Today we are going to talk about financial wellness and its relationship to our own health and wellness.
It’s interesting because over the years, financial wellness and health have been considered somewhat taboo. I can’t tell you how many times my patients have inquired about the financial implications of their health. Both from the perspective of what is the diagnosis to discover illness and the treatment of that particular illness going to cost me? And, from the perspective of how much is that chronic disease, that presumably they are considering the impact of avoiding, going to cost me?
There was a large consulting firm who interviewed a group of employees years ago and asked them what they wanted most from life. The survey revealed 2 major goals: (1) retire with wealth; (2) retire with health.
Millenials are placing a higher value on quality of life than employees of the past, but the health and wealth are the most common personal goals for most Americans. Increasingly, astute employee wellness programs are making room for a financial health as a component of their overall wellness program.
What’s interesting is that people often silo off financial health and physical health, but they are intertwined. One study showed that “the average adults 24-64 years old are spending $630 dollars a month on unhealthy habits: behaviors that are completely preventable by the adoption of a healthy lifestyle.” This was from 2013, so the numbers have increased.
The point is that unhealthy lifestyles are expensive. When we choose unhealthy lifestyles, we spend our hard-earned money on things that cause us health problems and prevent wellness. When we spend our money on things that promote wellness, we become more productive, happier, healthier, AND reduce our probability of going on to have future health problems.
Nearly every day, I hear someone talk about how their lifestyle is their choice. There could be no greater civil liberty than the freedom to choose how to live one’s life. Nutrition, for example, and what someone chooses to eat is no doubt their choice. When you eat fast food. When you eat meat and dairy. When you eat high sugar. When you eat fried foods. You are choosing all of those things. Those decisions have implications both here and now, in terms of your level of energy, inflammation, chronic pain, obesity, but they also have an impact on your financial health. When you eat poorly, you are spending money on those foods that make you sick. Yes, it’s your choice to spend your money however you want, but most of us have limits on our amount of money and this leads to choices. When you make the choice to buy something unhealthy, you are choosing not to do something else. You are often choosing not to do something healthier. Money management, it seems, in this case is directly tied to health. Everything you purchase with your money has an impact directly and indirectly on your health.
So, let’s make sure that the decisions you make everyday with your dollar are healthy choices, rather than unhealthy ones.
In addition to personal choices, our decisions about healthy living have a long-term cost to all of us in the form of disease. 45% of Americans fear a major health event that will leave them bankrupt. The cost of healthcare has gone up dramatically. According to the CDC, about 6 in 10 adult Americans have a chronic disease and 4 in 10 have 20 or more. The National Health Council also estimated that 75% of all health care costs nationally were due to chronic disease. Ok, so we know that ½ of us have a chronic disease and that the vast majority of our personal health costs will be for chronic disease and almost ½ of us are fearful of bankruptcy from chronic disease.
The next logical question then is are chronic diseases preventable? According to the World Health Organization, 80% of premature heart disease, stroke, and diabetes are preventable. According to Prevent Cancer Foundation, only 5% of all cancers are truly hereditary, meaning the majority have a lifestyle, exposure component.
Of course, none of these statistics account for early and unexpected deaths, which have a tremendous negative impact on the financial health of a family, particularly if the death was preventable and occurred in a loved one who is the primary income for a family.
Our financial health includes not just monthly expenses, but our planning for the future. When you choose the freedom to eat whatever you want, not exercise, or smoke, you are choosing financial uncertainty for yourself and your family. Yes, you are free to choose, but your choice has financial implications. You are gambling with your future.
The evidence that disease is preventable is overwhelming. Folks, it’s not even close to up for debate. Chronic disease is a financial strain on us independently, as a family, and as a society. We must start making better health decisions not just for our own health, but for our financial health and security.
If this isn’t enough, Ronald Burke and Astrid Richardsen comment in their Corporate Wellness Book that “Over the last 10 years, more than 200 studies and surveys have tracked, measured, and documented the link between financial stress and illness. The American Psychological Association recognizes financial stress as the leading cause of unhealthy behaviors like smoking, weight gain, and alcohol and drug abuse.”  This makes sense, when a person has financial strife, they will often develop unhealthy behaviors to deal with their financial stress.
As we think about our goal to achieve wellness, again one’s maximal potential, we have to consider one’s financial health, as it relates to the development of bad habits, the costs associated with our choices, the long-term impact of chronic disease, and the financial impact our health has on our families and communities.
If tomorrow we all started on a path to wellness and remained committed for months, we would collectively have the potential to reduce up to 75% of healthcare costs in this country. We spend agonizing hours debating who’s going to pay for healthcare in this country. The government? Insurance Companies? Employers? Why aren’t we asking what we all can do personally to reduce up to 75% of the cost of our healthcare, by reducing our contribution to chronic disease.
We have the power to change. We have the freedom to choose. The question is will we choose the lifestyles associated with both health freedom and financial freedom for the future, not just for ourselves but for our families. Our choices in our 30s, 40s, and 50s, have real implications for our children. Many families today are paying for their parents skilled nursing facilities, nursing homes, and long-term care. In many cases, the choices we make in our middle years will impact both us and our children financially.
So now is the time to make a difference.
Five things you can do to immediately help your financial health and wellness:
- Find the unhealthy things you spend money on to cut those costs
- Drop smoking
- End fast food
- Stop consuming processed foods
- Limit dinners/lunch/breakfast out.
 Mahoney, and D Hom (2006), Total Value, Total Return. Seven Rules for Optimizing Employee Health Benefits for a Healthier and More Productive Workforce, GlaxoSmithKline.
 2013 Health Index Calculator Post Survey: Behavioral Change Assessment Outcomes. Simplicity Health Plans. http://websites.networksolutions.com/share/scrapbook/71/716088/HIC_Post_Survey_BehavioralChangeResults_SimplicityHealth _Plans2013.pdf
 https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/about/index.htm. Accessed April 2nd, 2019.
 “Americans fear Personal and National Health Crisis.” Mike Ellrich and Lance Stevens. https://news.gallup.com/opinion/gallup/248108/americans-fear-personal-national-healthcare-cost-crisis.aspx?g_source=link_NEWSV9&g_medium=TOPIC&g_campaign=item_&g_content=Americans%2520Fear%2520Personal%2520and%2520National%2520Healthcare%2520Cost%2520Crisis. Accessed April 2nd, 2019.
 http://www.nationalhealthcouncil.org/sites/default/files/NHC_Files/Pdf_Files/AboutChronicDisease.pdf. Accessed on April 2nd, 2019.
 https://www.who.int/chp/chronic_disease_report/part1/en/index11.html. Accessed April 2nd, 2019.
 https://preventcancer.org/education/preventable-cancers/. Accessed April 2nd, 2019.
 Corporate Wellness Programs. Burke, et al. 2014. Edward Elgar Publishing.