When was the last time you were hit with an unexpected expense? Were you able to cover it? If not, was there someone in your network who could help? Did you have to take out a predatory loan from a pay-day lender? Max out a high interest credit card? Turn to an overbearing family member who leveraged it over your life or actions? Did this event upset or distress you? Did you lose sleep? Maybe you lashed out at someone with nothing to do with your situation?
Don’t feel bad if you said “yes” — it’s the answer for many people. In the Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2017 (Federal Reserve, May 2018), the American public was generally positive about their personal economic growth; conversely, these were the five most serious concerns discovered:
1) 40 percent of Americans don’t have the cash to pay for an emergency or unexpected expense.
2) 25 percent have no retirement or pension savings.
3) Less than 60 percent can answer basic financial literacy questions.
4) 20 percent of adults know someone impacted by the opioid crisis.
5) 25 percent of borrowers who attended a for-profit college are behind on student loan payments.
Co. Forbes, Friedman 2018
In another study conducted by researchers at University of Southampton, 65 academic papers on debt and mental health were compared. Their discovery? Suicide is eight times more likely among individuals in debt (Richardson; 2013. Clinical Psychological Review).
From this information alone, it could be fairly argued that management of personal, business or household finances plays a significant role in an individual’s health. Furthermore, it begs the question: How much is our behavior dictated by our ability to curry favor with economic interests higher than ourselves? Do we bite the hand that feeds? What if that same hand strikes? What are a person’s options if their health and wealth are dependent on suffering psychological or physical abuse?
As cynical as it may sound, it is apparent one’s behavioral psychology is in part pegged to the depth and scope of their economic relationships. In finance, we call it proactive and reactive behaviors. When an individual maintains proactive financial and personal relationships, they are able manage, save and invest in constructive, long-term goals. A reactive relationship has the potential to become caustic, potentially damaging, and often arrives at a time when a person is at their lowest of lows. Individuals in these states are often forced to live paycheck-to-paycheck, making long-term strategies much more difficult to sustain.
The question becomes this: How do you treat those who are both above and below your means? Are you a benefactor or beneficiary? Where do you sit on this spectrum? In some instances, you might be both. No matter where you are, it’s worth giving a moment of thought to those with whom you have an economic relationship. Take stock of your behavior toward them, their behavior toward you: Is it healthy, is it appropriate, and is it proactive? After all, it’s a two-way street.
Perhaps leverage, money and power is an unshakable taboo of the human condition interwoven in the fabric of our daily lives. Nevertheless, we can at least talk about it, bring it to light, give it life and ask difficult questions about our socioeconomic nature.
Tavis Hamilton is the Director of Marketing for Equilus Capital Partners and has worked in development and construction.