expensive false reality: that our usual safe spending limits don’t apply when it comes to proving our care for others. It’s sad to think we actually believe that the price of gifts should be in proportion to what people mean to us – and yet our national gift-giving habits suggests we overlook the damaging realities of money stress at the checkout.

Megan McArdle, writing for Bloomberg, argued “there is a higher logic to the gift economy … that mandates we keep giving and receiving objects of dubious value”.

Gift-giving, she wrote, was connected to “an innate human value called “reciprocal altruism” which makes the costs of gifts “a maintenance fee for your relationship”.

There are of course, real problems beyond warm and fuzzy feelings when altruism is all about money.

As well-intentioned as gift-giving is, the Christmas rush to buy gifts is sometimes only ‘generous’ financially; how often is our gift something the recipient really needs and will use? Often, we believe we are too busy to understand our recipients real wants and needs. When we go into this kind of autopilot thinking, we can’t see that we are setting ourselves up for financial stress and its many impacts on our relationships, our work, and potentially making any existing anxiety and depression worse.

Research by Joseph Goodman (from Washington State University) and Sarah Lim (from Seoul’s Center for Happiness Studies) found people commonly buy material gifts over experiential gifts, despite the fact that recipients often feel happier receiving experiences. Material gifts are those we can touch while experiential gifts are those that create a memory.

So, gift-giving becomes a stressful problem which we solve with money – by buying the latest expensive gadget, a heavily-marketed ‘luxury’ or some kind of timeless status symbol.

If it sounds mean-spirited to question gift-giving, that’s not the intention here. Only narcissists and debt collectors (and the occasional teenager) believe it’s better to receive than to give. The problems raised here are not about gift-giving per se, it’s the headless chook race that it can resemble – and the financial stress and strain placed on many of us.

Last Christmas Australians splurged a mammoth A$28 billion on credit cards, according to finder.com.au – over $1,100 for every many woman and child. Add the costs of Valentine’s Day, Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, birthdays, weddings and anniversaries and you can see how gift-buying has become a major driver of the retail engine in Western economies. Of course, it’s a double-edged sword: retail spending is celebrated each year as a measurement of the strength of the economy. But at a personal level, buying gifts for everyone, and without mindful budgetary limits, will likely cause financial stress.

Debt consistently shows up in surveys as a leading cause of financial stress. But it’s now widely known personal money problems consistently show up in research as a major cause – if not the major cause – of stress in general.

The links between financial stress and poor mental health are well known, but recently the physical symptoms are being acknowledged and links to serious physical illness are emerging. In the United States, the company Four Seasons Financial Education surveyed 511 employees in a national study and found disturbing correlations between financial stress and health problems. The respondents rated their level of financial stress, then the prevalence of health issues between two groups was compared.

People with high financial stress had higher reported incidence of health issues across all nine illnesses identified – heart attack, high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, infertility, gastrointestinal issues and sleeplessness, migraines/headaches and memory loss.

“The greatest disparities were found with anxiety and depression between these two groups,” the study findings said. In the groups with lower financial stress, 19 per cent reported depression and anxiety, but amongst the more financially stressed respondents, 55 per cent were depressed and 68 per cent had anxiety.

When the survey responses were further broken down, into the very highest and lowest levels of financial stress, people under extreme financial stress were five times more likely to have memory loss issues, more three times as likely to report depression and nearly twice as likely to have anxiety. They were also twice as likely to have gastrointestinal problems.

Debt is a major cause of financial stress and the search for an answer has become a popular google search term in its own right, with variations of ‘how do I relieve my financial stress?’ common. If you’ve tried all the usual advice and methods, it might be time to investigate a new approach, or at least, new tools to supplement what you are already doing.

In the final part of our series on the real cost of gift-giving, we look at how mindfulness can help reign in over-spending and the financial stress that often comes from increasing your debt burden at this time of year.

The real cost of gift-giving: Financial stress (part 1 of 3)

The tinsel and decorations are still under the stairs, but now is the time to think ahead so that you don’t join millions of Australians saddled repaying holiday debt well into 2021.

