“Blue Monday” may not be a thing…financial wellbeing IS
Written by Audrey Tang on January 19, 2022
Are you financially healthy?
I’m not talking about “Blue Monday” – an idea conceived by Dr Cliff Arnall and published in a Travel Article which found “the 3rd Monday in January” to be the gloomiest day of the year. This was because of a combination of:
– Festive gut
– Weather conditions
– A failing of our resolutions (and ensuing lack of motivation thereafter)
– And debt.
While Arnall himself has agreed that “Blue Monday” is a “not particularly helpful…self fulfilling prophecy”, despite every marketing, PR Firm and journalist jumping on it to create articles…one element does impact more than just January 17th 2022 …Debt. Our finances, no matter what they may be, have a huge impact on our mental wellbeing.
Don’t let financial health become a poor relation of wellness
Not only does awareness of our finances give us a sense of control (otherwise why would there be so many anecdotal reports of people who know they have overspent deliberately ignoring their bills?), but it is certainly possible that personal spending habits can give an indication of our behaviours in other areas of our lives. While being able to work within a budget can teach us discipline, and bring a sense of confidence, freedom and peace of mind, debt can have tragic emotional consequences.
According to Money & Mental Health (2021) “Over 420,000 people in problem debt consider taking their own life in England each year…[and] more than 100,000 in problem debt attempt [it].” And worse, the pandemic has exacerbated an already difficult situation with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reporting that over 800,000 Brits lost their jobs during the global pandemic.
As I’ve said in previous articles following these gloomy statistics in previous articles: it is not so much that “we don’t need money to enjoy life”, but rather we need no excess of it to experience joyful abundance…we do need money to survive.
Financial Biases to be aware of: ‘THE PRESENT BIAS’ leading to bad investments:
This can relate to the psychological hangover from evolutionary times when we were built to survive not necessarily thrive long term.
In the past, where our environment was dangerous with fragile alliances, it would have been healthy to take what you can now rather than wait until later…even though we know now, that smart investments can literally yield dividends…the world was very different. This instinct sometimes stays with us and research has shown that people would prefer to have a reward “now” rather than wait for a slightly bigger one a little later on. This is known as “the present bias”. As such, when we are presented with something and we are told we must not “miss out”, or it’s a “limited offer”, that bias can lead us to follow our fear of losing out rather than thinking critically about what is being offered.
The dangers of “Buy Now Pay Later” (BNPL)
in the case of “Buy Now Pay Later” which has resulted in research by the Citizen’s Advice Bureau finding:
– roughly £39 million was charged as late fees in the past year in relation to BNPL arrangements taken on across the UK.
– around 96 per cent of people who found themselves being chased by debt collectors in
relation to BNPL deals having a negative experience.
– with 1 in 10 entering a BNPL deal being chased by debt collectors, often because the reason for needing a BNPL deal is because of struggles with financial management – the charity has called for greater awareness of the potential consequences of such agreements.
Too good to be true? It is important to recognise that times have changed and therefore our judgments must as well. Unfortunately when we are driven by “want” we may overlook red flags which might warn us that an offer may have a catch or what we’re seeing may not be the whole truth.
Now it is not necessarily a case of “Missing out”, but rather “is someone trying to trick me”…and also “It’s ok, another will come along soon”.
Holding on, or at least taking time to check the facts can make a huge difference to us, and while sometimes it is important to take action expediently, it never hurts to take a moment to be sure what you are going to agree to is worth it.
Temptation into instant gratification This in turn can see roots in evolution – we were originally built to survive. Our environment was more dangerous, alliances perhaps more fragile, and our own lifespan largely curtailed…so best take what you can of the limited resources available now in case they are not available later. And as devil’s advocate I might also say – in some cases, there can also be some very back luck which gets in the way – a global pandemic for example – was unexpected and unfortunately “reset” our values to “surviving” rather than thriving. What future was there to plan for when we really were getting through day by day? What we need to remember, however, is that times have changed. Our lifestyles have changed, and what we can come to expect of them have changed – therefore planning for our future self is perhaps not just sensible, but essential.
To take another example of how our past selves have not caught up with technology and so we need to take a moment to think is when it comes to consuming sugary and fatty foods. At a time when we need to eat for survival, our bodies would recognise foods with sugar and fats as that would be our source of energy, and as such, we are “programmed” to seek them out…we were not programmed to be discerning when it comes to the synthesised products that can lead to obesity and dental problems when taken in excess…and as such, we – our rational, empowered selves – need to try and remain in command of our instincts. The same is true when it comes to financial planning. Times have changed and so have we. In a longitudinal study conducted in Stanford by Mischel in 1972 children ages 3-6 were asked to either choose a reward now, or wait a while for a bigger reward later. The children were then left alone with the reward (either a marshmallow or pretzel stick) as the researcher exited the room. It was found that the children able to wait longer attained better life outcomes – although the research has been challenged on the variable of baseline socio-economic status. However, the test remains notable that delayed gratification, in modern life, may bring greater rewards than instant satiation. It is simply worth remembering that planning AND adaptability are the areas that serve us best in uncertainty – and along with that, keeping one’s wits about us. In other words, if you are making an investment, do your research to make sure it is a safe one, especially if you don’t have a “Plan B”…but at the same time, on something where the loss is not impactful, but the gain can be great – it can be exhilarating to throw caution to the wind. It is our judgment that needs to evolve along with our lifestyles.
