As researchers drill down to the core of what leads to individuals’ long-term financial security, they’re finding it has less to do with pure money know-how and more to do with a simple willingness to confront their financial issues in an honest fashion. Experts call this “financial courage.”
Even where an individual lacks a basic understanding of, say, inflation or compound growth, if if she has courage to address this deficit, she’ll end up making healthy decisions more often.
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In fact, 60 percent of individuals with the highest scores on a financial wellness assessment also demonstrated the highest level of financial courage, according to a 2017 Mercer survey.
Those involved in the survey had enough confidence to act. This confidence often led them to first investigate, so that they acted in an informed manner.
This and similar findings are beginning to change the conversation about how to get the best outcomes for the most people.
Financial education is wonderful — it’s one source of confidence and financial courage. But what may be equally important is access to tools so that the financially courageous can investigate more easily and quickly, and reach a healthy decision more often.
Addressing Money Stress
After all, the flip side of the Mercer data is disturbing. About 40 percent of the financially courageous score low in overall financial wellness. Too many, it seems, suffer from misplaced confidence and do not bother to investigate appropriate actions. But greater access to helpful financial tools would help people overcome this problem.
U.S. employers lose a collective $250 billion a year in wages paid to workers stressed about money, Mercer found. On average, employees spend 13 hours a month at work fretting about personal financial affairs. Some spend way more than that.
The median employee wastes five hours every week worrying about money.
Finding a solution is top of mind in corporate C-suites, which is good because it is in everyone’s economic interest. Financial literacy as it is taught in some schools isn’t nearly enough. Even with a firm grasp of economic principles, people fall victim to behavioral issues like impulse spending and poor planning.
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Moving From Money Stress to Financial Wellness
A firm grasp of credit card and mortgage rates won’t keep people from clicking on a pop-up ad that appears minutes after an online search. But what might stop them is a better understanding that they are being played and a comparison shopping tool that helps them quickly scope out the competition.
Mercer defines financial wellness as having control over day-to-day and month-to-month finances. This includes having the capacity to absorb a financial shock, being on track to meet financial goals, and having the financial freedom to enjoy life. These are broad measurements that apply at every income level.
At my company, Right About Money, we are stalwart supporters and unabashed fans of financial education. Knowledge is power. It’s always better to understand a money decision than to rely on advice and default options.
Still, financial well-being may be more widely accessible with less emphasis on textbook knowledge and greater availability of tools that lead individuals to timely, smart decisions — on their own — without needing a high degree of financial literacy.
Effective approaches include personalized communications that point workers to the programs that best suit their needs. Better default options and automatic enrollment and escalation of savings programs can put an employee on a positive path and build financial courage. So can professional budgeting and coaching, as well as help with student loans and credit management.
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When employees have financial courage, they’re more likely to engage with a financial wellness program — something that provides the best outcome for the most people.