Similarities between Health and Money
Let’s consider some of the similarities between your health and your money, and then address small ways that you can begin making positive steps in both areas. Barbara O’Neill and Karen Ensle at Rutgers University have identified some interesting, practical similarities between money and health and how you can think about both.
1) Both health and money problems typically start small. Health problems can arise from seemingly minor symptoms but if ignored they can mushroom into something much more critical…and costly. In the same way financial problems can start small – rolling over credit card balances, late payments, rising interest rates – but quickly grow to become more difficult to pay than you had imagined. Health problems can in fact be created by financial problems and vice versa.
2) No one likes to change. It’s just a fact. So if you’re faced with having to make changes to improve your physical or financial health it’s very common to become overwhelmed to the point of not feeling like you’re able, or you even want to, do anything. It’s important to remember that any positive change at all – even just beginning to save $5 or 10 a week or walk 5 or 10 minutes a day – will move you in the right direction. Beginning and continuing to make small changes will add up to significant, positive changes. You can’t control everything that happens to you in life but you can make choices within your control. You can make choices to care for your physical and financial health and one small step at a time, over time, will create significant growth and positive change.
3) Inaction has real implications. People who practice physically and financially healthy lifestyles decrease both their risk of dying prematurely or of becoming financially bankrupt. If you have some physical and/or financial areas of struggle doing nothing does not really mean that nothing is happening – you can’t put health or financial problems “on hold.” Late fees and interest charges continue to add up, weight gain continues to creep up. Your inaction is not about not choosing – it’s choosing to do nothing in the face of some already identified problems. Coming to grips with that should hopefully move you to look at small steps you can take today in a positive direction instead of allowing your problems to continue to grow.
4) Denial creates important disconnects between perception and reality. Health and financial planning studies indicate that many people have a disconnect between perception and reality. A 2006 Retirement Confidence Study found that 3 in 10 American workers haven’t saved anything for retirement, yet half are confident they will have enough money to retire on. In the same way, people with health problems will often live in denial before pursuing appropriate or aggressive treatment. You may think you are doing a whole better – financially or physically - than you actually are. If you don’t regularly monitor your physical health (weight, exercise ability, regular physical exams) or financial health (debt levels, checkbook statements, savings plans, etc.) it makes it difficult to begin changing negative habits and behaviors because you don’t have an accurate gauge for where you really stand.
5) Need for routine check-ups. Regular physical check-ups are critically important for people as they age or who are at-risk for certain types of diseases. Chronic or critical illnesses can take years to develop and if you are diagnosed early on you have a better chance of not only surviving but thriving than if you delay or neglect treatment. Financial check-ups are critically important too. You can be financially sick and not know it – it’s important to diagnose your problems (credit card balances, lack of savings, etc.) before it gets worse and discover areas of financial vulnerability (i.e. lack of insurance) to take steps to address those.
6) There are resources to help. If you are facing fairly significant financial or health problems there are people and programs available to help. You may have medical options that you were not aware of – local free clinics, social services or even doctors and dentists who provide low-cost or a slide scale payment plan. In the same way financial planners and local credit counseling agencies can provide financial education services. Click here to learn more about how to select and work with a financial advisor.
7) Your employer may provide options. Increasingly employers are concerned about keeping their employees healthy. Sickness means time lost from work and lost worker productivity adds up to a less profitable company. More companies than ever before are providing on-site fitness centers, incentives to lose weight and stop smoking, and healthcare education tools. Your time off work can mean lost wages, lost seniority and opportunities for advancement. Short- or long-term disability can even mean potentially losing your job.
In the same way employers are aware of their employees’ financial health. Employers can – and do – check prospective employees’ credit reports before hiring to determine their reliability. Many employers provide employees with financial tools to provide for their own retirement savings (401(k) plans), their career and earning potential (tuition reimbursement programs). You may want to ask your employer’s human resources department what financial or healthcare assistance programs they offer.
8) Both your money and health require ongoing maintenance. Simple things that you work into your everyday life, natural habits or disciplines like exercising, eating healthfully, monitoring your blood pressure or blood sugar (if you are a diabetic), and getting enough sleep. Financial habits include balancing your checkbook, regularly saving money, saving for retirement, paying your bills on time, etc.
9) There will never be a perfect time to start making changes. Many people think that they will focus on improving their financial or physical health later, when they have more time. But the myth is that there will ever be a time when you can solely focus on those two goals. That’s why it’s important to make it more manageable and take small steps now. If you neglect your health you will end up spending more money on healthcare than you probably desired (or imagined). If you neglect your financial health you may not be able to afford the type of healthcare you may require down the road, or the stress of your financial situation may worsen any existing health problems.