One of the leading pressures on many people’s already-strained financial position is the habit of over-spending on gifts; gifts that don’t necessarily prove our love for others. In this three-part series we will explore the size of our national gift-buying problem, look at the health impacts of the financial stress that follows and then explore how a targeted mindfulness practice can help change the auto-pilot approach to gift-giving while potentially bringing us even closer to loved ones.

There is also a real likelihood that gift-giving becomes retail therapy in these stressful COVID times – a set of behaviours we use to try and feel a bit better. But as Financial Mindfulness has found, overspending has the opposite effect on our stress levels.

Overall, Australian households spent an average of A$969 on Christmas gifts in 2019 (the total spend on gifts was expected to be $18.8 billion) according to finder.com.au. Last December alone, A$28 billion was spent on cards, with millions more put on Buy Now Pay Later accounts too, which a third of us now have.

Nearly half a million of us will take up to six months to pay off holiday debts, while more than half of us still manage a spending binge for on Valentine’s Day (with Buy Now Pay Later schemes increasingly funding this). All this while also juggling mortgage, student loan and/or car repayments.

The national home loan bill this year topped A$2 trillion for the first time, according to Illion, with an estimated 60,000 mortgage holders at least one month behind on repayments.

But while we are weighed down with unavoidable repayments on big assets, the retail calendar rolls on. Easter is next (luckily the major supermarkets stock around 50 lines of chocolate each, not counting millions of Easter buns), then comes Mother’s Day (May 14), when consumer spending spikes to around $2 billion, according to the Australian Retail Association.

From mid-year there’s often a string of birthdays to buy for: the most popular months for birthdays in Australia include May, July, August, September and October, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

Anyone who has hosted a children’s birthday party knows how expensive and high pressure they can be, with parents forking out anywhere between A$300 and A$3000. Then there’s the angst over how to please teenagers and other loved ones, a worry which is almost always settled by spending at or above our absolute limit.

Around this time, many of us come to accept we can’t afford a splurge we might want – such as a later winter or spring holiday, or a newer car – with so many expenses and December just around the corner.

The pre-holiday gift-giving hasn’t finished yet. Father’s Day is September 3, (on which about A$700 million is spent), followed by weddings and wedding anniversaries galore as the weather warms up. Spring and autumn are most popular seasons, April, September, October and November are the most popular months to get married.

At the end of November, comes the newish retail binge-fest that is Black Friday, when we spent $2.9 billion over that weekend alone.

While it seems like the right thing to show our love by buying new toys, trinkets, treats and gadgets for children, family and friends the cost is in black and white in our online statements.

We spend thousands upon thousands of dollars each year to try and please loved ones, when if the tables were turned, most of us would be happy receiving thoughtful, inexpensive gifts – or even just spending time with friends and loved ones if we knew they were battling financially.

According to the most recent data from the Financial Mindfulness – Financial Stress Index (FSI) Report – September 2020, the vast majority (89%) of us are worried about money. Digging deeper, we are completely overwhelmed (79%), downhearted (82%) and distracted (77%) by our financial situation. Financial Mindfulness estimates the resulting lost productivity costs Australian businesses is $32.14 billion per annum.

AMP’s 2020 Financial Wellness Report in November 2020 found financially stressed employees are ineffective at work for approximately 7.7 hours a week, and absent for a further 1.2 hours a week through sick days.

The report said nearly half of Australian workers are feeling financially stressed for an average of six and a half years or more.

To find out how financial stress affects our health, check out part two in this three part series.

Financial mindfulness

The term mindfulness is used a lot in relation to meditation and psychological therapies to describe being aware and paying attention. But what is financial mindfulness?

Financial mindfulness is simply described as having awareness and paying attention to your finances and financial behaviours. It means more than being money smart or financially savvy, as it includes the capacity to regulate emotional responses that can lead to unhelpful financial behaviour and financial stress.

