There’s a jar of protein powder in my cupboard that I bought in 2013 yet I can’t bear to throw it out. I always think I might one day be that woman, the kind who comes back from a 10k run and quashes a protein shake…also it cost over £40. I should have put it in the bin the moment I tasted it - very eggy, the exact opposite of thirst quenching. But as with most wellness trends I’ve been unable to stick to, I thought the problem was with me rather than the dream I’d been sold.
Like the Reebok Step we used in the eighties to eat our TV dinner on, my own cupboards are relics to once zeitgeist wellness trends. I have a never used yoga mat, a spiraliser, some small purple dumb bells, collagen powder, pillow sprays, fitbits, one of those spiky pieces of cylindrical foam you’re meant to roll around on and countless musty jars from various Holland and Barratt stores. I’m not even that fickle when it comes to fitness - I’ve run two marathons - it’s just these purchases weren’t quite as crucial as I was led to believe.
As a nation we’re pouring money into ‘wellness’. The UK’s retail wellness industry alone is worth over £23bn. Even the corporate wellness industry is worth over $40m worldwide, with companies offering their employees sleep pods, rock climbing, healthy grazing snacks and … knitting clubs. For all the focus on our health, there is one fact that the wellness industry currently overlooks: Money is our greatest source of anxiety with a staggering 36% of millennials experiencing financial stress at levels that qualify as a diagnosis of PTSD. Yet we still don’t think of looking after our financial health as #selfcare.
We’ve all felt that physical relief when our bank account looks healthy. I swear I can feel my muscles smile when an overdue invoice of mine is finally paid. A report by the Journal of Consumer Research found that if someone felt financially secure, chances are they’d report overall wellbeing too. Worrying about money eats time, it can keep you up at night and lead to sleep deprivation, it puts strain on your relationships (with friends, family, partners and kids) and leads to behavioural issues like drinking more, under or overeating and withdrawing from life. Money difficulties and mental health issues are so interwoven - people with problem debt are twice as likely to develop major depression. Money related stress should not be underestimated, even mild anxiety experienced everyday can affect our health.
In the last year I’ve spoke to hundreds of people about the money they earn and spend, I’ve chatted to millionaires, tech entrepreneurs, those earning salaries upwards of £250k, those on average salaries and at the other end people earning minimum wage and on benefits. One thing I took from these conversations was that money can’t buy happiness - but a sense of control over your finances can. People who spent less than they earned, checked in on their bank balance, avoided FOMO spending, practiced mindful spending and weren’t in debt (or were taking steps to get out of it) were happier than those bulldozing through thousands of pounds each month not knowing where it was going and with no idea how far into their overdraft they would be by payday. (And note - I found this happiness and sense of control in as many low earners as I did high earners).
We need to start seeing financial health as crucial to our holistic well-being. The irony that we might spend £6 on a ‘healthy’ cold-press juice when we can’t really afford it shouldn’t be lost on anyone. If only we could think of learning how to budget in the same way we might approach mastering a yoga pose - challenging but ultimately self-fulfilling and worth every frustrating moment. Like many things we do in the pursuit of wellness - going vegan, drinking less or pulling your trainers on for a January run - curbing your spending and researching pensions isn’t initially that fun. Yet the benefits are huge, and while there isn’t a leggy girl with abs selling you this trend, getting financially healthy is sexy; quite literally as money stress lowers your libido.
So how to get financially fit? As with running your first 5k it takes a little perseverance. I used to be awful with money, I ran many credit cards at once, I had the gas in my flat cut off because I never opened a bill ever and I was only ever out of my overdraft on pay-day. But when I learned to budget out of necessity I felt an inner peace and a sense of achievement that no yoga class has ever given me. I used to think having savings was wasted money, but now I’ve realised they bring me a sense of security that’s almost zen like. Think of getting financially fit as learning to meditate or starting a healthy eating plan - it will mean saying no to things occasionally, sometimes choosing what might initially seem the less appealing option, and very occasionally being ‘the boring one’. But it will bring peace and serenity to your life. So start looking at your bank balance and work out your monthly budget, because I promise you - it’s more life changing than an expensive retreat, a turmeric latte or Soul Cycle membership.
Open Up: The Power of Talking about Money is published March 7th