Looking after your finances can protect your mental health

This World Mental Health Day on 10 October, it’s important to appreciate the impact of stress on our financial wellbeing. According to the Old Mutual Savings and Investment Monitor Covid-19 Special Report, 44% of respondents feel ‘high stress’ when thinking about their finances, a significant increase from 33% in 2019.

Brett Cameron, Head of Old Mutual Rewards, says that 2020 has been one of the most stressful years in memory. “Globally there has been an increase in mental illness as we have faced anxiety, uncertainty and trauma due to Covid-19,” he says.

Cameron explains that when we are stressed about making ends meet, paying bills or putting food on the table, it’s easy to feel out of control. This affects our ability to think about the future and remain optimistic.

“Not making it any easier is the fact that our financial habits play a big part in ensuring our mental health — both of which have been tested in recent months. Studies have shown that when people are stressed they are more likely to impulse buy and less likely to continue budgeting and saving, perpetuating the cycle of financial anxiety,” he says.

How do you relieve financial stress?

Thanks to the freely available financial stress assessment tool created by Old Mutual Rewards, South Africans can now learn exactly where they stand on the spectrum of financial health. “By helping you to evaluate your current levels of financial wellbeing, it’s possible to formulate the next steps needed to gain control of your finances,” says Cameron.

Old Mutual Rewards is a fully digital rewards programme that is available to all South Africans and seeks to help each of us take small but necessary steps to take control of our finances. “By taking the Old Mutual Rewards financial stress assessment, completing simple online tasks as well as short, impactful online courses, members are rewarded with points. These can then be exchanged for vouchers with restaurants or online gaming partners, fuel at Total garages, and more, and it’s easy to sign up,” he says.

Cameron sheds light on other ways that the programme can improve your financial health and the way that you deal with financial stress.

1. Improve your financial security

While many South Africans live on a shoestring budget, it’s never too late to start planning for a better tomorrow. Cameron suggests downloading 22seven; a free app that helps you do more with your money. By linking your bank accounts to the platform and tracking your spending, you’ll be able to see where you can do better financially, all while earning points.

“By committing to spending less and saving more, you can start to build an emergency fund for those rainy days. This goes a long way in creating a sense of security and confidence to face the future.”

2. A positive outlook

With chronic stress becoming a part of our daily lives, one of the most effective antidotes to easing the effects of financial stress is keeping a positive mindset.

Optimists and pessimists have opposite ways of thinking. Studies show that pessimists — who tend to see the worst aspect of things or believe that the worst will happen — are more prone to depression. On the other hand, optimists are more likely to make smart money moves and reap long-term wellness benefits.

3. Focus on the long-term perspective

“When your finances are a mess, it may seem counter-intuitive to make plans for the future, but its those very plans and a long-term view that will help you make smart money moves”.

Old Mutual Rewards is your committed partner in planning for your goals — whether it’s buying a house, sending your children to university, or planning a wedding. By logging your financial goals on the platform, you can access tools such as the Educational Savings Calculator, learn about Savings Habits, and enjoy a course about Working Towards Your Dreams, all while earning points.

“Our financial habits play a big part in ensuring our mental health and vice versa. After all, it’s the optimists among us who will adjust their sails in the face of uncertainty, change course where necessary and reap the rewards in the long run,” concludes Cameron