The hidden health hazard of financial stress

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 This year, consider letting go of the financial choices that aren’t serving you and could be affecting your physical and mental well-being. The 2023 Money-Stress Tracker by Debt Busters reveals that 80% of women experience financial stress, and it is impacting their health. Dr Marion Borcherds, Senior Manager and Head of Wellbeing at AfroCentric, a Sanlam subsidiary, says financially stressed people are twice as likely to report poor overall health and four times as likely to develop certain health conditions.

“It’s crucial that people understand and manage the symbiotic dance between their health and finances. Financial wellness is when you can meet money-related needs, feel secure about your financial future, and not stress about money. This state of financial health can dramatically improve your life and prevent hardships. With financial health, you can reach goals and pursue more opportunities, which improves your quality of life.”

Here, Dr Borcherds unpacks the interdependence of health and financial management.

The impact of financial stress on health

AfroCentric conducted a financial well-being programme that sheds light on South Africans’ challenges. A staggering 70% of participants reported that their salary does not cover monthly expenses. While a significant 94% contribute to retirement savings, a mere 8% have engaged with a financial planner, highlighting a gap in expert financial guidance. Furthermore, the majority (65%), are burdened with short-term debt, underscoring the need for financial literacy and coaching in the workplace.

“Financial stress directly impacts mental and physical health as it causes significant hardship. This can lead to anxiety, depression, and even other problems such as relationship troubles and ill health. Debt and financial stress are often a precursor to poor mental health. This can lead people to spend even more on medical needs, a vicious cycle which compounds the financial stress.

Dr Borcherds provides several tips to ensure you’re both healthy and managing your money well:

  • Create a budget: This helps you to identify areas where you can cut back and take charge of your finances.
  • Financial Literacy: Accessing tools, information, and resources is crucial in supporting mental well-being.
  • Exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet, and get adequate sleep: These habits assist in boosting energy, maintaining good health, and preventing an additional financial drain due to medical costs.
  • Save for emergencies: An emergency fund can mitigate the stress of incurring debt to cover unexpected expenses such as a major car service or new tyres.
  • Pay off debt: Debt is a significant source of stress and anxiety. Reducing debt can have a positive impact on physical and mental health.
  • Financial coaching: Speaking about money matters is often difficult. Many people still consider conversations about finances to be sensitive, painful, or taboo which can prevent them from seeking such assistance.

Preparing for 2024

Given the uncertainties South Africans might face this year, Dr Borcherds encourages people to consider manage their money in a way that aligns with their health goals. “Speaking to a healthcare adviser will help individuals stay informed on the best medical schemes and possibly other options such as primary healthcare insurance.”

She adds that people should approach long-term financial planning with health considerations in mind, especially with the rising cost of healthcare. Budgeting, planning for taxes and retirement, building an emergency fund, and creating an estate plan are all vital elements of long-term financial management and are considerations a financial adviser can assist with.

Balancing your health and finances

Dr Borcherds emphasises the importance of financial planning and literacy in managing the symbiotic relationship between health and finance. “Workplace wellness programmes are well-positioned to assist South Africans with financial advice, financial coaching, and opening the discourse on financial matters. For example, Sanlam Umbrella Funds offers members access to financial advisors, myriad tools to better manage their finances and free psychology sessions. Financial literacy does sit at the heart of employees taking charge of their financial health, and employers can help to remove the taboos around these conversations.”

The dance of health and finance in your life is a delicate balance that requires careful planning and management. By taking the necessary steps to ensure your physical and financial health, you can lead a more balanced and stress-free life in 2024.

Also see: Breaking mental health stigma in the workplace in 2024

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