6 Ways to Conquer the Mental Health & Money Cycle
This article was originally published on APRFinder, authored by Melissa.
Managing money presents challenges for many individuals, primarily when little to no education is provided on financial literacy throughout childhood or as an adult. Personal financial management may be even more difficult to champion for those struggling with mental health concerns. Several obstacles can complicate one's financial picture, from problems with executive functioning and memory to reliving past experiences of a parent or caregiver and their money woes. Similarly, mental health concerns may also impact total earnings, as the ability to work consistently and at the highest level could be challenging.
When struggles with mental health make it difficult to manage personal financial matters, it can feel like a never-ending cycle. According to a recent article by Mind.org, poor financial habits associated with mental health obstacles often compound feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression. These feelings can lead to further financial and mental health woes, continuing the cycle.
In order to break that uncomfortable sequence, it is helpful first to understand how mental health impacts money management. Then, it is necessary to know what can be done to improve personal finance over time.
How Does Mental Health Affect Money Management?
No two people are the same when it comes to their finances, and the same is true for those who face challenges where their mental health is concerned. However, understanding some common factors may be helpful in identifying and even avoiding certain money issues.
Sometimes situations we think of as primarily internal struggles — things like neurodivergency, trauma, depression, anxiety, etc. — can manifest themselves in very tangible ways, including where money management is concerned. Certain internal battles can inhibit impulse control, planning for the future, and many more factors that are crucial in reaching financial goals. Additionally, many of us grew up learning poor money habits from our family and surroundings, which only add to the confusion.
Some of the most prevalent effects that these factors can have on money habits include:
Impulsive spending without considering budget or available funds
Shopping to improve mood
Failing to save for the future
Missing payment due dates or other financial obligations
Missing or poorly implemented processes or systems in place to help manage money
Running out of funds well before the next payday
Anxiety around spending or saving money
Rash decision making when it comes to investments
Accruing significant consumer debt
Each of these common obstacles is difficult enough for those not distracted or even obstructed by the internal struggles others face, so it’s easy to imagine how much more difficult it can be with your own brain seemingly working against you!
Guilt and shame, too, are common when a person feels they’ve failed to meet their goals, especially when they’re dealing with neurodivergency and/or the effects of past experiences. These feelings can cause an endless cycle that feels like it’s impossible to break.
Additionally, while it’s not the case for everyone, certain individuals may also struggle with consistently earning an income or find it hard to keep up with treatment due to financial limitations. Missing work due to mental health symptoms or doctor's appointments can deepen financial worries or create new or heightened feelings of anxiety and depression that only further the issues.
Now that you understand the common obstacles and pitfalls, how can you set yourself up for success?
How to Manage Money with Neurodiversity & Mental Health Situations
Note that we said with in the title above. That’s because working against your natural rhythms, inclinations, divergencies, and obstacles is often a losing battle and can feel a bit like the world is working against you.
Everyone is different, and sometimes less-common situations call for uncommon approaches. Knowing what needs to be done, like creating a plan, saving for a rainy day, and managing debt wisely, may not be enough to improve outcomes. Foundational principles are crucial, but in many cases, creating the best-fit systems and processes can make a significant difference in the success achieved when it comes to managing money. Here are a few ways to accomplish this often-daunting task.
Get Extremely Familiar with the Numbers
First, it is necessary to thoroughly, honestly, and intimately understand one's cash flow — the difference between what is coming in versus what's going out each month or pay period. Add up the fixed expenses, like housing costs and utilities, then estimate (often it’s best to overestimate) the extras like dining out, entertainment, and hobbies. Looking back at recent bank or credit card statements can help with this task. With these figures added up, subtract expenses from total income to see if cash flow is positive (there are funds leftover) or negative (spending exceeds income).
When cash flow is positive, those remaining dollars can be used to create a savings or a debt repayment plan. In many cases, it’s also wise to build in a buffer for those moments when impulse spending or spending more than anticipated on a specific category occurs.
