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Butler County's great daily newspaper

Social determinants of health: Financial literacy is as important as physical fitness

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of articles dedicated to topics involved in social determinants of health. Watch this space for a new installment from local professionals in their fields.

Financial Literacy is defined as the possession of the set of skills and knowledge that allows an individual to make informed and effective decisions with all of their financial resources.

According to the Milliken Institute, less than 60% of adults are financially literate.

With a majority of states, including Pennsylvania, not requiring a financial literacy course to graduate high school, this lack of basic financial knowledge and understanding is a serious issue spanning generations of Americans. High levels of consumer debt, low credit scores, and an overall unsustainable financial picture are just a few of the consequences of being financially illiterate. These fiscal consequences often lead to chronic health conditions, creating a cycle of poor financial, physical and mental health.

This continuous sequence of events that affects so many people could be avoided with basic financial literacy and wellness.

Financial fitness can have as much positive impact on a person’s overall health and well-being as physical fitness. However, while many people focus on physical health, incorporating diet and exercise as the keys to a healthy life, they ignore their financial well-being.

Finances are a major source of stress and worry for many people, and frequently have long lasting, negative effects on a person’s physical and mental health. Things such as anxiety, sleeplessness, chest pains, headaches, depression, and anger are common physical and mental ailments that people experience when they are struggling financially. There are countless choices, obstacles, decisions, and unexpected things we all experience along the path to achieving financial fitness.

Just as the road to physical health and wellness continues throughout life, financial literacy is also a lifelong journey.

There is no single correct answer, no one-size-fits-all to make everything work. Instead, there are financial literacy core concepts necessary to achieve personal financial success, with focuses on credit, finance and money management to help you develop vital financial knowledge and maintain your own personal financial health throughout your life.

· Many people have problems getting started on a solid financial path because they don’t have a good sense of where they are financially. The important thing is to figure out what you have, and what you owe. Check your credit report for free at annualcreditreport.com. It is impossible to have an accurate picture of your financial well-being if you do not know what is in your credit report.

· Determining priorities is essential. Once you have a goal, you have something tangible to work toward, as opposed to ‘saving money’. If you share your finances with someone else, set priorities together. It is not uncommon for couples to work at cross-purposes financially without even knowing it, leading to stress and conflict, and in extreme cases, bankruptcy and divorce.

· Create a budget. Sixty percent of Americans are currently living from paycheck to paycheck without any real opportunity to get ahead. Your budget should reflect the goals you set, otherwise, it’s not going to work. Be sure to include ‘fun’ in your budget — evenings out, vacations, a bit of splurge money. If you don’t budget the things you enjoy, you won’t follow the budget. You know what you have from your self-assessment; you know what your goals are and where you want to end up financially.

· Be prepared to monitor your progress and adjust as needed. Change is a constant in life. Acknowledging change and adjusting accordingly is a key to success in fitness and finances … especially your budget. Adjust your budget as you meet your goals, particularly the goals that involve paying down debt.

· Things go wrong in life — things happen that you didn’t plan for. Less than 40% of Americans would be able to cover a $1,000 emergency. An emergency fund helps protect you from life’s ups and downs. Start by automating a small amount to go into an emergency fund each paycheck. Be sure your emergency fund account is somewhere you can access it when needed, but not too easy to access.

· Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Use the tools available to help become financially literate. There are knowledgeable financial professionals available to help, along with innumerable apps, articles, blogs, credit monitoring services, etc. Verify the resources you are using, whether in person or electronic, are qualified, legitimate sources of reliable information and assistance.

Financial matters can be complicated, and some aspects of financial literacy are difficult and can take a lot of time and effort to accomplish, but you don’t have to be an expert to achieve financial success. The core concepts of financial literacy can be utilized, adjusted, and fit to your own situation.

A strong foundation of financial knowledge and understanding leads to improved mental and physical health, allowing achievement of goals, confidence in monetary decision making, and the ability to enjoy life without financial stress and worry. While physical health and fitness are important, one cannot overlook the positive impact of financial literacy and what an incredible difference it makes in a person’s life.

Lisa Hunt is the business development officer at USX Federal Credit Union

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