Editor's Note: This story originally appeared in the Feb. 18 issue of GSA Business Report.
Spending strategies were simpler before credit cards. Even the wallet was simple, without all of those extra slots.
To use: open wallet and remove money for purchase. If there’s no money, don’t make the purchase.
“Pre-credit cards, when the cash was gone from the wallet you quit spending,” said Becky Goessel, CPA and accounting instructor at USC Upstate. “We could visualize when to stop spending so we did.”
Today’s wallets contain much more than cash and the average person spends much more than what’s inside.
Goessel said data compiled by the South Carolina Association of Certified Public Accountants show that the average American family spends $1.22 for every dollar earned. Meanwhile, Financial Industry Regulatory Authority numbers say nearly two-thirds of Americans show low levels of financial literacy.
What it means is that employers under increasing pressure to do more with less in an increasingly competitive environment are relying on an increasingly stressed out workforce to get it done.
- 47% of employees report they are stressed dealing with their personal financial situation, according to a survey by PWC, once known as Price Waterhouse.
- 41% say their stress level related to financial issues has increased over 12 months, the PWC survey said.
- 40% of employees say personal financial matters cause the most stress in their lives, according to the PWC survey.
A Center for Financial Services Innovation report said 85% of Americans are anxious about their financial situation and that the anxiety interferes with work.
“I don’t know of an exact measure of how personal financial challenges affect a worker or a person generally but your mental health is very tied to financial security,” Goessel said. “Bad finances lead us to worry, get sick, get divorced and affect our relationships with those around us. This is why we have to guard against financial ignorance as our culture leads us to haphazard spending and harmful debt levels, causing high stress in levels that damage relationships.”
The Center for Financial Services Innovation says employers should address workers’ financial anxiety through wellness programs and other initiatives that provide financial education and help with spending, saving, borrowing and budget planning.
Goessel agrees, noting that nearly two-thirds of Americans show low levels of financial literacy. Those employees need help planning the best way to use their paychecks or in developing a strategy to work away debt. Even those with a higher level of financial literacy need help sometimes because emergencies or other unplanned life events can put even careful planners in debt.
Many companies offer some kind of financial advice program but not all of them are effective, she said.
“I know many employers have the 1-800 lines but I would be curious what percentage of the population uses them,” Goessel said. “I feel strongly that lunch and learn financial literacy programs would be the best thing. As an employer, offer a boxed lunch and make it optional and you will find that employees will want to attend. Also, they have a live person to go up to after the session and ask the personal question they could not ask.”
Goessel said a short series once or twice a year would be often enough for most employees. She said a short course can inspire employees. It can get them excited about gaining control of their financial situations. She has seen it work in her students.
“At USC Upstate we offer the SunTrust Financial Literacy program that incorporates five lunch-and-learn sessions. It is short enough to keep their attention and long enough for some valuable information to get into the program,” Goessel said. “Because it is available and accessible, students take advantage of it and have told me that it was life changing for them.”
Goessel said many of the people in today’s workforce simply have little exposure to the fundamentals of personal money management and there are plenty of traps that lead them to bad decisions. One result is that they become employees with the kind of spending habits that may cause trouble on the job.
“People are up against their old habits,” Goessel said. “They are up against more payday loan places with greater than 400% interest at every corner. They are up against readily available credit cards and not understanding the amount of money they are paying a month in interest. They don’t understand how to spend less than they get. They are up against people in their environment encouraging them to spend money they don’t have. Every store we go to offers us a ‘free’ credit card. … The message our society gives is to not worry about it or track it. Just take the free money and worry about it tomorrow.”
Since society doesn’t teach people how to handle their money, Goessel said, for some of them the only chance to learn how to manage money may come from a program at work.
“If companies can afford to offer financial wellness programs, they should offer them,” she said.
“When we’re are not coached or educated about money it can hijack our mental health about our everyday living,” Goessel said. “Our society does not teach us how to spend less or how to prepare for the rainy day.”