Some people think that in order to be rich, you have to be smart. But that may not tell the whole story.
In fact, being rich may make you smart. Or more likely, being poor dumbs you down.
At a conference I attended, neuroscientist Dr. Emily Heath showed how people under financial stress experience a decline of 14 IQ points.
That is worse than if you took an IQ test after not having slept for 24 hours.
And we know that driving with no sleep can be even more dangerous than driving drunk.
The difference is that usually after going on a bender, you sleep it off, feel cruddy for a few hours and are then back to normal. People under financial stress can’t just drink a few glasses of Gatorade, pop a few ibuprofen and get relief.
Stress also takes a physical toll, cutting lives short, causing pain and reducing sex drive. Let’s face it: If you spend your day hiding from bill collectors, you’re probably not feeling like your best self and are less apt to get your freak on.
The same goes for your spouse. Money issues are one of the leading causes of divorce.
And given the double whammy of 2020 being, well, 2020 and it being the holidays, there’s no shortage of people with financial woes.
That said, there are many ways to give yourself some financial breathing room and start reducing your stress. Let’s take a look at some simple ones.
If you’re working and your company offers a 401(k), take it.
I know, I know – you can’t afford to give up 5% to 10% of your paycheck when you have bills to pay right now.
But it’s worth the effort. First of all, contributing to a 401(k) will immediately save you money in taxes.
Let’s say that you’re single and your taxable income is $50,000 per year. You’re in the 22% tax bracket, so you’ll pay $11,000 in taxes.
If you contribute 6% of your salary to a 401(k), you’ll reduce your taxable income by $3,000, saving $660 in taxes. Furthermore, many companies offer a 50% match up to 6%, so you could receive an additional $1,500 contribution from your employer.
And most people are still able to make ends meet with fewer take-home dollars.
Acorns offers another a way to force yourself to save. Once you sign up and spend money using the Acorns card, the amount is rounded up and the spare change is saved in an investment account.
So if you buy lunch for $6.25, the purchase is rounded up to $7 and the $0.75 is put into your account. That can add up quickly. You can then invest the funds in various portfolios made up of exchange-traded funds (ETFs).
Keep Track of What You Spend
People love quantifying their lives. They have apps to find out how many steps they took during the day. Some even get data on their sleep. But when it comes to money and spending, it’s anyone’s guess.
I’m not the guy who is going to tell you to skip the latte that you enjoy – but if you’re under financial stress, I will tell you to at least track what you’re spending so that you’re armed with the information.
Whether you choose to cut back on lattes is up to you. But you’ll at least be making an informed decision.
There are apps like Mint that track what you’re spending your money on and how much you have remaining. Mint will alert you if your bank balance runs low so you don’t bounce a check and incur overdraft fees, and it’ll also notify you when your bills are due so you can avoid late fees.
Another way to avoid fees is automatic bill payment. Most utility, credit card and other monthly bills can be set up to be paid automatically, which will prevent late fees.
Of course, you need to make sure you have enough money in your bank account to cover the bills. But if you do, automatic bill payment is a nice way to stop worrying about whether you’ve paid the bills every month.
Lastly, make sure you’re investing, even if just a little bit and whether it’s through Acorns or a brokerage account. My preferred investment is Perpetual Dividend Raisers. These are stocks whose dividends increase every year.
Investing in Perpetual Dividend Raisers serves two purposes…
First, you’ll receive more income each year, which will hopefully lessen financial stress over time.
Second, investing will also keep your brain active. Investing involves processing information, decision making and some basic math.
My father-in-law was in his 90s and every night would write down his investment totals on a piece of paper. I’m not saying that’s the reason he was as sharp as a tack, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.
Financial stress takes its toll on our relationships and our physical and mental health. Relieving that stress should be a priority – and we could all use an extra 14 IQ points.