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Fix your finances and feel more content

Every month, Martha Roberts invites you to road-test research around feeling good

by Psychologies

THE PROJECT

It’s said that money can’t buy happiness but financial security can bring contentment.

THE AIM

Working out how to look after your finances can bring you security and contentment.

THE THEORY

According to a YouGov poll in 2010, nearly two-thirds of UK people worry about their finances, with almost one in five saying they worry all the time. A 2012 Citizens Advice survey found that nearly three-quarters (74 per cent) of people said debt worries were having an impact on their mental health, with just over half having experienced panic or an anxiety attack because of it.

More than half (56 per cent) said debt was affecting their relationships. Of the 1700 respondents, most owed between £1,000 and £20,000 but around one in 10 owed more than £30,000.

However, the 2010 YouGov poll says that despite all this money anxiety, just 14 per cent of people had taken time to identify their financial priorities and plan accordingly while 27 per cent admitted they had never drawn up a budget. The only ‘planning’ they seemed to do was relying on winning the lottery to improve their fortunes (one in three were counting on this!)

But will money make us happy? Researchers found that the relationship between money and happiness is only relevant for a certain type of happiness. When they were asked to consider how happy or satisfied they were as a general rule, people with money were found to be happier.

But when they were asked how happy they were moment-to-moment (for example, how joyful/sad/stressed were you yesterday?) those with money were found to be no more likely to have experienced happy feelings than those without.

The researchers suggest that wealth makes us happy when we are thinking about our lives but has less of an impact on our feelings as we actually LIVE our lives.

NOW TRY IT OUT

Being financially happy doesn’t mean having buckets full of cash but it does require getting your planning hat on (and being honest about your spending habits!)

  • Keep a spending diary. Little things add up quickly – think about that daily latte or those times when you get a taxi rather than waiting for a bus. Buy yourself a small notepad and write it all down. It’s scary (believe me, I’ve done it!) but necessary if you want to discover how you’re spending the pennies and, ultimately, the pounds.
  • Plan for the worst. This isn’t negative thinking but being realistic about what life can throw at us, such as illness or redundancy. Your aim should be to build up an emergency fund of three to six months as a minimum of what you spend each month. For example, if you spend £1,500 each month, you should have £4,500 set aside. Don’t fret if this sounds gargantuan – each small bit makes a difference and will make you feel happier that you’ve planned ahead.
  • Get rid of debt. Financially happy people slash debt wherever they can, for example by paying credit card bills each month to keep credit scores up. Make the most of zero per cent credit card deals and be prepared to chop and change these regularly whilst you pay off the debt. For debt advice, contact the Money Advice Service at www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk
  • Find contentment in what you already have. Happiness doesn’t require the latest gizmos, gadgets or fashion-forward piece. People who are financially happy know this and realize that happiness comes from financial stability than being on trend. If you have the desire to spend money on something frivolous as a treat, remember it doesn’t have to be a ‘thing’. Sonja Lyubomirsky, psychology professor at the University of California and author of The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want, suggests buying experiences rather than, say, remodeling your bathroom (which she suggests leads to greater happiness.)

MARTHA ROBERTS is an award-winning UK health writer and mental health blogger at mentalhealthwise.com

Photograph: iStock