Today’s money management chat is brought to you in partnership with Chase Slate and SheKnows Media.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my financial wellness lately, along with many other big questions that come with adulthood.
In what feels like a flash, Charlie and I went from casually looking at apartments for sale in our neighborhood, to putting in a low-ball offer on a new development, to becoming joint homeowners and moving next week!
Needless to say, whatever personal finance cards had been obscured at the bottom of the deck, we each put on the table. It forced us to get real comfortable with talking about money and start planning a joint financial future together. And it also forced me to get real with many of my own money cards that I had been too lazy or scared to acknowledge.
There’s nothing like applying for a home loan to make you question your worth on paper. Especially, as a self-employed freelancer. Which is by definition as off-putting in the lending world as an unrefrigerated stinky cheese is in mine.
I probably don’t need to tell you that buying anything in New York City is as exciting as it is expensive. Upping my quality of living and the cost of it, will definitely require me to reprioritize all my other areas of spending, including the ways I look at funding my health.
With all this already brewing in the back of my mind, it was such a gift from the universe to see a talk all about maintaining your financial health at last month’s BlogHer conference (where I also had the pleasure of speaking!). And a double blessing that it was the fabulous money maven Farnoosh Torabi taking the stage.
Eat healthy. Work out. See friends. Take “me time.” Go to the doctor. These are the general health to-do’s that most often grace our Instagram feeds. What we talk less about is how paying for that new adaptogenic latte, those super cute pink yoga pants—not to mention the functional medicine wizard who cured your candida—impacts our financial wellness.
Living within your means has just as big of an impact on health and happiness as eating well and exercising. And yet, at times it feels like financial wellness stands in direct odds with those high vibe price tags associated with other areas of our health.
There is certainly a larger conversation to be had here, one that I tried to start in some small way in The Wellness Project by focusing on lifestyle changes that didn’t come at much of a cost (FYI, you don’t need that green juice, yoga retreat or Shaman to be healthy). I also tried to talk openly about how each adjustment affected other areas of my wellness, primarily the social and financial sectors.
But we are long overdue for a chat about ways you can actively have a healthy relationship with your bank account.
Read on for some of the great tips I picked up from Farnoosh Torabi’s spotlight talk and other ways I’m budgeting for my wellness while keeping my bank account equally healthy in this new stage of life.
With health and hedonism,
7 Ways to Improve Your Financial Health This Year
1. Make like a Lannister and pay your debts.
Maintaining good credit—or, to start, any credit—is the key to becoming a financially viable adult. While it may sound counterintuitive, you have to become a little dependent on credit to become more independent with your money in the future. Not to mention, avoid needing a parent co-sign your lease at age 26…
As a freelancer with uncertain cash flow, I carry a lot of debt. Don’t ask me to tell you what I paid in interest fees last year while I waited around for the last check of my book advance to clear. What you can ask me though is my credit score. It’s 839. Which is pretty damn good. Like my old friends The Lannisters, I do always manage to pay my debts.
2. Keep score.
If there’s one number our financial futures are inextricably linked to it’s our credit score. You can run from it, but you can’t hide. It will follow you to every crappy rental, and hopefully, if you pay it enough mind, one day it will bring you across the threshold of your dream home.
I’ll admit that I only check this number every 4 years or so, which translates almost exactly to each move. But thanks to Farnoosh’s advice, I’m going to start paying more attention. One big reason is to identify issues—accounts listed that don’t belong to you, potential identity theft—and figure out ways to fix them. (More on that in tip #3).
So how do you keep score? There are several online sites that will calculate your number for a nominal fee. But one really easy way to do so on the regular is to sign up for Chase Slate, which seamlessly integrates your FICO credit score into their online dashboard. They also serve up a lot of informative, interesting content that helps you understand how to improve your score over the course of the year and manage your credit health.
3. Don’t throw away your bank statements without looking at them!
My recycling bin is an identity thief’s dream, as I toss all my unopened non-paperless credit card letters on the regular. Most of the time they contain some sort of new offer that I don’t think I need.