It not necessarily about having a good financial position or good financial health, but an active process of being aware of and paying attention to your thoughts, feelings and financial behaviours in a way that is helpful.

Financial mindfulness is related to the term financial wellbeing, which is broadly defined as “satisfaction with your financial situation”. Financial mindfulness does include financial wellbeing, but also includes financial stress, their symptoms and behaviours.

Financial mindfulness is a practice that can lead you to financial wellness.  Wellness refers to the mindset formed from the way a person evaluates their finances and how it makes them feel. Mindfulness is the process of paying attention to your finances and taking appropriate positive action so that you can achieve financial wellness.

To summarise, Financial mindfulness, is an active process of paying attention to your finances, financial behaviours, attitudes and beliefs around finances. It is keeping awareness of your thoughts, feelings, actions and financial environment in mind so that you can make better financial choices.

Financial mindfulness helps you to focus on what you need to do, empowers you to make sound decisions, and ultimately invest in your financial wellbeing. Click on the link below today and download our free app to learn more about financial mindfulness and how it can assist you in increasing your financial wellbeing.

 

  

Financial stress is widespread

Money worries are common. They existed before COVID-19 and now with changes in our employment and society, financial stress has become more widespread.

The Australian Psychological Society reports that financial stress is one of the major causes of stress in adults, and recently published research on the Financial Stress Index (FSI) from Financial Mindfulness, indicates an escalation of financial stress symptoms due to COVID-19 including negative impacts on relationships.

Financial stress is personal and impacts all areas of our lives. It is something we experience regarding our financial situation today or our financial future. It also involves our thoughts about money and finances and what we do in terms of spending and saving, and how we manage our finances.  Financial stress can arise during short term specific financial demands such as change in employment, or from a chronic and long-term financial concern, such as increasing debt with interest repayments or difficulty repaying a home mortgage.

The problem with financial stress is that it does not just impact our finances, it can have a significant effect on our wellbeing including our physical and mental health along with our relationships, work, behaviour and potentially our environment.

Some signs that financial stress is affecting your health, work and relationships include arguing with the people closest to you about money, becoming aggressive to others,  difficulty sleeping, feeling downhearted, overwhelmed, angry or fearful, mood swings, tiredness, loss of appetite, and withdrawing from others.

While these reactions affect your overall wellbeing, if they continue for a prolonged period of time, they could turn into serious health issues.  The important thing is to seek appropriate help.

People from all walks of life may experience problems with their finances at some stage in their lives. It is not something to feel embarrassed or ashamed about, especially as those feelings can stop people from getting the assistance they need.

Financial mindfulness means being aware and paying attention to your finances, and that may mean seeking help. The help required will vary from individuals. It may be practical financial support, or learning budgeting skills, or seeking assistance to manage the stress of money worries.

The first step to being financially aware is to determine how stressed you are by your finances. Our unique Financial Stress Index (FSI) designed by a team of Neuropsychologists and financial experts works out your financial stress levels and potential symptoms. You can start this process by downloading our app and completely your FSI.

 

  

Australians distressed and acting aggressively to others, due to escalating financial stress during COVID-19 pandemic

These are the findings from the latest Financial Mindfulness Financial Stress Index (FSI) report which has tracked financial stress in detail over the last 12 months and captured the impact from the COVID-19 pandemic.

An estimated 2.29 million Australians are experiencing levels of financial stress that reduce their wellbeing and capacity to function and it is dragging on the Australian economy.

The lost productivity costs Australian business an estimated $32.14 billion per annum. Key findings from the Financial Mindfulness FSI report during COVID-19* include:

      • 8.76x increase in people always acting “aggressively towards others because of my financial position”
      • There has been an 8.25x increase in those Distressed during COVID19 times from pre COVID-19
      • A 290% increase for always feeling isolated
      • 151% increase in those always finding it hard to ‘wind down’
      • Worry, feelings of tension and agitation increased
      • Increases in people who always or sometimes “experienced conflict with a loved one about money matters”.