The “Sunk Cost” Bias – sticking with a bad investment past it’s sell by date Another problem surrounding bad investments is the “sunk cost bias” and that is the bias which leads us to think – I’ve already invested so much time/energy/money into this situation/job/relationship that I may as well keep going.
Unless there are clear indications that something will change, it is often better to “cut your losses” before things get so bad that the change is forced upon you. At the very least, when we drive change, even if it is difficult, we feel empowered which can be motivating.
Gifts = Love? Money can sometimes be interchanged with love…this behaviour may be something that has been set down in childhood, for example, when parents who are too busy to spend quality time with children, instead spend money on them because gifts are one way of showing and receiving love (Dr Gary Chapman – 5 Love languages).
Unfortunately, if a child has grown up in this environment, they too may enter adulthood using money in place of emotion – instead of offering support, they flake out but send flowers; if they let you down they don’t apologise but they buy you a present; rather than doing something that takes effort – just buy it. In many ways if the giver finds a partner who enjoys being gifted to, this can create a somewhat balanced co-dependency, but one might question if it is healthy, satisfactory or even meaningful. And, if this becomes a relationship pattern there is always a danger that the gifts (which do not really substitute for depth, intimacy and connection) may need to become more extreme in order for the relationship to last…this can lead to financial issues on top of emotional ones.
While gifts are indeed a lovely way to show affection, they are not the only one, and often when you constantly spend money, you end up with people who like to be bought…the value of true healthy relationships is not often financial.
Spending = “reward”? Another link between guilt and overspending is that shopping gives us a hit of dopamine (dopamine, the reward chemical, is not discerning as to what it responds to…a rat whose dopamine pathway is stimulated can be encouraged to press a lever administering an electric shock and come back for more…please note this is an OLD experiment and would not necessarily pass an ethics committee now). As such, while called “retail therapy” – if it puts you into debt, thus adding to your stress, shopping is not therapy of any kind.
It is sometimes possible to “circumvent” the reward system, simply by (if online) having items in your basket rather than pressing “buy now”; and a brilliant “Parenting hack” for Christmas featured in The Mirror is to photograph a child with the wanted gift and saying you will send the photo to Santa who will decide which of the gifts to give.
However, it is ultimately healthier to find non financial ways to buffer stress. Spending time with friends can be done at one’s own house rather than going out, and exercising can be guided with YouTube videos as long as you are safe – rather than joining a gym.
If we have not learned healthy coping mechanisms to deal with stress, we may spend because it feels good – unfortunately putting oneself into debt is not a way to alleviate psychological woes.
Try these free ways to feel good:
Stimulate curiosity by walking a different local route taking a moment to recognise and even photograph something from a different angle. Look for beauty that you may have otherwise overlooked on your regular path. Or learn about and visit a local point of interest. Go “off grid”, or alternatively take yourself to a place where you can embrace the vastness and beauty of nature. Not only will you benefit from the Vitamin D and serotonin stimulated by sunlight, but in taking in your environment it might help clear some headspace and let you filter through what’s really important.
If you’ve always fancied yourself as a writer or a creator – take advantage of any alone, or down- time and take the plunge – you might produce the next best seller, or you might decide there are other things you prefer to do(!)…another lockdown doesn’t mean baking banana bread alone – consider other skills you might want to develop. You don’t need top of the range supplies to express yourself, and if you do find yourself excelling, then you can make that decision to upgrade with greater knowledge.
Laughter produces endorphins, the body’s natural pain killers – so watch a funny video, call up friends who make you feel good, or watch a comedy. You might even want to try a YouTube dance class – perhaps on a conference call with friends.
The best gift you can give is time and it’s free
Spending quality time with people in conversation or playing a board game or trying something new together – such as camping in the back garden – is healthy and more valuable than most things money can buy. When you talk about your nearest and dearest, you are most likely going to express your love in terms of their personal qualities rather than their possessions.
And finally, some tips for financial health
Know your finances – Be aware of how much you have and owe, and if the latter have a clear plan to get out of debt. If you are really struggling, charities such as Step Change can be very helpful
- Shop smart:
- Have a list
- Keep basic books
- Be mindful that we tend to spend more when away from home, and when we are with others
- Consider using cash (when permitted in stores)
- Make considered investments – poor investments can include lending…never offer what you cannot afford to lose – Remember that money is not a substitute for love
- Spend mindfully on the person you WANT to be.
- Teach children the importance of financial health, and true value…modelling it yourself.
Dr Audrey Tang hosts The Wellbeing Lounge: your hour of mental health and wellness, Tuesdays 9pm