Point of View: Consider economic health in wellness check

Whenever I do a scan of my personal 8 Dimensions of Wellness, economic health is consistently one that I feel ambivalent about. Considering our definition, “The ability to meet financial needs and adapt to unanticipated financial situations”, gives me pause. On one hand, I know my privilege and good fortune as I have the ability to meet daily financial needs, and even plan for the future. On the other, I recognize how tenuous my currently comfortable financial situation is, and how I would struggle if faced with major medical expenses or another unforeseen expense.

A couple of times in my life I’ve experienced extended bouts of not quite pulling off living paycheck to paycheck. The first time I was 19-21 years old and still living in England; just before payday I would end up surviving on meals of toast with marmite or porridge (oatmeal). Later, in 2003-2005, recently divorced with two kids under the age of six, even though I lived frugally my expenses out-paced my take-home pay. Month-by-month my credit card balance increased by $50-$100, and within months the interest became a significant expense in its own right.

Just as my debt was starting an exponential growth, I heard about credit consolidation services from an NPR story on KBBI. I took a deep breath, called an 800 number and was soon connected with a counselor who walked me through all my bills and expenses and coached me to find ways to economize. Additionally, the service combined the credit card balances I had into one account and negotiated a much lower interest rate, so within little more than a year I had a handle on the debt, and a realistic budget for moving forward.

If you can connect with people who treat you with dignity and can guide and support you without judgement, dire straits don’t feel as hopeless. Local support includes sliding scales for medical services at SVT Health and Wellness, and reproductive healthcare, preventive screenings and birth control at Kachemak Bay Family Planning Clinic; daycare assistance through the Lee Shore Center; Homer Community Food Pantry for food and the Community Chest; Students in Transition; Safe Homes for Children; and more.

There are numerous national businesses and nonprofits that offer credit consolidation and assistance with other debts, such as student loans and medical bills. One place to start may be www.debt.org.

Many people feel alone when faced with debt, and stigma and shame sometimes make it hard to seek assistance. One way to feel less isolated is to hear stories from others who have experienced similar hardship making ends meet. A friend who has more recently dealt with the pressures and negative self-esteem associated with astronomical student debts reports that they found great comfort in listening to podcasts about getting out from under suffocating balances and due dates.

Most of us feel more confident and competent once we have a plan. Perhaps this 5-step action plan will get you started!

1. Be as informed as you can be about your finances. After all, you are the one who is going to have to live with your decisions.

2. Try to find a financial institution or financial advisor that is knowledgeable, that you can trust, and with who treats you with dignity. They should be able to help you put your situation into perspective and help you evaluate your options.

3. Try to develop good financial habits. Paying attention to how you spend your money may lead to some ideas about how to save more.

4. If you use credit cards, pay off the full balance each month to avoid interest charges.

5. Once you are back on track you can add in ways to build savings for your future. Participating in your company’s retirement plan, enrolling for direct deposit of your paycheck, and using some form of automatic saving plan will help you accumulate funds.

Finding small ways to take back autonomy and control of your own finances, while having empathy with yourself for the multitude of things outside your control, can provide a way to care for both your economic and emotional wellness.

You can access resources to support you on your wellness journey at www.skpresourcedirectory.net.

Catriona Reynolds is Executive Director at Kachemak Bay Family Planning Clinic and a member of the MAPP Steering Committee. MAPP (Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnerships) is a local health improvement coalition with the vision of a proactive, resilient and innovative community.