The other key findings from the Financial Mindfulness FSI Report were:

      • A large proportion feel worried (89%), overwhelmed (79%), and downhearted (82%) about their financial situation
      • 69% of people say financial stress has negatively impacted their relationships
      • 64% experienced conflict with loved ones
      • 50% could not meet all of their weekly expenses
      • 77% of people are distracted because of financial concerns
      • 62% of people are having difficulty sleeping
      • 50% of people ate, drank, smoked more due to their financial situation.

“The Financial Stress Index (FSI) is a comprehensive measure of the financial factors and biopsychosocial consequences of financial stress developed by Financial Mindfulness,” says Dr Nicola Gates, Consultant Clinical Neuropsychologist at Financial Mindfulness.

“A worrying result has been the significant escalation of people always acting aggressively towards others and the negative impact on relationships in general.”

The company’s Founder and CEO, Andrew Fleming says “Financial stress was a significant problem before the COVID-19 pandemic, but we now can see the increased damage it is having on individuals and work productivity.”

“It is staggering to see how much financial stress is impacting mental and physical health, relationships and work.”

“We developed the Financial Stress Index (FSI) to understand financial stress at a granular level in order to build a solution. Our solution is the Financial Mindfulness App, a personalised program which reduces financial stress,” Fleming says.

The Financial Mindfulness FSI is a leading indicator on financial stress and will be reported every six months to measure changes in Australians’ financial stress levels.

*Data compares user responses in the periods August 2019 to February 2020, with March to August 2020.

https://work.financialmindfulness.com

The Financial Mindfulness App can be downloaded from both the Apple App and Google Play stores, click below.

  

The September 2020 Financial Stress Index report can be accessed via the link.

To arrange an interview with Andrew Fleming, Founder & CEO of Financial Mindfulness and/or Dr Nicola Gates, Consultant Clinical Neuropsychologist at Financial Mindfulness, please contact Peter Vincent on 0421 389 685 or [email protected]

Financial stress behind mental health insurance claim spikes

New research reveals that financial stress is a hidden mental health trigger for Australians to submit insurance claims, part of a trend alarming the life insurance industry. The financial stress burden faced by Australians is, according to analysis by Rice Warner, a major factor in the escalating numbers of mental health-related claims that insurers are wrestling with.

In a report commissioned by an Australian start-up, Financial Mindfulness, to examine the viability of a program to reduce personal financial stress, it was estimated that well over half of mental health-related insurance claims are due to financial stress.

“It is not unreasonable to assume that 60 % of mental health claims have financial stress as a primary or secondary contributor,” Rice Warner consultant Heather Brown wrote.

Other research also commissioned by Financial Mindfulness in July 2017 found that Australians under financial stress suffered severe impacts on their mental and physical health and relationships. While musculoskeletal conditions are the biggest category of claims for both IP and TPD claims, it is widely acknowledged that mental health is the fastest growing cause of insurance claims. Many agree because decades of stigma is lifting. Rice Warner’s Group Insurance Claims Experience Study, a huge research project into 140,000 claims across 16 superannuation funds from 2011 to 2014, revealed another stunning finding, about the leading causes of IP claims in particular.

Mental health issues were the leading cause of IP claims during most Australian prime child rearing and career-building years (25 to 45 years). IP insurance premiums are worth an estimated $4.1 billion in annual premiums.The types of insurance most affected by mental health claims are Total and Permanent Disability and Income Protection. 20% of all IP claims are due to mental health issues or suicide, while the figure was 15% for TPD.

According to Financial Mindfulness Founder and CEO, Andrew Fleming: “The trend of mental health insurance claims lead us to believe that this is the number one issue facing the life insurance industry. What is the major reason behind mental health claims? Financial stress.

“Financial stress is having a major impact on Australians mental health. Recently we announced our results from a detailed survey on Financial stress which highlighted the severity of the problem.” More than one in three Australian’s surveyed (38%) worried about money “all the time”.

Those who identified as being financially stressed, said anxiety (66%), depression (64%) and social isolation (55%) were the consequences of financial stress.

Peter Vincent
13th November 2017