The link between money worries and mental health problems is clear, but fortunately there are some simple steps you can follow to keep your cash concerns under control

A single bead of sweat drips down my clammy back, even though it’s the middle of winter. My face is flushed, and I feel lightheaded as my thumb rests on the fingerprint button of my phone. I log in and wait an agonising few seconds for the figure to appear on the screen. The number that will dictate the tone of my day, the amount of cash I have to my name. As the figure appears in black and white, I breathe a gentle sigh of relief. Phew. My bank balance isn’t (currently) in the danger zone, so I can afford to get some groceries on the way home this evening.

This is a process I go through almost every day. Habitually checking and rechecking my bank balance to make sure that I can afford to buy the things I need in life. Food, bills, travel costs, and of course the little extras that privilege provides, like a new lipstick or a fancy bottle of gin.

Worrying about cash flow is a horrible, sinking feeling. But it’s one that constantly bubbles away under the surface for many of us. Two-thirds of those aged between 22 and 38 say that money worries keep them up at night, with debt, bills, and mortgage payments ranking highly on the list. Another survey found that one in four Brits admitted they would struggle if faced with a long period of unpaid sick leave, and 23% would not be able to cope with the expense of a broken boiler.

The link between money and mental wellbeing is clear, and it’s one that we can work to strengthen in a positive way. Money coach and mentor Emma Maslin says: “At its heart, financial wellbeing is about acknowledging our emotions around money, feeling in control of our finances, being able to withstand financial unpredictability and unexpected expenses.”

With a quarter of people in the UK believing that poor financial wellbeing is a significant cause of stress within their workplace, it’s clear that many of us need to address our relationship with money.

Rooted in childhood

The emotions we feel towards money are closely linked to the beliefs that have been instilled in us from a young age. For example, if you were brought up being repeatedly told you that you shouldn’t talk about money, then you may exhibit avoidance behaviours as an adult. If you were taught to be vigilant with money, then you may find it difficult to spend money as an adult, even if you are financially stable.

To make things worse, social media creates a warped reality that pressures people into spending money on the wrong things. A poll commissioned by BBC Radio 5 recently found that more than a third of 20 to 29-year-olds agreed that social media posts by influencers made them spend money they otherwise would not have wanted to spend.

I spoke to psychotherapist and Counselling Directory member Paula Coles, who has observed young people distracting themselves with small purchases as a way to self-medicate. “People might compulsively shop, or try to buy ‘the appearance ideal’,” says Paula. “Others may find themselves prioritising things such as escapist holidays over establishing an everyday home life that they enjoy.” This inevitably impacts future wellbeing, with 16 million people in the UK having less than £100 in savings, according to a Money Advice Service survey.

Dazed and confused

Alongside unnecessary spending, debt worries, and mental blocks, perhaps the most frustrating threat to our financial wellbeing is a lack of understanding. With terms such as ‘effective annual rate’, ‘loan-to-value’ and ‘compound interest’ it’s no wonder that 77% of UK adults are confused by financial jargon. Six million Brits have racked up late fees due to misunderstanding language, and others have seen a negative impact on their credit scores.

By putting away a dedicated amount of money every month, you’ll become more mindful with your purchases

This can lead to further difficulties, and general avoidance behaviour, because people don’t know how to make changes for the better. Paula says that education and awareness around financial matters can be hugely powerful for our wellbeing.

“In psychotherapy, we talk about individuals flourishing when they have a positive internal locus of control, meaning that an individual feels they have personal power in their life and therefore they make positive choices,” she says. “By increasing awareness of complicated topics, such as pensions and taxes, a person might develop a stronger internal locus of control, be less avoidant, and more able to make informed choices about how to manage their finances.”

So, here are some expert tips on how to improve your financial wellbeing…

Get practical

“The best way I learned to manage my finances was to write down absolutely everything. I write down every penny I earn and spend. I use Google Docs to make spreadsheets to easily keep track of my income, outgoings, spending, and savings. You can also find plenty of free printable templates online. Writing everything down has made a huge difference to my spending habits and my financial wellbeing. I don’t tend to overspend so much and I have managed to keep my savings goals.” – Claire Roach, money saving blogger at Daily Deals UK.

Plan

“Look at the long-term as well as the short-term – try to look ahead with your finances. Where do you want to be in five to 10 years? Are you thinking about your future with a pension, or spending on unnecessary things that are only bringing you temporary joy rather than long-term stability?” – Chloe Rowlands from TIC Finance.

Set a goal

“Creating a savings pot can help you control your spending by encouraging you to work towards a specific goal; this could be anything from a house deposit, to a holiday. By putting away a dedicated amount of money every month, you’ll become more mindful with your purchases, knowing that this self-control will be rewarded.” – John Ellmore from knowyourmoney.co.uk

Financial wellbeing improvement checklist

  • Every month, record your expenses and income, then reflect on how you can make small changes.
  • Tackle any high-interest debt by finding lower interest ways to pay. Visit stepchange.org for free debt advice.
  • Open a savings account, and put a little aside each month – and look to increase this over time.
  • Set up a direct debit, so that savings come out automatically.
  • Contribute as much as you can to your workplace pension.
  • Set short- and long-term financial goals.
  • To learn the basics on a wide range of topics, including benefits, Brexit, redundancy, and insurance, visit moneyadviceservice.org.uk

Find out more about Emma Maslin's work by heading to themoneywhisperer.co.uk


If you feel your money worries are affecting your mental health, you may want to speak to a professional. For more information on professional support visit counselling-directory.org.uk