Nowadays, the words “health” and “healthy” are very important. While the pandemic has taught many people different lessons, one of the most central ones is that it’s important for us to be healthy. Without good health, all other things may not take place, or be sustainable.
The concept of being healthy isn’t just limited to medicines or the fitness industry – it’s also widely used in the financial industry. These days, there are plenty of marketing messages that have the phrase “Financial Health” or “Financial Health Check” in a big, hard-to-miss font!
At a glance, it seems that we can get free financial health checks from different companies that offer different kinds of products. Life insurance companies offer this, banks may also offer this service, and in social media, we can see many different individuals, or product companies offering this, for free!
As a curious person, I tend to try out new things. And the most memorable one, I’d say, is one by a reputable insurance company offering a financial health check. I logged in to the portal to do mine; a few questions were asked about my age, marital status and whether I have children. It then asked me to rate a few scenarios that “concerns me”:
- In the event I’m diagnosed with critical illness
- In the event I’m disabled
- In the event I meet with an accident
- If I’m concern about money for my children’s education
After these questions, the next segment asked me to indicate how much insurance I have in respect to the areas mentioned above, followed by a question of how much of my current income goes to insurance premiums.
Boom, the results came out and I was eager to see if I’m considered financially healthy! The results show me, based on the coverage amount I keyed earlier, compared to people like me at this insurance company, whether I had higher or lower coverage for the respective areas. It even comes with a recommendation of what I “need”. You get it – according to this financial health check, I need more insurance products!
Just like this, am I supposed to say I’m financially healthier than most just because I have higher coverage on death and total permanent disability? Am I supposed to feel concerned just because “people like me” at this insurance company have a RM20,000 paid savings plan, but I have RM0; does that make me a bad father?
Comparing our situation to “people like me” as defined by a company, isn’t a good way to assess if we’re financially healthy. If this is a good approach, we should start comparing our situation to people in other countries, societies, and at other offices. But what is a fitting benchmark for this?
If this is considered a good approach, then if “people like me” in this country have a high amount of debt, should I start going all out and accumulating debt? I’m not sure how this makes any sense. It may make sense to some, but I’m still looking for a good explanation!
Comparison is the root of all evil and how we lose the clarity we need to live our own life. It also helps in feeding insecurity, jealousy, greed and other emotions that don’t empower us to be a better version of ourselves.
I think that if we want to understand if we’re financially healthy, it’s because we want to know if we have a good financial foundation. It’s like a table with four legs; we want to know if these four legs are strong enough, or whether it’s unstable and at risk of collapsing. We need this information because we care about maintaining the table and want it to continue being stable so that what’s on the table will be sustained and maintained.
In life, what’s on my table will be what’s important to me. For me, this includes my family, what kind of difference I can bring to the society, whether I’m making a difference, and helping people be better than they were the day before. But, without those four legs supporting my table top, these three items may not be around for long.
In the context of money and life, we can start from these four legs to find out if we’re financially healthy.
What are these four legs?
For a start, I’d suggest looking at your emergency savings. If your savings can support you during sudden spikes in unexpected expenses, or ensure you go through challenging times when you lose your main income without having to lose sleep, your leg is quite stable and strong.
Are you saving enough?
Assess if you’re saving part of your income. A person spending all their income today will probably have to always look for money. The day their income stops, they’ll have issues maintaining the lifestyle they lead. On the contrary, a person who saves too much of their income today may not be able to enjoy life at all. Striking a balance seems to be important since none of us know if we’ll get the chance to enjoy our savings 20 years later.
Debt and commitments
Take a look at your debt situation. Do you have a habit of carrying outstanding debts forward month to month? How much of your take-home pay are you using to pay off loan instalments? If this amount takes up most of your income, it means you probably have less freedom and flexibility to try something new, since there are weights dragging this leg down. This means you may not be able to put on more weight to your table top.
Finally, how well have you been preparing to achieve your life goals? For instance, my family is important to me, and if I were to leave them too soon, how long can they continue with minimal disruption? Have I done anything to ensure my frozen estate can reach them as quickly as possible with minimal costs? Am I on-track to provide my child with the kind of education I want?
By looking at your financial progress from this perspective, the benchmark you’ll use isn’t public, but rather what you want, and compared to where you are now. This allows you to fairly review the legs of your table. It’ll help you stay on-track and compare your current situation to your ideal goals instead of other people’s.
The points above are the four basic areas I think we should review if we want to understand our financial health. Of course, there are more areas such as if assets are optimised or liquid enough, ways to legally reduce taxes, or reducing the fees and cost we pay when we grow our wealth, etc. But this is a good starting point.
When was the last time you did a financial health check? By being part of the Money Warriors Community, you can learn how to make improvements to the four basic areas – save more, spend with peace of mind, reduce your debt, and be brave when you think of money.
About the author
Kevin Neoh is a NextGen Money Coach who works with people to help them transform their relationship with money to improve their lives with the money they have. Kevin can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and www.kevinneoh.my.