When it comes to achieving happiness, Australians should be a shoo-in, right? We’re living the dream in a democracy with freedom of speech and an excellent social security network. We tick the boxes on access to free education and health care and according to the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report, Australians are among the wealthiest in the world, with an estimated value of US$403,000 each.
Nevertheless – and it’s something that has fascinated me over many years in the financial services industry – money issues are one of the key causes of stress for Australian households. In 2007, a survey by the Australian Financial Literacy Foundation found that 42% of men and 52% of women found dealing with money “stressful and overwhelming”. A Canstar Blue survey replicated those questions last year and found that while slightly fewer men (35%) now felt stressed by money issues, 50% of women were still overwhelmed.
As to why we’re so stressed, I’d hazard a guess that the rising cost of essential products, housing, dual-income pressures and other cost-of-living issues all play a part. So how can we turn that tension into happiness?
Here are a few quick tips:
Face up to your situation
Over many years as a financial planner, I found that the majority of clients had only a loose grasp of their finances. It makes sense: for many of us there just aren’t enough hours in the day to get through what we have to do – let alone take a step back and look at the big picture. My advice would be to take that step back and face up to your situation. What do you own? How much do you owe? Is there enough money coming in to pay your expenses?
Banish personal debt
Easier said than done, but the cost of personal debt is huge. With around $34 billion of credit card debt currently accruing interest (at an average interest rate of more than 17%), many of us are living beyond our means. Interestingly, according to ASIC, wealthier people are likely to owe more! Not only does that cost us money, it costs us stress. So, calculate how much personal debt you have and work out a strategy to pay it off within a year. Just having that plan in place can make you feel much happier. Here are some tips for paying off a credit card debt.
Talk to your partner!
If you have a partner, do you talk to them about money issues? Many of us don’t, but that lack of communication means your financial future can lack a sense of purpose – not to mention wreak havoc on your day-to-day bank balances. Talking regularly about money might mean agreeing to disagree as well as compromising regularly. In other words, money issues are much the same as any other marital issues. So make a date for a talk.
Don’t hesitate to seek help. There are plenty of online, phone-based and face-to-face resources out there to help you if you need some money guidance. Your accountant or financial planner can be a good place to start. For those who are struggling, Financial Counselling Australia has an online assessment tool and a freecall number (1800 007 007). The Moneysmart website also has a wealth of information – as does the CANSTAR website, of course!
Justine Davies is the finance editor and commentator of financial research and ratings organization, CANSTAR.