Financial Stress:  Auditing Our Money Woes

James Schroeder, PhD
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The American Psychological Association (APA) recently released its annual 2015 Stress in America survey.  For the 9th straight year (since the survey began), financial issues were reported as the number one stressor in America.  Even while many parts of the U.S. economy have shown a resurgence, many Americans are reporting that financial strain continues to take its toll, likely having significant effects on our health and well-being.  Those reporting the most stress are parents, millennials (18 to 35 year-olds), and Gen Xers (36 to 49 year-olds).  Thirty-one percent noted that financial challenges were a significant cause of conflict in their relationships; nearly 20% noted that they have either skipped or nearly skipped medical treatments because of money concerns.  Although no difference in stress was reported between those with different incomes in the survey’s inception in 2007, those earning less than 50,000 today reported significantly more anxiety than those that earned more.

What the APA press release fails to mention is a broader story of the challenges that many face in making ends meet as partially told in a book by Jean Twenge and W. Keith Campbell.  This is the story of a generation that has become enamored with all that credit and creative, if not chancy, endeavors can buy.  Ninety-three percent of teenage girls say that shopping is their favorite activity.  Adjusting for inflation (using 2002 standards), the average kitchen in 1955 cost 9,000 dollars;  less than 50 years later, the average kitchen priced in at 57,000 dollars.  As I noted in my January article, Americans spend a mean of 671 dollars per year on youth sports.  Birthday parties have routinely gone from a gift of a doll, a birthday cake, and invitations to a few to presents of $400 dollar iPods, huge guest lists, and bounce houses galore.  Of course, these shindigs have nothing on extravaganzas showcased on the MTV hit My Super Sweet 16, which features live concerts and 50,000 dollar luxury cars as gifts for the ultra-wealthy adolescent.

But it is not just those of affluence taking to the new trend.  The number of vehicles grew by 144% from 1969 to the late 90’s while the number of drivers increased by just 72%.  The amount of retail space per person in the United States is 39.2 square feet compared to 20.4 square feet in Australia, 14 in the United Kingdom, and 10.8 in Japan.  Black Friday has turned from an early morning shopping spree to a Thanksgiving Day crasher.  The average square footage of a home in 1970 was approximately 1,500 square feet; in 2005, it was over 2,400 feet.  Ten percent of U.S. homes were 2,400 square feet or larger in 1970; well over 40% are today.  The irony is that families are only getting smaller.  Virtually no homes in 1970 had three or more bathrooms.  Today over 25% sport this amenity.  The average monthly cable bill in 2011 was 86 dollars and is projected to be 123 dollars (1,476 dollars per year) by the time 2015 is over.  The average monthly mobile bill in 2015:  73 dollars per month.  Total video game expenditures in the United States in 2012 were almost 22 billion dollars.  Average credit card debt is over 11,000 dollars—triple what it was in 1990.

I am a father of six young children and a sole wage earner. I understand stressors that come with providing for many needs, today and for years to come, even though I am fortunate to have a good job with insurance benefits.  But every time one of a similar survey provides an overview of the significant stress that many of us feel related to money, there is a huge elephant sitting next door that remains very quiet.  No doubt that some people are strained by unforeseen, or unfortunate or difficult, circumstances.  No doubt that all of us are financially stressed because what we believe we need or should have constitutes neither.  And what APA, and many other entities like it are saying is that this is causing us significant stress, conflict, and angst.

To really break the ice, or the bank, I will call myself out as being greedy at times.  There are certain things that I want, in the way I want them and just how and when I want them even when I could do just fine with something that costs less.  This may sound harsh to some, as certainly having a desire for nice things does not necessarily make a person materialistic.  Regardless, at times, greed takes hold of me.  For all of you reading this, I will let you discern just how you personally feel about this topic.  But if greed, or avarice, enters your equation, too, then there is something we must consider.  Many of us were taught it was a transgression, and to this day it remains as one of the seven deadly sins.  We were taught that if objects of our desire ruled us more than our faithful endeavors, and the desire and drive to follow Him, the results could be dire here and beyond.

For some, this is old news.  For others, this is no news or even annoyingly irrelevant or frustratingly dogmatic news.  But regardless of what kind of news this is to you, what matters to me and all of you is what really led to the press release after all.  Financial difficulties do impact the health of our bodies, minds, and families.  In our insatiable desire for more and more, we are taking a risk in that more might end up being less, and less might end up being more unnecessary obstacles to the very beings that all of us desire right now:  health, happiness, and harmony.  It’s a big gamble.  As Mahatma Ghandi once said, “There is sufficiency in this world for man’s need, but not for man’s greed.”

