How to reduce financial stress in the home

Health Agenda
Mental Health

How to reduce financial stress in the home

Published December 2023 | 5 min read
Words by Karen Burge

Many families are struggling with financial stress, but how do you communicate this to kids without giving them cause for worry?

If money troubles are weighing on your mind, you're not alone. One in four Aussies are finding it hard to get by on their income right now and a record high of 1.5 million mortgage holders are 'at risk' of mortgage stress.

It’s a good time to assess your overall financial wellbeing and find ways to remove financial stress in your home.

Financial wellbeing is when we have the freedom to make choices that allow us to enjoy life, explains Beyond Blue. But when family finances come under pressure, it can create fear, worry and feelings of helplessness – in other words, financial stress.

Several factors can impact our financial situation, including areas within our control (overspending) and areas beyond our control (the rising cost of living).

According to Lifeline, some of the signs of financial stress include:

  • difficulty keeping up with living expenses
  • missed loan and credit card payments
  • having to cover unexpected costs.

Beyond Blue adds that delays in recognising or acknowledging a problem, withholding information from people in your life and social withdrawal are other ways financial stress can unfold.

What are the causes of financial stress?

There are many factors that may contribute to financial stress. A big one for families is the rising cost of living, with increases in the price of daily essentials, like groceries, utilities, petrol, services, rent and mortgage repayments.

Other pressures can come from personal situations, like losing your job, overspending, failed investments or problem gambling.

We want you to get the most value from your health cover. Eligible members* can access our reward and recognition program, HCF Thank You. You can access a range of exclusive offers, discounted e-Gift cards and benefits including savings on e-Gift cards from supermarkets and other retailers.

If you've lost your job and you’re finding it tough keeping up with health cover costs, HCF may be able to offer support through our Involuntary Unemployment Assistance program.

How does financial stress impact your physical health?

Australian Psychological Society president Dr Catriona Davis-McCabe says financial stress may cause health issues. Some of these issues include increased heart rate and blood pressure, headaches, sleep difficulty, changes in appetite, fatigue, irritability and feeling hopeless or helpless.

"When stress is prolonged, it can have a significant impact on someone's physical health, causing chronic pain and impacting their digestive system, heart, sleep, memory and concentration," she explains.

It's important to prioritise your health when facing tough times and visit your GP to discuss any ongoing symptoms you might be experiencing.

Financial stress and mental health

Financial challenges can impact mental health and trigger cognitive, emotional and behavioural responses, according to Beyond Blue. You also might also find your work productivity or relationships suffer.

If you've tried to manage your stress and still have concerns, Dr Davis-McCabe advises you reach out for support.

"Left without treatment, people are at risk of developing chronic mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression. They may also be more likely to engage in risky behaviours, such as substance abuse or self-harm."

To support members with faster, easier access to qualified mental health professionals, we're offering a free telehealth HealthyMinds Check-in with a psychologist for eligible members^. You can also visit your local GP or psychologist.

For immediate one-on-one support, visit Lifeline or call 13 11 14.

Reducing financial stress in the home

If financial stress is causing concern in your home, Health Direct recommends you:

  • Be aware of your emotions: Write down worries to help decide which issues to tackle first.
  • Create a budget: Summarise your finances and limit spending by using money-saving advice.
  • Contact your bank: Most financial institutions have policies to help customers with financial problems.
  • Look after your health: Eat a healthy, balanced diet and exercise regularly. Talk to your doctor if you have a medical condition that can be made worse by stress.
  • Share feelings with supportive friends: Find people you can talk to about how you’re feeling and who will help you stay positive and focused on your financial wellbeing goals.
  • Be honest with your family: Tell them about the situation and how it might affect the household budget.

How to talk about money stress with your children

When tackling this tricky topic with your kids, give them a thoughtful and honest explanation while remaining calm and reassuring so you don't alarm them, recommends Dr Davis-McCabe.

Here are her tips to help with the conversation:

  • Highlight positives for young kids: When talking with children aged five to 12 about money stress, avoid catastrophising the situation, and instead highlight positives. For example, instead of driving everywhere and having to pay for petrol, we’re going to walk more and get fit.
  • Build flexibility: Try to encourage flexibility and adaptability in simple ways, like making a game out of getting money-smart at the supermarket. For example, "let’s find the best value item".
  • Change tack for teens: For children aged 13 to 17, explain the situation to them with truthful but simple information that will help them to separate fact from fiction.
  • Ask questions: Start your conversation with questions to help them open up. They might not offer their thoughts or feelings without being prompted, so asking questions gives you a chance to hear how your child might already be feeling.
  • Problem-solve together: Ask your kids what they think might reduce costs. For example, "what do you think we can do to reduce our grocery bill this week?"
  • Focus on the fun: To ease feelings of financial stress, ask "what fun family activities can we do to feel good?"

HCF members who have hospital or extras cover can access Calm Kid Central+, an online educational and support program helping kids aged four to 11 manage their big feelings and emotional challenges. The program provides confidential access to a text-based question centre, where an experienced child psychologist can answer your questions within 48 hours, as well as tools and resources to help you support your child.

Get help to improve your budgeting skills

There are various resources that can help you find your feet again with your finances. These include:

This article doesn’t contain financial advice. Please seek your own independent financial advice if you need assistance managing your finances or if you're experiencing financial stress.

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* You can access HCF Thank You offers after you’ve been a member for a week, and if your premiums are up to date. Excludes Ambulance Only and Overseas Visitors Cover. Offers and partners are subject to change without advance notice. See the HCF Thank You program terms and conditions.

^ 1 HealthyMinds Check-in available per member per calendar year. Service is available free to all members with hospital cover. Excludes extras only cover, Ambulance Only, Accident Only Basic and Overseas Visitors Health Cover.

+ Excludes Accident Only Basic cover and Overseas Visitors Health Cover.

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