What is financial well-being? And what does it mean to Canadians?

Believing in your ability to manage your money and feeling that your lifestyle supports your financial decisions can significantly enhance your sense of financial well-being.

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From cold plunges to anti-aging secrets, wellness is a major focus for many Canadians in 2024. This fixation on wellness and self-care has spread to our financial habits, with trends like no-spend months and loud budgeting gaining popularity. But it’s important to step back and evaluate these trends critically, by asking yourself, “Are these ‘wellness investments’ truly effective?”

As consumers in Canada, we’re constantly bombarded with investment and financial fads, promising significant returns that often fall short, especially when considering their costs. Marketers capitalize on these trends, as seen with DIY stock trading, which has enabled hundreds of thousands of inexperienced Canadians to make trades, often resulting in substantial losses.

Similarly, technologies like non-fungible tokens (NFTs) initially attracted millions of dollars from everyday consumers and were hailed as lucrative opportunities. However, they’re now widely criticized after causing significant financial losses for many. Fads frequently promise the world but fail to deliver, leaving Canadians with less money and a diminished sense of well-being.

Fortunately, social scientists have been examining financial well-being for decades, providing us with valuable insights. Their research offers a solid foundation for understanding how to manage our money in ways that contribute to our overall well-being.

What exactly is financial well-being?

As a Certified Financial Behaviour Specialist, I define “financial well-being” as being able to:

  • Comfortably cover bills today. 
  • Feel confident about future finances. 
  • Have the freedom to enjoy life’s pleasures.

This suggests that financial well-being enables consumers to take charge of their finances, reach their financial goals, feel at peace financially and sidestep costly mistakes. Building on this understanding, in 2015, The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau released a comprehensive study outlining four key areas essential for financial well-being:

  1. Control over day-to-day and month-to-month finances: this means understanding and aligning expenses with income, and managing or paying off debt effectively.
  2. The capacity to absorb a financial shock: having an emergency fund is a means to plan for unexpected expenses or a major life transition, such as a job loss, medical bills, home or car repairs, the sudden death of a spouse, etc.
  3. Being on track to meet financial goals: this is actively saving for significant goals, such as a wedding, sabbatical or retirement.
  4. Financial freedom to make happy choices: having the time and resources to spend on things that bring you enjoyment, from a hobby to a big vacation.

Academic research on financial well-being has primarily concentrated on the objective and empirical aspects of our finances. These include income, savings, investments, credit scores, debts, mortgages and tax payments. It operates on the premise that getting these technical elements in order ultimately leads to financial well-being. However, this approach often overlooks our sense of happiness and satisfaction, which can influence how we feel about our overall financial well-being.  

How are Canadians doing with their money?

A recent Consumer Pulse survey revealed that 32% of Canadian households struggle to cover debt payments. These findings align with those from FP Canada, which reported money as the top stressor for 44% of Canadians. This data suggests that financial stress is increasing for Canadians. And yet, the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC) reports that three in four Canadians feel “somewhat secure or financially secure”. So, on the whole, Canadians seem to be doing well financially.

But it seems financial well-being for Canadians is more closely linked to behaviours around money than around things like income and savings. The FCAC report suggests that subjective factors —confidence and attitudes toward spending, saving and investing — also play pivotal roles in financial well-being.

While income and other measurable finances are important, the broader scope of financial behaviours and mindsets carries substantial weight in our overall financial well-being.

I’m not discounting the importance of objective measures in financial well-being. However, to truly experience financial well-being, we need to consider more than just ways to increase income or save more. We also need to improve our perception of how we’re doing financially and our belief in ourselves to make sound financial decisions.

Since financial well-being is an integral part of subjective well-being, such as thoughts and feelings about our lives and experiences, we’d be justified to include our perceptions of money and our relationships with it in our definition of financial well-being. 

What feelings about money have to do with well-being

In 2017, research by Brüggen et al. highlighted that personal feelings and beliefs about money matter. For instance, even if two people have the same amount in the bank, their feelings about their financial health can be worlds apart. It’s not just what you have, but how you view your finances that counts. And in 2018, Netemeyer et al. reached a similar conclusion, showing that, despite having comparable financial situations, people often perceive their financial wellness quite differently.

When thinking about your own financial well-being, it’s crucial to consider that our financial situation affects more than just our bank account. It impacts our mental health, happiness, relationships and overall life satisfaction. Sure, paying off debts and saving for retirement are important markers of financial health, but they don’t guarantee a sense of financial well-being.

Financial well-being includes your perceptions and emotions concerning your finances. Believing in your ability to manage your money and feeling that your lifestyle supports your financial decisions can significantly enhance your sense of financial well-being. 

How you perceive your financial situation matters immensely.

In 2024, financial well-being is about more than just the numbers in your bank account or your income. It combines having solid financial stability with how you actually feel about your money situation. It’s about achieving a balance where the bills are paid and you have money for the future, while also having a healthy relationship with money. By aligning how you manage debts, savings and spending with your values and with what makes you truly happy, you’ll not only take care of your money better but you’ll also have a higher level of life satisfaction.    

This article was written by Shaun Maslyk, CFP from MoneySense and was legally licensed through the DiveMarketplace by Industry Dive. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@industrydive.com.

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