15 COMMENTS

  1. James, thanks for outing yourself as greedy, that is very brave 🙂

    Spiritual abundance trumps money because when you have spiritual abundance, money comes when you need it. When we have spiritual abundance, we can afford to be generous because resources are unlimited.

    This perspective comes from outside the norm, so one has to experience it to know it. So many of us have lost our money going through disability, and this is one option for growth in awareness and expanding consciousness.

    I did well before becoming temporarily disabled, worked for years. Then I lost my money to mental health care which turned out to be harmful to me, and now I’m back on my feet because I made the transition into a better reality. That’s the idea of taking the dark-night-of-the-soul journey, one’s entire perception of the material world shifts, to seeing that it is all illusory. Money is at the top of that list, and we don’t need it nearly as much as we think we do. It never, ever need be a source of stress, but it is because of what we are taught about ‘money,’ (through media, mostly) which are, in essence, as false as the messages that psych drugs are good for you.

    But to know about this, you have to take that dark night journey. When society is filled with robber barrens, it’s good to know how to get around this. Robber barrens (including, for example, the IRS) are powerless to spiritual abundance.

  2. I was a material girl when I was young, a bank president’s daughter, I didn’t know anything different. After getting my first college degree, I worked in management on the Mag Mile in Chicago. After about four years of watching all the greed and consumerism, I couldn’t stomach it anymore. I went back to school to follow my passion in the arts. Which, of course, is not likely going to make me wealthy in this life, since artwork isn’t generally worth much until after the artist is dead, the quantity is fixed, and society actually becomes wise enough to see the insightfulness of the work.

    I took my children to dozens of giant birthday parties every year for their friends as they were growing up, but refused to have those parties for my children. I knew it was not a good precedent to start. We had nice family celebrations for my children’s birthdays. I also had to curb the huge numbers of Christmas presents that were ending up under the Christmas tree every year, it was absurd. Not to mention it was taking me close to six months just to pay off the Christmas presents we felt obliged to buy for others.

    Some might say this made me a mean mom. But I have two wonderful, kind, generous, responsible, and highly motivated children. They spend their money wisely, and for the most part are very grateful for what they have. I believe it’s much wiser to raise children modestly, spoiled children grow up to be difficult adults.

    It’s nice to see a psychiatrist who actually believes in God and touts the wisdom in the Holy Bible, James, thank you. (That comes from a psychiatric survivor whose “psychosis” and “delusions” were belief in the Holy Spirit, called by the therapist, “voice” and “God,” according to my medical records.) No doubt, there is a problem for many of those who believe in the DSM “bible” with what is said in the Holy Bible. Such as, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

  3. The greatest anti-anxiety drug I’ve ever used is thousands of dollars in my savings account and still climbing. Living from paycheck to paycheck while buying luxury items or even necessities is stressful, if not horrifying. Living from paycheck to paycheck without savings is grueling, even when the threat is only on the periphery, the awareness that you could end up on the mean American streets is tortuous.

    Of course, if you’re working class, getting ahead can be next to impossible, but any savings is better than none. I’ve managed to save because I’m an in-home caregiver and don’t have to pay rent or bills. I also have a small pension on top of my part-time job.

    A soft cushion of money to fall back on is something I wish for everyone. It relieves and prevents stress like nothing else can.

  4. “There is sufficiency in this world for man’s need, but not for man’s greed.”

    These are wise words indeed. We live in time and age when faced with the tragic attack on 9/11 the president advices the frightened population to “keep calm and keep shopping” while plotting to attack Iraq. What is wrong with that picture?

  5. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the sin of Greed and the way it interacts with other sins lately James.

    Living in a $3/4 M home with a wife I adored and pursuing a career that I had dreamed of my whole life. Enter Mental Health Services and within weeks I was living in a car park in a $600 van, with the clothes I stood in. Quite a test and one that I failed when I walked in front of a truck. Just my greed of wanting to have more of what was making me happy? Another successful cure?

    Still, I have no money problems now, no money, no problem. Maybe I am greedy, but just not very good at it lol.

    Good article James. Thanks.