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What is Money Health?


"There's no right or wrong time. Just start. Better now than later and better late than never."

-Simon Sinek


I am so stressed! I don't have money to pay the rent. It's 2004 and I'm swamped with my coursework. For the second time in my life, I just pulled two all-nighters in a row. I'm tired. I'm working fewer hours at my job because of my course load. My roommate just moved out so I'm trying to pay for a two-bedroom apartment working part-time.

I'm at the end of my rope.

I don't have the money to pay my bills. I'm playing the "float game," where I write a check and hope it doesn't get cashed until payday. I rely on credit cards, so of course, I'm not saving. I would be completely out of luck if I lost my job or had to further reduce my hours. I'm ashamed to talk about my money situation, and even if I wasn't, there's nobody to talk to. I'm barely treading water, so thinking about what I wanted out of life is completely out of the question. Even if I could use my money to support my values, I don't have any idea what those are.

I'm just trying to survive.

A decade and a half later I would find out that I had no Money Health. I had the money-version of a disease or a disorder. I fixed my Money Health, but it took time. It took patience. I know this is a cliche, but if I can do it, so can you.

money health

Health and Well-Being

Before we can talk about health and money, we should talk about what health and well-being mean.

When most of us think about health our automatic thought it to think about physical health. If we want or need help with some aspect of our physical health we go see a medical doctor. This could be for regular checkups, injuries, and illnesses. Physical health, among other things, means we are free some disease and illness, are physically fit, get enough sleep, and have a healthy diet.

physical health

The second realm of health is mental health. This area of wellness has historically been kind of a taboo subject. I do believe the stigma around mental health is (slowly) going away, though, and I think that will benefit all of us.

If we want or need help with some aspect of our mental health we go see a mental health professional, like a psychologist, marriage and family therapist, counselor, or psychiatrist. Together these professionals are sometimes called psychotherapists. If you have a disorder, you would go see a psychotherapist, of course, but they can do so much more for you than diagnose and treat a disorder. They help you sort through challenging times you are having, address emotional stress, help you untangle your thoughts, and more.

Having mental health means that we generally enjoy life, don't have disorders, feel safe, and can bounce back from life's difficulties.

mental health

Well-Being and Money

This brings us to wellness as it relates to money. Money is an interesting topic because money touches every area of our life. If we don't have financial wellness, it may impact other aspects of our health. For example, troubles with money can cause us to feel stress, lose sleep, feel depressed or anxious, get into fights, or make us feel unsafe.

Thinking about wellness and money can be confusing because there are a lot of terms floating around out there. You may hear it called financial well-being, financial wellness, or financial health. I call it Money Health.

financial health

Different Financial Wellness Ideas

You might be wondering what it means, regardless of what we call it. Thought-leader, and one of my mentors, Brad Klontz, says that financial health is having a balanced, comfortable, and conscious relationship with money that is both satisfying and not overly stressful. That's kind of a mouthful, so let's break that down.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) calls it financial well-being and has a clear definition. They break it down into a nicely defined grid. On one axis is the time period - the present and the future. On the other axis are two elements of financial well-being, security and freedom.

Having security in the present moment means having the day-to-day management of your finances in order. This is the blocking and tackling. You are paying your bills on time. You can meet your financial obligations.

Having security in the future means being able to handle setbacks or bumps in the road. You'll survive if you lose your job or have to experience a pay cut. You can handle unexpected expenses.

Having freedom in the present means you don't have to worry about whether or not there will be money in your account. You can make financial decisions that help you enjoy life without undue stress.

Having freedom in the future means you are saving for longer-term needs, like retirement (of course, I don't like to call it retirement).

This is a great way to think about financial well-being. Before we move on, I want to pause and talk about the difference between exterior finance and interior finance.

Exterior finance is the nuts and bolts of finance. It's the mechanics of money. Think of this as being the "spreadsheets and calculators" (to quote another mentor of mine, Carl Richards) side of money.

Interior finance is the softer side of money. This is where our feelings and emotions about money live. This is our financial behavior. This is our personal values and relationships. This is how to talk about money.

CFPB's definition is great, but only tackles the exterior side of money. I like to take it a few steps further.

exterior financial well being

Adding Awareness: Money Health

We can piggyback on CFPB's definition by adding elements of interior finance. In addition to their four-square grid, adding elements of personal values and money communication.

On the communication axis, having security in your money conversations means you can talk about money with your loved ones without feeling afraid or like you are being controlled.

Having freedom in your money conversations means you can freely express how you feel about money. You don't feel shame or blame when you voice your opinions.

On the values axis, satisfying your values in the present means you are able to use your money in a way that helps you live a life that is in-line with what's important to you.

Satisfying your values in the future means you are able to use money as a tool to design the life you want with your resources. You don't acquire or spend money as the ultimate goal; you understand what money needs to do for you.

At the intersection of values and communication is being able to talk with your loved ones about what you want out of life and how to can use your money to meet get there.

Money Health, like physical health and mental health, is important if you want to live a life with low stress and high satisfaction. Much like a doctor to help you with physical health, and a mental health professional to help you with mental health, there are professionals that help with Money Health. If there are aspects of your Money Health you want help with you can see someone like me, a financial therapist. Financial therapists help integrate both the interior and exterior sides of money, help stop negative financial behaviors, help you live intentionally, and help you use your money to support your happiness.

interior financial well being - money health

Boosting Your Money Health

If you are anything like most people, there are aspects of your financial life that you'd like to take control of. There are ways for you to improve your Money Health. Spend some time to think about who you want to be and where you want to go. Carl Richards would have you think about a micro-action. Behavioral scientist BJ Fogg would tell you to implement a tiny habit.

What is the first step you can take to get to where want to go? A big, grand plan is going to be intimidating. But a tiny action - you can do a tiny action.

A small step forward is still a step in the right direction.

micro action

Think about one thing you can do to better your Money Health. Then make it smaller. What's the one small thing you can do today to help you with your Money Health?

You only have one life. Live intentionally.

organize your financial mess

Related Money Health® Reading:


Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: Financial well-being: What it means and how to help

BJ Fogg: Tiny Habits

Derek Hagen: Aligning Your Money and Your Values

Derek Hagen: Healthy Money Conversations

Brad Klontz, Ted Klontz: Mind Over Money

Brad Klontz, Rick Kahler, Ted Klontz: Facilitating Financial Health

Medical News Today: What is good health?

Note: Above is a list of references that I intentionally looked at while writing this post. It is not meant to be a definitive list of everything that influenced by thinking and writing. It's very likely that I left something out. If you notice something that you think I left out, please let me know; I will be happy to update the list.


If you like this post, consider joining the Money Health community. There is no spam, just an email every Thursday when new posts come out and every month with a recap.

money health


About the Author

Derek Hagen, CFA, CFP, FBS, CFT-I, CIPM is a speaker, writer, and coach specializing in financial psychology, meaning and valued living, resilience, and mindfulness.


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