Money stressin’

Have you ever lived somewhere idyllic? Not just visited, but settled into your “happy place”? It’s not hard to feel inspired in beautiful New Zealand, although it would be ideal if more of us could live where we’d like to.

If you did find the perfect spot, you might be surprised  to find that it could still be stressful to live there, even if it was the most easy-going place. Money, among other things, can make it that way.

I once lived for a year in a tiny town in Switzerland, surrounded by farmland with more cows than people. I worked the tools in a toy shop, and sometimes felt like I was an elf in Santa’s workshop. It was idyllic.

We had everything we needed, but I was gobsmacked to discover that people still managed to get worked up by things. I came to a sobering conclusion: people somehow manage to manufacture their own stress, even when you’d think there shouldn’t be any to speak of.

Stressed about finances?

In CFFC’s latest “barometer” – a survey of people’s financial capability and wellbeing – 69% reported being concerned about money. It’s affecting them in a variety of ways:

44% feel stressed

30% lose sleep

30% miss out on social activities important to them

28% don’t access health services they might otherwise have

26% make unhealthy eating choices

25% are embarrassed about their finances

21% hide or conceal their financial situation from family or friends

17% feel ill or unwell

17% have problems with their relationships

15% skip exercising

12% don’t contribute to church or family, even if it is important to them

9% seek help to deal with financial stress

6% miss a day or more of work

Women reported being more affected by money worries. They were more likely, for example, to hide or conceal their situation from family or friends (61%), feel ill or unwell (59%) or lose sleep (57%).

Thankfully, they were also more likely to seek help from others to deal with the stress (59%), which of course is much smarter than guys like me who won’t even ask for directions.

Some wounds are self-inflicted

Suffice to say we’re going through a lot. How did we get here?

I don’t ever want to say that this is all our own fault. When you take into account how wages have been mostly flat for so long, how housing costs have skyrocketed, or how so many unexpected things in life happen, it’s easy to see why there’s often not enough money to go around.

But beyond that, some of this we’ve done to ourselves through the choices we’ve made, by the way we’ve managed our incomings and taken a short-term view of things.

And that’s precisely where we can make a difference and inject some resilience into whatever stressful situation we find ourselves in. It’s not the stress that’s bad in itself – it’s how we handle it that counts.

The beauty of a buffer

To handle the stress, part of the answer is building a buffer: setting aside some savings for a rainy day. Even setting aside a starter safety net of $1000 – about as much as an unexpected car repair might cost – is often enough to help us improve our sleep, think more clearly and make better decisions.

Being without a buffer is not just risky – studies show it’s debilitating. Even if an emergency never occurs, living so close to the edge means we must cope with the stress and anxiety that come with knowing that something might happen.

One of the joys of this job is seeing people’s money worries subside. It shouldn’t have to be this stressful.

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