Mental Health Month is celebrated each year in the month of October in NSW. This month encourages all of us to think about our mental health and wellbeing. It also gives us the opportunity to understand the importance of balancing mental health in our everyday lives and encourages help seeking behaviours when needed.
With this in mind, your financial health can have a significant impact on your mental health from day to day. That’s why this Mental Health Month, it’s important to stay connected and check up on your own finances.
With many Australians mitigating employment uncertainty and altered working conditions, financial stress is very much on the rise. Over 40% of Australian households reported feeling nervous, restless or exhausted over their finances in the past 6 months, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
If you’re feeling trapped from piling bills or worrying about meeting your debt repayments on time, remember that it’s never too early or too late to take back control of your money. Small steps in the right direction today can make a big difference in the long run. Read on for our key tips to help you regain your financial and mental footing:
1. Talk to a professional
If you’re struggling with managing your finances, know that you don’t have to face it alone. A financial advisor can assist you with figuring out your next steps. Financial counsellors are trained to help people who are feeling anxious about their finances and future, and they can guide you through your options, circumstances and help you build a plan of action.
Accessing this professional advice doesn’t have to cost you anything, as there are many Australia free financial counselling services - over 850 across the country, according to the National Debt Helpline (NDH). To find a financial counselling or advisory service in your local area, check out the NDH’s helpful Find a Financial Counsellor map.
Alternatively, mental health helplines like Beyond Blue (1300 22 4636) and Lifeline (13 11 14) are also free to call and available 24/7. The government’s HealthDirect website has more information on other helplines you can contact, depending on your individual needs and circumstances.
2. Go through the numbers
While tracking your expenses can feel like a confronting exercise, there’s a lot to gain from keeping tabs on your day to day spending. Expense tracking lets you take an objective step back and see your finances in a clearer light. It doesn’t have to be time-consuming either; in fact, there are plenty of free budgeting apps out there that can do the hard work for you, so you won’t need to go through pages and pages of your bank or credit statements each time.
Many of these apps also contain nifty features like transaction categorisation, and the ability to link with your bank accounts, credit cards and loans. That way, you can keep all your finances organised and in one place.
3. Manage any debt anxiety you might have
If your mortgage or credit card balance has been stressing you out, there are plenty of ways to break down those debt repayments into more manageable chunks. It could be a matter of rethinking your repayment strategy, making adjustments to your discretionary monthly expenses or even asking your bank for assistance.
Many banks and lenders have financial hardship policies to help customers in times of financial difficulty. This is typically where you can access support, such as waived fees and smaller or deferred repayments. To talk through your potential options for making your debt more manageable, simply reach out to your bank or loan lender – or if you’re not comfortable discussing hardship over the phone, online or live chat services may also be available.
4. Make an action plan
With the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns leaving many families out of pocket, you may find that your old budget no longer meets your needs. A great golden rule when creating your new plan is to make sure your income can cover all your expected costs. In other words: more money is going into, rather than coming out of your bank account each month. Or at the very least, you’re able to break even.
If that isn’t realistic for your circumstances right now, there are three solutions: reduce your expenses, find potential income streams, or do a bit of both. Our guide on creating a crisis budget has five steps you can follow. This is the time to prioritise your needs over wants. The sweet spot for your crisis budget is that it’s strict, but realistic. While most of your income should be dedicated to covering essential expenses (e.g. rent, utility bills, groceries, phone and internet) or saving up, it’s okay to leave a little space for the ‘fun’ stuff.
5. Take breaks where you need to
Last but not least, be kind to yourself. The process of getting your finances back into shape can feel strenuous, so don’t forget to take breaks and stay connected when you need to. Here are some easy, affordable ways to unwind and recharge:
Pick up a free hobby. Your pastimes don’t have to cost you hundreds of dollars a year. Whether it’s hiking in your local national park, learning a foreign language online, or trying your hand at origami, you’ll find plenty of choices that will cost you almost nothing at all.
Meditate. It takes just 10 minutes out of your day, but meditation is an effective way to clear your mind and reduce your anxieties. Meditation apps like Headspace and Calm are free to download.
Spend time with friends/family. Anyone fancy a board game night or a homemade meal together? Surrounding yourself with supportive people during tough times is essential. If you live alone, you could make a habit out of weekly virtual catch-ups or organise a COVID-safe meetup at the park.
Looking for more resources and assistance options? Our guide to taking control of your finances may be able to answer your other big questions.
Disclaimer: This article is not intended as legal, financial or investment advice and should not be construed or relied on as such. Before making any commitment of a legal or financial nature you should seek advice from a qualified and registered Australian legal practitioner or financial or investment advisor.