In The Moment 5 Key Steps to Financial Wellness

by Rebecca Lake | October 16, 2018

We all want to be healthy. Emotionally, mentally, physically, and of course, financially.

We strive to feel good about the choices we make — whether it's where to dine with friends on a night out or how we invest.

Turns out, finances play a big part in overall wellness — according to a survey by Northwestern Mutual, 87% of Americans said nothing makes them happier or more confident than when they feel like their finances are in order. Central to that happiness is knowing that we're planning our finances in a way that reflects who we are.

"Your plan must be based on your values and vision," says Adam D. Straseske, a chartered market technician and co-author of Home Run Financial Planning: Cover All Your Key Financial Bases and Align Your Finances with Your Goals and Values. "If it's not, you'll be taking action based upon others' definitions of wellness and that's not authentic."

These simple steps can serve as a guide for shaping your unique path to positive financial planning.

1. Get personal to get started 

Think about your money habits and beliefs. Get to know your spending profile. Are the things you're doing with your money now in line with what you want to accomplish financially in the long-term?

Personal finance expert Amanda Page suggests posing one simple question: "Ask yourself, 'What does financial wellness mean to me?'," she says.

Free up a block of time, sit down with a pen and paper, and write out exactly what you want in your life as it relates to money. Let everything filter through, without stopping to second-guess yourself.

For example, your vision might include:

  • Having six months' of expenses in an emergency fund.

  • Saving up for a down payment for a home.

  • Turning your side hustle into a business and quitting your job.

  • Paying down credit card debt and student loans.

  • Setting up a dedicated savings fund so you can travel more often. 

"Once you define the dream, it's much easier to think about your financial future, because you'll know what you value," Page says. 

Once you define the dream, it's much easier to think about your financial future.
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2. Take stock of where you are

According to the Northwestern Mutual survey, 44% of Americans named money as their top stressor. The key to beating it is by changing the lens you view your finances through.

For instance, "the pressure to pay off student loan debt can be reframed as a desire to pay it off," Page says. "Once that desire is identified, you can start to ask yourself questions about how you might approach paying it off."

The goal is to be curious about your finances, without forcing things. "Look at it as an experiment," Page advises. "That way, there's no attachment to getting it done in a certain amount of time."

And celebrate your accomplishments. Rather than focusing on how far you have to go, take pride in the progress you've already made.

3. Prioritize, but think big-picture

Your idea of wellness probably has more than one element. While you might have multiple goals, but remember that they're all part of the same overall strategy. This approach "recognizes that any one piece of the puzzle is as important as the other," Page says.

Start with the goals that are most important and work at a pace you're comfortable with. "Prioritizing the different steps of your financial wellness journey can help you make meaningful progress toward what you want to achieve," Straseske says.

Syble Solomon, a financial behaviorist and creator of Money Habitudes says trying to do too much at once can throw your entire plan off-balance. When that happens, "it's time to reassess."

If you're worried about falling behind or not doing enough, Solomon has some simple advice: Think about how you can meet your financial needs today, while still moving forward along the path of feeling good about — and in control of — your money.

4. Tune in to yourself and tune out distractions

As you pursue financial wellness, remember that it's all about you and the race you're running. Stay focused on your own personal finish line and avoid being distracted by the crowd. "You have to learn to train yourself to not listen to what everyone is saying or doing," Straseske says.

Make financial decisions based on your needs, goals and objectives. And don't measure yourself against anyone else. If your best friend is making huge strides with saving or paying down debt, for example, congratulate them like a good friend should. Then turn your attention back to working on your own financial goals.

Financial wellness is a journey, not a destination.
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5. Aim for progress, not perfection

We want to feel good about our money and where we're going financially. As you work towards wellness, remember that it's the doing that matters, even if it's not always 100% flawless.

"An okay plan that's implemented is better than a great plan you never pursue," Straseske says.

In creating your plan for wellness, keep it reasonable and actionable. Above all, enjoy the process because, as Straseske says, "Financial wellness is a journey, not a destination."

Rebecca Lake

has been pursuing her own definition of financial wellness since 2014. Along the way, she's paid off debt and become a super saver. Her work has appeared online at U.S. News and World Report, and Fox Business.