When these calculations reveal a negative cash flow, it’s important to look deeper into what can truly be reduced or managed differently. This may involve establishing hard limits for ancillary spending or extras, or even finding ways to reduce fixed expenses like housing costs or debt payments.
How to Create — and Stick to — a Realistic Budget
Once cash flow is calculated, whether positive or negative, it is necessary to establish a budget that’s not only realistic but also easy enough to follow. Set yourself up for success where possible.
A good rule of thumb to follow is the 50/30/20 Rule. This means spending 50% of income on needs, 30% on wants, and the remaining 20% on saving and investing. If any spending category from your cash flow calculation is above these thresholds, consider what can be done to bring those amounts down from month to month.
It is equally important to stick with the established budget once it is laid out. Individuals with mental health circumstances may need to check in with themselves more often than those without these concerns, particularly given the obstacles they face in managing money. Set a date each week or each pay period to check in on the numbers, and create a reminder on your phone so that you’ll be sure to do it. Checking frequently means that if missteps have occurred, you’ll be more likely to catch them and correct them before they cause other problems.
Budget Smarter with Technology Solutions
If the thought of calculating cash flow or creating a budget seems overwhelming, several technology tools can help reduce stress around these tasks. Personal finance apps and some personal accounting software programs take most if not all the hard work out of the equation, automatically adding up income and expenses. Some provide budgeting help by categorizing transactions and keeping tabs on spending each day. Others also provide a down-to-the-penny view of what can be spent on extras each month, so you’ll be sure to avoid miscalculating and accidentally overdoing it. Some can even provide reminders, credit monitoring, and recommendations!
Avoid Forgetting Payments — Automate Everything!
Many individuals, particularly those working with any degree of limited executive function (as is common with neurodivergency and many mental health conditions), tend to struggle with forgetfulness, distraction, and more. The easiest way to combat this is to automate anything that can be automated!
Use the apps associated with your fixed bills to set up automatic payments, and plan for those payments to come out on the same day each month. You can even have portions of your paycheck automatically deposited into a savings or investment account! This is especially helpful for those who do best when the saved or invested money is “out of sight, out of mind,” thereby reducing the forgetfulness or temptation surrounding spending those funds.
Anyone struggling to adhere to a set budget-related schedule may benefit from a reminder system for transactions or other tasks that can't be automated. For example, setting up calendar reminders on a smartphone or online calendar can do wonders for staying on top of financial matters each month. Reminders may be used for bill payments and due dates, and regular check-ins on cash flow and budgeting tasks. Creating reminders that automatically occur on specific days of the month or week helps remove the need to remember countless important financial dates over time. And above all, don’t finalize or complete a reminder until you’ve actually completed the task! Snooze it for a brief interval if you must, but never complete the task until it’s actually done.
Get an Accountability Partner
Managing money often takes equal parts understanding what needs to be done and help from outside sources. Technology, reminders, and automation can help to a certain extent, but getting personal help can also be beneficial in staying on the right financial track. In some cases, a friend or family member can work as an accountability partner each week or each month. In addition, setting up regular meetings to check in on progress toward financial goals, like saving, debt repayment, or budgeting, can make a significant, positive difference over time.
If a friend or family member is unavailable or doesn't feel like the best choice, other professional help is available. Experts ranging from financial planners to credit counselors can lend a necessary hand in holding individuals accountable for their money goals. Some professionals offer pro bono work, like a basic financial plan or financial literacy education to those in need. Others charge a fee for their service, but they can offer skilled guidance and additional assistance along the way.
The Bottom Line
People living with mental health conditions ranging from trauma to neurodivergency and more often find money management challenging. Ignoring the issues that arise with personal finance, like overspending, missing due dates, and general guilt or shame surrounding money mismanagement can perpetuate a cycle of poor money behaviors. Ultimately, knowing yourself and your habits and tendencies, becoming thoroughly aware of your cash flow, setting yourself up for success in a variety of ways, and engaging reliable help can set you on a path that makes you feel much more confident in your own financial wellbeing.