#WickedProblemsinWellness: Financial Wellness in Systems of Care

“The first wealth is health.” 

American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson stated this in 1860, and it continues to ring true today. But what exactly is the link between wealth and wellbeing? 

Health is considered one of the most critical pillars of everyday life, and finances are often regarded as equally essential. Traditionally, discussions around health primarily revolve around physical and mental wellbeing, often overlooking the profound impact of financial wellness on overall health. Financial health is an integral pillar supporting our wellbeing and influencing our economic stability and mental and physical states.

Financial wellness is defined as one’s ability to manage expenses, prepare for and recover from financial shocks, have minimal debt, and build wealth. Financial wellness refers to one’s financial affairs, encompassing everything from budgeting and saving to investing and retirement planning. Just as a balanced diet and regular exercise contribute to physical health, a sound financial plan and prudent money management are crucial for maintaining financial wellbeing.

Financial Wellness and Stress

One of the critical connections between financial and overall health lies in reducing stress. Financial stress can be a pervasive and chronic issue, affecting individuals across various socioeconomic backgrounds. The constant worry about meeting financial obligations, paying off debts, or saving for the future can lead to elevated stress levels, contributing to various health problems. Elevated stress levels are closely linked to increased blood pressure, a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks and strokes. Chronic stress also strains the immune system, making individuals more susceptible to infections and illnesses. Moreover, prolonged exposure to financial stressors can disrupt sleep patterns, exacerbate fatigue, and impair cognitive function, further compromising overall health and wellbeing. 

Mental health is not spared, either. Anxiety and depression are familiar companions of financial struggles, with individuals experiencing feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and shame in the face of financial difficulties. The constant worry about financial stability can erode self-esteem, strain relationships, and exacerbate existing mental health conditions. Often, the stigma surrounding financial hardship deters individuals from seeking help, worsening their sense of isolation and distress.

The Impact of Financial Literacy

Financial literacy plays a pivotal role in achieving and maintaining financial wellness. Understanding the basics of budgeting, investing, and debt management empowers individuals to make informed decisions about their financial future. When armed with the knowledge to navigate the complex landscape of personal finance, individuals are better equipped to set realistic goals, prioritize spending, and build a secure financial foundation.

Financial wellness extends beyond individual health, influencing the wellbeing of families and communities. When families are financially secure, they are better equipped to meet basic needs, provide for their children’s education, and invest in opportunities for personal and professional growth. Financial stability within a household also plays a crucial role in fostering positive relationships among family members. Financial stress is a significant source of tension and conflict within families, often leading to arguments, misunderstandings, and strained relationships. Conversely, when families are financially secure, they can focus on nurturing healthy communication, mutual respect, and support, strengthening bonds, and promoting resilience in the face of challenges.

As financial literacy spreads within communities, the collective wellbeing of society can improve, creating a ripple effect that benefits everyone. Additionally, as financial literacy spreads within communities, the collective wellbeing of society as a whole improves. Financially literate individuals are better equipped to make informed decisions about their finances, avoid predatory financial practices, and advocate for economic justice and equity policies. Furthermore, financial wellness contributes to social cohesion and civic engagement within communities. When individuals feel financially secure, they are more likely to participate in community activities, volunteer their time and resources, and advocate for issues that affect their communities. The heightened awareness and engagement lead to more resilient, empowered, and economically vibrant communities.

Incorporating Financial Health into Systems of Care

Fostering a supportive environment that encourages open dialogue about financial struggles can help destigmatize the issue and facilitate access to resources and support networks. One environment that is particularly valuable in its potential support is an individual’s job environment. Employers are increasingly recognizing the connection between financial wellness and employee productivity. Financially stressed employees are more likely to experience reduced job performance, increased absenteeism, and higher healthcare costs. Many organizations are incorporating financial wellness programs into their employee benefits packages, providing resources and education to help employees manage their finances effectively. Additionally, policymakers can implement measures to improve access to affordable housing, healthcare, and educational opportunities, addressing systemic barriers that contribute to financial instability.

In conclusion, financial wellness is undeniably a crucial pillar of health, intricately woven into the fabric of overall wellbeing. It’s not merely about accumulating wealth but about fostering a healthy relationship with money, understanding its role in our lives, and utilizing it to enhance physical and mental health. By acknowledging and addressing the intersections between financial literacy and health outcomes, we pave the way for holistic approaches to wellbeing that can impact individuals and communities alike.