Given I write about money, you might expect this column to suggest that now is the perfect time of year to give your finances the once over. I mean, that’s always a good idea. But no, I am not going to succumb to that tried and, frankly, tired subject.
Instead, I want to take a moment to recognise just how hard many (most) people find managing their money. It’s not easy. The language used by financial services companies is full of jargon and acronyms. Numbers, percentages and interest rates bamboozle an awful lot of us and, worse, we are taught that we ought to be embarrassed if we can’t master basic maths.
Not enough time is given to understanding the reasons so many of us are afraid of managing our money. Sometimes it is the overwhelming stress of not having enough of it, the perceived shame of being in debt, the wracking guilt and worry of being unable to afford the latest fashion or tech demanded by children. “Experts” tell us the problem is a lack of education.
But I think that is only part of the reason so many of us struggle with actively managing our own finances. The psychology of money matters more. In my experience, our personal temperament and the way our brains work are far bigger factors in our ability to budget and plan effectively.
I write about personal finance all day, every day – but do I budget? I regret to admit I don’t, and it causes me no end of worry as the month draws to its end and I am scraping around, desperate for payday to arrive. I have the knowledge, but lack the will. For this reason, I was particularly struck by a piece of research carried out by Aviva, which shows the link between the way we feel physically and mentally and our ability to cope with our finances.
It found that more than twice as many people rate financial health as the toughest element of their wellbeing to manage, compared to physical health. By contrast the majority, some 67 per cent, feel they are effectively maintaining good physical health compared with 61 per cent for their mental or financial health.
Even more interestingly, Aviva’s research, conducted over the past two years, discovered that physical health plays a key role in determining a range of important personal financial health outcomes. While implicit in the research, that says to me: exercise and sleep = serotonin and endorphins = better mental health = better equipped to handle things we find difficult.
Aviva calls this the “wellbeing circle”. In practical terms, it means that, by working to improve one aspect of our health and wellbeing, we can by default improve all aspects of our lives.
And here comes the tip of the hat to the new year: all you need to do is take a walk each day. With luck, we can all manage that.