The 5 Pillars of Financial Self-Care

August 19, 2022

Financial wellness is a topic that has a significant impact on multiple areas of a person’s life – whether positive or negative. Sometimes, people feel worried that they do not have the savings or investments they would like to have. Other times, it may be challenging to make ends meet for basic survival needs. Financial wellness involves the ability to manage a budget, live by available means and plan for the future. In this post, I will outline the 5 pillars of financial self-care and share some ideas (and resources) for supporting financial wellness. I hope you find this post helpful and practical.

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1. creating and managing a personal budget

Creating and managing a personal budget is not a one-size-fits-all task, but it can be sustainable and empowering with the right fit. Understanding what you need from your budgeting system is key in developing a solid financial self-care routine. Let’s first discuss what a basic budget includes, then how to build your own. There are various budgeting methods to choose from, although a personal budget typically includes some version of the following 7 categories:

income

Tracking all sources of income (earned income/paid employment, passive income, portfolio or investment, etc.)

fixed expenses

Fixed expenses are expenses with a recurring or stable dollar amount. A couple examples might be car insurance and rent or mortgage payments.

variable expenses

Variable expenses are expenses with changing dollar amounts. An example might be utility bills, such as electricity or water.

necessary expenses

Necessary expenses are non-negotiables. Necessary expenses need to be paid no matter what. A few examples might be rent or mortgage, groceries, medical supplies.

discretionary spending and/or other spending category

Discretionary spending is categorized for whatever you want. A few examples could be “fun money,” events and recreation, hobby supplies, etc. This may also include donating some money, if possible, to causes that you believe in.

debt repayment

Debt repayment covers money that is owed until it is paid in full, such as credit card payments, student loans or a car loan.

savings

Savings refers to any money set aside for future use. Savings could be used for planned future expenses, such as a college fund, vacation or gifts for others. Savings could also be for unplanned future expenses, such as emergency funds, unexpected repairs or an unexpected leave from work.

If you’d like to explore how to create a personal budget that works for you, click here to read this blog post, outlining the top 10 most recommended methods.

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2. tracking actual expenses and spending

This might be an obvious one and it goes hand-in-hand with maintaining your budget, but so many people still struggle with this. If you spend the time and effort to create a budget, it is important to track actual expenses and spending in order to make sure you’re following/maintaining your budget. If your budget isn’t sustainably working for you and you feel you’ve given it your best effort for a few months, it might be best to try another method. Remember: budgeting is not a one-size-fits-all, so it is important to be as honest as possible with yourself while considering what works best for you.

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3. living by available means

*mental health content warning in this section; depression, financial trauma*

This is also somewhat built-in to pillars 1 and 2 above, but I wanted to add an extra comment on this. Working in the mental health field, I have witnessed so many people experience negative health consequences related to their financial wellness. Sometimes, very serious and tragic consequences.

As much as I want to say that “living by available means” is a personal choice and that a budget will help – I cannot, in good conscience, leave it there. It’s not that simple. There is a lot of guilt and shame surrounding financial wellness and money habits for a lot of people. The related stress can create a sense of chaos, hopelessness and helplessness. We know this is a perfect storm for depression to grab hold. This can also be more intense for people who struggle with mental health concerns already. If you’d like to learn more about this, check out the money and mental health policy institute from the UK.

If financial stress is impacting your mental health, you are not alone. In the United States, you can try your local Community Mental Health office for help accessing more affordable care. The case managers are familiar with the nuances of our government programs and health insurance programs, so you do not have to navigate these systems without support. If you have health insurance already, but still have difficulty affording mental health care, you can find information about the affordable care act on mentalhealth.gov.

Of course, this sort of advice is not going to repair the social and economic issues that people are facing, but it can help with identifying coping strategies that could be useful. A few suggestions I have are to consider the budget-by-paycheck or priority-based methods for lower and/or irregular income, utilize as many community resources as possible, focus on practicing self-compassion when you’re struggling, try radical acceptance when you can’t control things, and focus on what you are doing well – no matter how seemingly small or insignificant.

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4. preparing for potential financial stressors

Another important factor in overall financial wellness is long-term thinking and saving for the future. This can help to both avoid debt as well as support a budget plan to pay off existing debt. Once people don’t have to worry about paying for basic expenses (such as food, medical care and shelter), they tend to shift financial worry toward savings goals and paying off debt. My best advice here is to first take steps to build savings into your budget with the resources that you already have available to you. Then, consider trying some options from pillar 5 below when you feel ready.

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5. maximizing assets and building good credit

Maximizing assets can mean further growing your net worth and/or improving your credit score. Here are a few ideas to get started:

  1. Keep savings in places where it will grow.
  2. Pay off credit card debt.
  3. Owning property, such as your primary residence and/or rental properties.
  4. Owning other property, such as vehicles or boats.
  5. Maxing out retirement contributions, especially if there’s a company match.
  6. Invest in your education to increase your potential work opportunities and (hopefully) earn more income for your time and skills.
  7. Securities (stocks, bonds, mutual funds, etc.)
  8. Consider credit card options (secured credit cards, becoming an authorized user on an existing account, requesting a credit limit increase, use your credit cards and pay the bill on time and in full each month).
  9. Pay any existing loans on time.
  10. Learn more about credit building. I like to read the Experian Blog.

I hope these 5 pillars have helped to provide some inspiration about financial wellness self-care options for you to try. If you’d like to reflect further, please try this financial wellness journaling worksheet.

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