The irony wasn’t lost on me. When we moved halfway across the world to begin what was expected to be a 2-year assignment in Shanghai, we received so many perks that we had the potential to save ten times more than we had saved previously. And yet, just outside the 4,000+ square foot home we were living in, I encountered poverty ten times greater than I had ever seen.
It was here on my morning jogs where I found those that lived just moments away that had to sort through enormous trash piles outside of their homes just to find enough recyclables to pay for the food they needed to survive.
After enough of those early morning experiences plus travel to numerous other third-world Asian countries, I finally ran out of excuses to keep spending on things I “deserved”. I only found reasons to succeed in improving my financial health so that I could save for the future and help others to do the same.
I had the opportunity to achieve complete freedom from all financial concerns, an opportunity that I had squandered for the first decade of my adult life. An opportunity that billions of people around the world simply don’t have and likely never will.
THE RIGHT MINDSET IS ESSENTIAL TO FINANCIAL HEALTH
I almost never look further than the titles of the (seemingly limitless) personal finance articles about people who paid off enormous sums of debts in a relatively short period of time. It truly is an impressive accomplishment, but one that likely required a degree of privilege to even begin with.
However, I can’t help but delve into every rags-to-riches story I stumble upon. Those that are able to gain the skills and mindset to pull themselves out of poverty are some of the greatest heroes of all. I don’t know whether I would be among them if born into the same debilitating situation of poverty.
As embarrassing as it is to admit, it took moving seven thousand miles away to change my own mindset about money. Because I grew up poor, I thought that a prestigious career, nice car and spacious home were the true measures of financial success and health. I worked hard to achieve those things, but they didn’t make me happy.
Financial health isn’t measured in terms of things, especially those that require extensive leverage to obtain. And it isn’t quantified by amounts of money earned or saved either.
Seeing true poverty all around me changed me. I recognized my unique opportunity to get my own financial life in order and in turn being able to use my financial resources to help others. I shifted my focus from using my money to provide things to using it to provide security and freedom.
THE TRUE MEANING OF FINANCIAL HEALTH
Financial health is finding the place of peace where money is no longer the ruling factor in your life. Those in poverty and well beyond alike have difficulty grasping this concept. With 138 million American adults (57%) struggling financially, this is an important distinction. Simply increasing the money available isn’t going to improve financial health in America. It takes the right mindset as well.
Some will never learn to want less and will use all of their money, plus more, to obtain what they think will make finally make them happy. Unfortunately, this cycle never stops because there is always someone else with more. The first step in learning what it looked like to be financially healthy for me was to determine what having enough meant really meant to me. And it was surprisingly little and shockingly simple.
The first step in learning what it looked like to be financially healthy for me was to determine what having enough meant really meant to me. And it was surprisingly little and shockingly simple.
To me, having enough and therefore achieving a high level of financial health means:
- I can cover all of my basic living expenses without any concern and without extreme penny-pinching measures or borrowing
- I have extra money to cover several months of expenses in the event that I experience either a loss of income or a significant unexpected expense
- I am saving enough for the future to be able to provide opportunities for my children to be as successful as possible as well as to be able to retire in my 50’s
- I have protected my wealth through adequate insurance to cover my unforeseen circumstances that would threaten my financial wellbeing
Isn’t seeking less pain, fear, and stress what it’s about when it comes to being physically healthy as well? I believe that I’ve essentially eliminated most fear and stress in my life by improving my physical health.
FINANCIAL HEALTH IS ABOUT MORE THAN MONEY
Financial health isn’t relative in terms of comparing people to each other. Achieving better financial health than someone else isn’t giving you any advantages, especially if you are average when it comes to finances. And, you may be financially healthy with much less money set aside than someone else that spends much more.
The skills I learned from the time that I changed my mind about improving my finances are priceless in my personal journey to financial freedom. And you know what? The persistence, confidence, and focus I learned have helped me improve my health in so many other ways as well–physical, mental, spiritual as well as financial.
Financial wellness is about the mindset as much as it about the numbers. So, look around you and determine what you really need to be financially healthy. Then make your own financial fitness plan and shoot for the stars!
This post was written in celebration of #FinHealthMatters day, a campaign through the Center for Financial Services Innovation. CFSI’s mission is to improve the financial health of Americans, especially the underserved.
Join me in promoting #FinHealthMatters day by sharing this post and others posted today by the personal finance community.
Very well said, Kathryn! Financial health is about so much more than money and the right mindset is so essential.
Like you, I also grew up financially poor and got lost in thinking big houses and fast cars were the way to happiness and success. I’m so glad we both found out that’s not the case.
Thanks for sharing a part of your journey!
I loved your post as well Amy. It was so fun to have so many bloggers post on the same topic and see all the different perspectives.
Great post! I’ve heard many people who take mission trips often come back with a renewed sense of what is needed and what is important. Experiences like theirs and yours can be very powerful in helping people adjust their thinking – on many things.
I would love to do mission trips when I’m older. I’ve been reading The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die and I truly believe that one of the secrets of life is giving more than you take. However, experiences like that give YOU so much as well!
Really humbling. We grew up in a rough neighborhood with constant police cars, fights breaking out, drug addicts and all. But we still had friends in the neighborhood played football basketball and hanged out by the pool. When I look back, I really enjoyed many of those moments! Now I do have some financial health, but other things that don’t involve finance really make me happy. Financial health to me is one more aspect to avoid an unhealthy mind and soul.
I love the term you used “unhealthy mind and soul”. And I also believe that financial health can contribute to better overall wellbeing, including the mind and soul. That neighborhood sounds rough for sure! Ours certainly wasn’t that rough, but very rural and there was a neighbor that was in and out of jail and would walk around with a loaded gun. Yet, we still ran around as kids by ourselves…totally different times I guess!
The experience you had in Shanghai has given you a perspective that most Americans will never have. I do believe money can help you buy the things, experiences and security that can make you happy, but true happiness to me is contentment. That’s what I’m seeking.
Another stellar article Kathryn!
I think I focus too much on security that money provides (it does make me happy!) and not enough on contentment. You’re absolutely right about your priorities there! 🙂
Awesome post Kathryn!!! I have to admit that when I get back from vacation, especially overseas, that I have a much better appreciation for what I have. I definitely don’t feel the bug to buy as much and on top of that I would rather spend money on creating memories than consuming things 🙂
Yes-definitely! I recently just spent a week camping for a family reunion (I’m SO not a camper) and even that gave me a better perspective.
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