Financial instability can have a negative impact on your heart and brain. It can even lead to physical pain. So, what are you doing about it?
Along with blood pressure, heart rate, and cholesterol, there’s another measurement you should consider as a health indicator: financial stress. The link between money and health is just too strong to ignore.
Financial instability can drive stress, cause sleepless nights, and lead to overall bad decisions involving your body. In fact, a study from Northwestern University found that higher levels of debt correlate with increases in depression and blood pressure, along with poorer overall health.
Meanwhile, a study published in Psychological Science showed how economic insecurity affects your body and brain: Financial stress can not only cause physical pain, it can also lower your tolerance to it as well.
“What I’ve seen over the years is that financial stress does keep people up at night,” says Ellen Rogin, a certified public accountant and certified financial planner based in Northfield, Illinois. She’s also the co-author of Picture Your Prosperity: Smart Money Moves to Turn Your Vision into Reality.
Unfortunately, says Rogin, there’s no easy cure for debt. And sadly, older adults are particularly vulnerable to money problems. Nearly 1 in 4 have forgone home or auto repairs because they couldn’t afford the expense, according to a survey from the National Council on Aging. That allows small problems to grow worse, and as the survey notes, it also increases the risk of falls and accidents.
What can you do about financial instability? You can start by taking a hard look at your lifestyle. Overspending on things you don’t need is a bad health habit, like smoking cigarettes. That new boat might be a ton of fun when you’re on the water, but if it causes you stress and increases your blood pressure the rest of the time, it’s probably not worth it.
So, sell the boat, pay off your credit card debt, and downsize your home if that’s what it takes to lower your financial stress. Then consider these six other strategies for tackling your financial and physical health.
Give yourself a financial audit
Disorganization can be crippling, says Rogin. “Sometimes people worry about their finances because their affairs simply aren’t organized,” she says. “It feels like a mess, which creates stress.”
To start the process of financial healing, consolidate your accounts so you don’t have multiple 401(k) plans floating around or bank accounts with small amounts of money in them. Then organize your important financial documents into file folders and create a master list that helps you easily track all your assets, debts, and monthly bills — along with the websites and banks where you do business.
If you do it right, your finances should be easy to understand. If you were to slip into a coma tomorrow, someone else should be able to easily step in and take over. If you have adult kids, now would be a good time to bring them in to the conversation about your finances.
Can deep breathing really help you out of debt? Rogin thinks so. That’s why she recommends meditation to all her older clients. “You can’t access the higher-thinking part of your brain if it’s in fight-or-flight mode,” she says.
The science backs her up: Debt can give you brain fog. According to a Princeton University study published in the journal Science, people who struggle to pay their bills experienced a drop in cognitive function similar to a 13-point drop in IQ, or the loss of an entire night’s sleep. If you don’t take care of your brain, you’ll be more likely to make reckless financial decisions.
Delay retirement — or go back to work part time
Now that you’re moving toward financial peace of mind, start looking for places to increase your monthly income. One option is to delay drawing on Social Security for as long as you can.
Full eligibility begins at age 66, but if you wait until 67, your monthly payment goes up 8%. If you wait until you’re 70, it goes up 32%.
If you’re already receiving Social Security, consider going back to work part time — just enough to cover your monthly expenses. If your family income is below 125% of the poverty line, you may even qualify for work assistance through the U.S. Department of Labor. The organization’s Senior Community Service Employment Program offers training opportunities and employment options at nonprofit and public facilities such as schools and hospitals.
Shop around for new health care coverage
There’s no way around it: Healthcare is expensive. A 65-year-old couple retiring today with their health intact will spend an average of $662,156 on healthcare expenses if they live to their late 80s, according to a 2021 report by HealthView Services.
Some of that cost may be due to bad healthcare plans, says Chris Cooper, a certified financial planner in San Diego. If you’re on Medicare, it’s smart to examine your plan every year during the annual enrollment period, which runs from Oct. 15 through Dec. 7. That’s when you can make changes to your Medicare coverage.
If you need help understanding your Medicare options, reach out to a licensed ClearMatch Medicare Insurance agent at 855-537-2378 (TTY: 711).
Resist family pressure
At some point, a child or sibling may come to you asking for a loan. Maybe they need assistance with a down payment on a home, or they need a new car to get to and from work. Unless you’re able to part with the money for good, don’t do it, says Rogin.
If you can’t say no yourself, she recommends consulting a financial adviser. “If you’ve spent your whole life enabling your kid and just can’t afford to do it anymore, it’s helpful to have a third person step in and be the one to tell them,” she says.
Put fraud safeguards in place
Every year, millions of elderly Americans fall victim to financial fraud, according to the FBI. The scams include criminals posing as tech support to gain remote access to your computer or sending unsolicited emails claiming you’ve won a foreign lottery. It can be hard to predict what the next con will look like, but there are a few ways to protect yourself:
- Never open an email attachment from someone you don’t know.
- If you receive an email offer, search online for information about the company. Instead of clicking the links in the email, type the information into Google to help determine whether the person or organization is legitimate. Often, you’ll find that other people have already posted about the scam.
- Make sure your computer’s security software is up to date.
The six strategies here won’t create complete financial relief, and they won’t necessarily move you from rags to riches. But they will help you understand what you have and hold on to what you’ve got. That’s the first step toward financial health, and it’s bound to help you sleep better at night.
MOTIVATIONAL READING: Meet 3 people who achieved a lifelong dream after age 60.
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