Does Your Financial Health Need a Checkup?


Physical well-being can be closely connected to financial well-being. Just ask Elle Kaplan, CEO and founder of LexION Capital Management, a wealth management firm located in New York City.

“Sometimes when we have medical issues, it creates a lot of bills,” said Kaplan. “That creates a sort of a domino effect. If you don’t have a nest egg of six to eight months of savings, a lot of people will go into debt.”

Most people would agree with this assessment, but they might find the proposition that financial maladies can lead to physical ones slightly more of a stretch. Yet it’s not a hard argument to make. Financial strain can cause emotional strain, and it’s never more than just one missed payment away.

In fact, money has been cited as the top source of stress each year since the annual Stress In America survey, conducted by Harris Poll for the American Psychological Association, began in 2007. And in a separate survey conducted by market research firm Greenwald & Associates, more than six in 10 Americans said they’d experienced “some type of psychological or physical stress symptom driven by money” in the previous six months.

The relationship between health and finance doesn’t end there. Many common financial infirmities have metaphorical counterparts in the world of disease. And while you can’t control everything that happens to you, medically or financially, there are measures you can take to protect and improve both your financial and your physical health—as you’ll see below.

Consider this a complimentary consultation.

Bad Credit and Athlete’s Foot

We know… ewww. But stay with us. Athlete’s foot is a relatively common, if embarrassing, fungal infection that can be caused by minor oversights, like going barefoot in a locker-room shower or wearing too-tight shoes with sweaty feet. Similarly, for many Americans, bad credit can be the result of small slipups and can feel shameful to talk about. Late credit card payments, or payments missed entirely, will affect your overall credit score; even timely payments can if you’re only paying the monthly minimums, since that’s a red flag for lenders that you’re struggling.

If you’re in a tough financial spot and are slipping behind in payments, you can address the problem before your score really suffers by contacting your creditors and explaining your situation. They all want to get paid, first and foremost, and many will be happy to work out a payment plan. The hard part is swallowing your pride and making the calls (and, of course, making the necessary changes to your spending and saving habits, so you’re able to cover those payments and get your balance paid off). But if you do, you and your credit score will be in a better situation.

Making those calls isn’t easy. It’s as hard as marching into Rite Aid and asking the kindly pharmacist, in a clear voice, “Where is your toenail fungus cream?” However, once you get over the initial embarrassment, you’ll be on your way to treating a completely fixable problem, in both cases.

High Credit Card Debt and Type 2 Diabetes

A 2015 study by economists at the New York Federal Reserve found that the average U.S. household owed an average of about $9,600 of its overall debt to credit card companies. Since most Americans don’t have nearly $10,000 in cash sitting around, cardholders often find themselves making monthly payments that barely make a dent in the overall balance, and the debt itself gets treated like a chronic condition that must be managed.

That makes it similar in some aspects to conditions like type 2 diabetes, which the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services classifies as the most common form of diabetes in the nation. The World Health Organization said that it can be prevented with “a healthy diet, regular physical activity, maintaining a normal body weight and avoiding tobacco use,” but often type 2 diabetes sufferers only address the illness once symptoms have emerged and prevention is no longer possible.

On the bright side, doctors have found that type 2 diabetes, like debt, can be reversible or, at least, manageable without medication through lifestyle changes like regular exercise, healthy eating and weight loss. Similarly, adopting healthy financial habits like diligently paying down your balance and adjusting your spending habits to avoid racking up more charges can help you reverse your debt situation, as well as accompanying symptoms like a low credit score.

Of course, focusing on prevention early on is the best plan of attack in both cases. Keeping a budget, living below your means and paying off your credit card each month can help you avoid falling into debt. And make sure you go for a nice brisk walk after that kale salad.

Scant Savings and Influenza

In October, GOBankingRates conducted a survey that asked how much money the respondents had in savings. Twenty-eight percent said they had a zero balance, and 21 percent said they didn’t even have a savings account in the first place.

We all know we’re supposed to put money aside for a rainy day, but with stagnant wages and surging credit card debt, actually doing it can be challenging. It’s tempting to put it off: The savings are only there for something that may happen, after all, and many people prefer to devote their resources to things that they know will happen.

People who choose not to get a flu shot can say the same. After all, why risk the bicep soreness when you might get through the winter without a single sneeze?

We’ve all been in a position at least once in our lives where we were warned of a risk, ignored it and then faced the consequences. It’s an ugly feeling, almost as ugly as having a fever, muscle aches and fatigue for a week. So why not play it safe and get your flu shot and put some money aside? You never know.

Overspending and Veisalgia

If you’re like a lot of people, your monthly budget is a snug fit with little room for error. Unfortunately, the siren song of temptation is hard to ignore, especially when you’re bombarded with advertisements all day long. Your mind says “no,” but your quickened pulse and acute fear of missing out may say “yes.”

Overindulging may offer a temporary buzz. Unfortunately, it’s almost always followed by an extended period of suffering comparable to a medical condition known as “veisalgia”—more commonly known as a hangover.

Hey, we’re not judging. Many of us have indulged in one drink more than we should have, then woken up the next afternoon at 3 p.m. in dehydrated misery. Worst of all is the shame of knowing we should have said “when,” but didn’t.

The next time you’re tempted to reach for that piece of plastic again, just remember: The moment of gratification passes quickly, but the hangover doesn’t.

An Unbalanced Portfolio and Ménière’s Disease

Any wealth management professional will tell you that a balanced portfolio is essential to financial health. A careful mix of low-risk and high-risk securities, the balanced portfolio tempers the investor’s penchant for the uncertain with a safe bet, such as Treasury notes. The notes on their own won’t do a lot for the investor, but they represent a solid anchor when that “can’t lose” stock takes a downturn.

When your portfolio is out of balance, it can feel like things are spinning out of control. In the medical world, this feeling is known as vertigo, often caused by an inner ear disorder known as Ménière’s disease. Named after French physician Prosper Ménière, its effects vary from a mild, seasick feeling to incapacitating spins that can last for up to 24 hours. There’s no cure, but treatments exist that can alleviate its symptoms.

Similarly, there’s no single quick fix that will keep your portfolio perpetually in a state of balance. Maintaining an equilibrium will likely require some adjustments as different parts of your portfolio rise or fall in value. But making sure your investment portfolio has a good mix of stocks, bonds and cash can keep your head from spinning when the market has a bad day.