Money doesn’t make you happy, but bad debt makes you sick

You can’t buy happiness, goes the old saying. We also know that being in poverty decreases happiness, but instinctively we know having lots of money doesn’t guarantee happiness.

Research backs up the motherhood statement too. In a landmark study, Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton, of Princeton University found that after an income of US$75,000, earning more money does not increase happiness.

In 2010, the pair studied the survey responses of 450,000 Americans and found that “high income buys life satisfaction but not happiness”, aka emotional wellbeing.

Then in 2020, three Harvard researchers, Ashley Whillans, Lucía Macchia and Elizabeth Dunn looked at whether prioritising time over money left us happier than focusing on money over time by studying 1000 students graduating from the University of British Columbia.

In short, the students who aimed for money were less happy a year after they graduated than those who made time a priority.

It seems even more obvious that people with lots of debt are not happy, but the extent to which this is true is shocking.

In 2016, Australian investment advice company Acorns Grow Australia surveyed 1000 people and found 70 per cent suffered depression and anxiety because of their money worries, while 76 per cent had trouble sleeping for the same reason. More than half assigned physical health problems to money worries.

In 2013, University of Southampton researchers Thomas Richardson, Ronald Roberts and Peter Elliott found links between severe unsecured debts (such as credit card debt, student and personal loans) and poor health, especially mental health by reviewing 65 previous studies.

Those with unsecured debts were 3.24 times more likely to suffer “mental disorders” than those without unsecured debt and 2.77 times as likely to have depression. They were 2.68 times more likely to be problem drinkers but a scary 8.57 times as likely to be dependent on drugs. Sadly, people with debt are 7.9 times more likely to take their own lives.

Back to the Acorns survey results, a third of Australians aged between 25 and 44 had “abused” alcohol because of financial stress, while 20 per cent coped with money worries by using illegal drugs. It did not say how many turned to prescription drugs to manage.

“The majority of studies found that more severe debt is related to worse health,” the Southampton university team found. Their research was published in the Clinical Psychology Review.

Then there’s the phenomenon of ‘debt-anger’, in which instead of getting fearful about money, people in debt get very angry. By definition, the person affected becomes stressed, and can experience damage to their relationships, feelings of isolation and despair and even weaken one’s immune system.

Australia has world-leading levels of household debt according to most measures. When debt is taken as a percentage of net disposable income, Australia had the fifth highest debt per household out of 35 OECD nations, at nearly 210 per cent of net income, in 2020.

Australia was also the worst in the Asia-Pacific region, in relation to its household debt-to-GDP ratio, according to The Asian Banker website.

Even though most of Australia’s household debt is related to wealth creation or an asset, such as a home loan (the average mortgage debt is $350,000), well over a third of Australians (37 per cent) report they are struggling to repay their debt.

In various research the percentage of Americans struggling with debt is anywhere between 30 per cent and 70 per cent. Even the smaller number is a huge worry.

Citizens of both nations – and people throughout the so-called ‘first-world’ – repeatedly cite money worries as at or near the very top stressors in their lives in surveys and studies.

The Southampton university study didn’t go into which came first – poor mental health or money problems. But the links are clear and so is the message: heavy financial stress will either make you sick, or keep you that way.

The study also didn’t go into what to do about severe financial stress – but there’s plenty of advice out there. The traditional options include consolidating debt, budgeting and financial planning, or studying or working longer hours to try and land a more lucrative role. The latter approaches can come with their own problems: the stress that results from overwork and social disconnection.

One widely praised and usually inexpensive option is to be mindful about money. Mindfulness, defined by some as moment-by-moment awareness, helps to still the mind and improve messy and negative thinking. A huge amount of research worldwide has shown mindfulness positively affects a range of mental health issues including depression, anxiety, memory loss and sleeplessness.

If you are experiencing distress in your life and live in Australia call: Lifeline 131114, Mensline 1300 789 978 or Beyond Blue 1300 224 636; regarding debt problems, the National Debt Helpline may be of use on 1800 007 007.

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.

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]

Stressed about your finances or your mortgage? There’s an app for that

Financial Mindfulness was covered in Yahoo Finance

(Source: Getty)

If you’re experiencing financial stress, you’re dealing with two distinct issues: the money problems, and then the stress itself.

While Headspace has rolled out meditations specifically to help tackle financial stress, a new app has gone one step further to try and tackle both issues at once.

Developed with neuropsychologists, mindfulness and financial experts, the Financial Mindfulness app comes off the back of two years of research and aims to help people reduce financial, credit card and mortgage stress by addressing the way the stress itself is handled.

“The way we deal with particular stressors impacts everything that comes after,” said Financial Mindfulness founder and CEO Andrew Fleming.

Worrying obsessively with money can lead some to start seeing life as just keeping ahead of their financial problems. “Inevitably, that exhausts us.”

“When financial stress is reduced, we get some peace of mind, our relationships improve, and we are more engaged in our jobs.”

But can the Financial Mindfulness actually help me with my finances?

Just because the app is primarily aimed at tackling the ‘stress’ of financial stress doesn’t mean that app is light on financial guidance.

To improve users’ ease of mind and change habits, it uses a mix of financial literacy, goal-setting, and positive reinforcement to help develop new behaviours for better money management.