Except, apparently, I do!
One reason you might be receiving one of these letters is to increase your credit limit—which, in turn, may help to increase your credit score. This magic number is partially calculated from the percentage of your credit allowance that you actually use.
According to Farnoosh, if you have a credit card with a $5,000 credit line and you are using $2,500 of that in a particular month, then your utilization is 50 percent. If you increase your credit line to $10,000 and maintain that same $2,500 balance, then your utilization drops to 25 percent. Ah, simple maths.
4. Remember that upfront investment pays off in the long-term.
In terms of budgeting for your health, there’s the old adage: who would you rather give your money to, the farmer or the doctor?
Eating well (from your local farmer!), exercising, socializing with friends over dinner out on the town does require some consistent investment. But maintaining our health and happiness pays in dividends in the long term.
When things begin going south, and those lifestyle changes aren’t enough to solve your health problems, it’s important to invest in a doctor’s visit. This is an area where I most see people dreading the upfront investment. But sweeping health problems under the rug almost always means more expenses, not to mention PAIN, down the line as bodies unravel and conditions worsen.
Seeing functional medicine doctors in New York City is NOT cheap. I definitely look at this aspect of my care as an upfront cost and not something I pay for year after year. After my Wellness Project, I took a break from my expensive specialists and bootstrapped my medical care for two years. I was riding much higher than I was before TWP, but eventually I reached a place this past fall when strange symptoms started popping up again, and I realized I needed to hunker down and make the investment again.
Which brings me to…
5. Get health insurance.
One of the biggest causes of unhealthy debt—meaning the kind that does not build good credit scores because it never gets paid off—is a medical emergency. The only way to plan for disease or freak accidents is to have some protection when it comes to paying the price for them. And that means health insurance.
My Oscar insurance through the ACA runs me almost $500 a month, which is a significant financial burden. But I know for a fact that what I pay in a year is still cheaper than one ambulance ride, which cost one of my uninsured friends $15,000.
It also allows me to take advantage of regular visits with practitioners in my network for preventative care like mammograms, and get my thyroid numbers tested every few months, which would cost me over $1,000 a pop out of pocket.
6. Create a wellness slush fund for the non-essentials of self-care.
So we’ve talked about upfront investments for preventative care, and keeping small medical problems from becoming big ones. But what about the on-going practices that bring us joy?
For these—the green juices and foot massages of the world—I recommend creating a wellness slush fund. This can be an actual slush fund, in the form of a savings account, which is something that Farnoosh recommends. Or just a line item in your general budget that’s specifically dedicated to self-care.
I love the idea of combining these tactics because of the pay off.
The habit of maintaining financial health is actually fairly similar to keeping your body on track. It’s important not to get too restrictive, and to treat yourself every once in a while to celebrate good behavior. Hello healthy hedonism!
Once you reach your savings goal, or at the end of each month (so long as you save properly), spend a little of that slush fund on something special for yourself. It might not be one of the self-care essentials like wholesome food, but maybe it shouldn’t be…
Like that adaptogenic latte, yoga retreat, shaman, cute pink yoga pants, sometimes it just feels good to splurge on something that makes you happy. And these examples have the added benefit of furthering your health.
7. Brown bag your lunch.
I’ll leave you with my own personal PSA. If you’re looking for one way to cut back on daily spending that will help fund that slush fund, GET COOKING. Seriously, eating out—be it as big as a fancy dinner or as small as a coffee on the way to work—is one of our biggest spending areas, and probably the area where we could create the most savings if we got in the kitchen.
The easiest baby step is to bring your lunch to work. For those of you who have been thinking about getting on the batch cooking band wagon, you can download my free meal prep guide here. And if make ahead breakfast is an even easier stepping stone for you, I also have this free guide here!
This financial health redux is brought to you in partnership with my friends my friends at Chase Slate, who are making it easier to have maintain good credit with their new dashboard. All opinions are my own (duh). Thank you for supporting the brands that make this site (and my budget overshares) possible!