“Financial Mindfulness also has the ability to measure users levels of financial stress and then measure changes in those levels,” Fleming told Yahoo Finance.

“There has never been a solution available like this to ease the heavy burden of consumers’ financial stress.”

The app is available in the App Store and Google Play in both Australia and the US and offers two free learning modules: ‘Paying Bills’ and ‘Stress Management’.

You can access the rest of the modules, such as ‘Managing Credit Cards’, Managing Mortgages’ and ‘Unexpected Expenses’ for a one-off payment of $1.49 per module.

More than 20 modules are in the pipeline – expect to see ‘Managing Money in Relationships’, ‘Loss of Employment’, ‘Divorce & Separation’ and ‘Under-Earning’ before long.

Though the app only went to app stores this month, Fleming said user testing found financial stress was lowered after just one use of the app.

“Most users said their mood about personal finances also improved,” Fleming added.

“The users were intrigued because they’d never heard of a tool that addresses financial stress in this way.”

Published in Yahoo Finance on 6 September 2019. Credit: Chris Jessica Yun

Financial stress is widespread for Australians and it’s taking its toll

Financial Mindfulness released its latest Financial Stress Survey and the results showed just how much damage financial stress is causing. The Sydney Morning Herald covered the story.

Nearly one in three Australians is feeling financially stressed, with damaging effects on mental and physical health and social relationships.

The CoreData/Financial Mindfulness Financial Stress Survey of 1000 people found 30 per cent of people reported financial stress, and the problem affects all socio-economic groups.

Marian Russell, from North Narrabeen on Sydney’s northern beaches, knows the feeling well.

Her husband, Zac, 28, works long hours as a carpenter while Ms Russell, 24, looks after the couple’s two children, Allegra, 2, and Bodie, 1.

Marian Russell with her two children, Allegra, 2, and Bodie, 1, at Warriewood beach.

Marian Russell with her two children, Allegra, 2, and Bodie, 1, at Warriewood beach. Credit: Daniel Munoz

The family lives pay cheque to pay cheque and struggles to pay off a debt they acquired when they bought a vehicle for Zac’s work.

“This week we literally had $30 after all the bills were paid. It’s sad but we’ve got to be thankful we’ve got food in the cupboard,” Ms Russell said.

“It’s taking its toll, not just on our relationship but emotionally, on myself. I have anxiety and depression and it doesn’t help not having my husband around because he has to work six days a week to keep food on the table. It’s a lot of pressure for a young mum.”

Ms Russell said her husband found it hard to switch off from work and the couple rarely get to go out together. Her husband’s family live nearby but are away until the end of the year, so free babysitting is off the cards for now. They got married in the registry office because money was too tight for a wedding and Ms Russell has shelved her plans for study.

Marian Russell had to take her children, Allegra, 2, and Bodie, 1, out of swimming lessons because of money worries.

Marian Russell had to take her children, Allegra, 2, and Bodie, 1, out of swimming lessons because of money worries. Credit: Daniel Munoz

Her biggest fear is not providing for her children. She cancelled their swimming lessons because it cost too much, a decision that weighs heavily given the family live so close to the beach.

Ms Russell said she would like to contribute financially but if she went back to her former work in retail, the cost of childcare would leave the family only $10 a day better off. “I would love to work but it’s not worth it,” she said.

Instead she sells her art online, under the name LunaTribeDesign on Instagram and Facebook, providing some “pocket money” and a much-needed emotional boost.

Ms Russell said they were lucky to live in a good rental property but she doubts they will be able to get ahead while living in Sydney.

The financial stress survey found money worries were widespread across all socio-economic groups. Clinical psychologist Dr Nicola Gates, who was involved in the study, said people on high incomes reported financial stress as well.

“It can be over-commitment but also things can change profoundly for people,” Dr Gates said.

“A client in my practice had a recreational sport accident … he came off his jet ski and hadn’t set himself up well with insurance, so the family lost the major breadwinner just like that. So where do the school fees come from? How does the mortgage get paid? People’s financial position can be more precarious than they realise.”

Dr Gates was aware financial stress was a problem for her clients but was surprised the survey suggested it was so high in the general population. Potential reasons include the high cost of housing, lack of wages growth, perceptions of job insecurity and the fact financial literacy has not kept up with the complexity of the financial system.

“Financial stress is very prevalent and there’s a lot of shame and embarrassment around financial stress and as a result people don’t really talk about it,” Dr Gates said. “Shame is a particularly acute risk for mental illness.”

The psychological burden of stress has a physical effect on the body, with lack of sleep and lowered immunity. And people often cope with financial stress in ways that can damage their health and relationships.

Thirty-five per cent of financially stressed respondents have used drugs or alcohol to manage negative feelings stemming from their money worries, while 38 per cent have been hurtful towards themselves or others.

Almost nine in 10 financially stressed respondents regularly miss social events because of money worries, compared with only one in five of those not financially stressed.

More than seven out of 10 people who are financially stressed regularly lose sleep because of money issues, compared with less than one in 10 of those who are not financially stressed.

And more than half of financially stressed respondents report considerable difficulty concentrating due to money worries, compared with only 3 per cent of those who are not financially stressed.

By Caitlin Fitzsimmons

Updated September 4, 2017 — 11.29am first published at 12.15am in the Sydney Morning Hearld