Every year, a lot of people make New Year's resolutions to improve their physical health. It's just as important, however, to get financially fit, a fact that has not gone unnoticed. A new financial health study from my company (Wells Fargo) shows that it is top of mind for many Americans.
Indeed, one-third of those surveyed said they're more concerned about their financial health than their physical health. Two in five said that not only is money the biggest point of stress in their lives, but that they're more stressed about finances than they were a year ago.
The bottom line: They said talking about money is even more challenging than talking about religion, politics and personal health.
It's not surprising to me that people don't want to talk about money, investments or tax strategies. But not thinking about the future could be costly in the long run, whether it's delaying physical health or planning around your financial future.
Talking about money, investments or even how much to put aside for a child's education is tough because it is so personal. However, like physical health, we ignore financial health at our peril.
Unfortunately, it seems that many may ignore it simply because they think that everything is going alright; they feel like they are good with their money.
Adults under 50 are an example of this. As a group, they attempt to stay positive at a time when economic and employment struggles are their reality. More than half of them (56%) tell us they are currently living paycheck to paycheck.
We recognize this is a reality for many people as the not-quite-healthy economy lumbers along five years after the crisis. Wages haven't kept up. Job growth has come back somewhat, but not at levels to make a big enough impact.
Yet, about a quarter (24%) of those under 50 say they feel they are in "good" or "great" shape on their ability to retire comfortably. And fully three-fourths of this group (78%) believe they are good at managing money.
Is this wishful thinking or American optimism shining through? I think some of the inconsistency comes with the longer time horizon.
These folks may presume the environment will be better once it's time for them to retire. Paychecks will have bounced back and long-term savings will have increased (hopefully) to healthier levels.
Thinking back to physical health, I'd equate it to a runner with a race one year from now versus one with a race next week.
The runner not set to run until 2015 is going to feel better about his or her chances for a good race because of the time to train. The person running next week knows there are just a few sessions left to increase endurance and improve their running time.
Just as knowledge is important for living a healthy physical life, learning about personal finance is also necessary, even if clients think they are good with money. More knowledge is always empowering.
The silver lining regarding financial health is that people seem to be more motivated in this realm than they are on physical health. But knowing the best approach is still crucial for a financial advisor and a mistake here can be a barrier.
So what should you do? Here are a few things to keep in mind.
Have a conversation. Just as it's helpful to talk to friends and family about issues such as personal finance, advisors need to step back and talk about the hopes and wants of the client.
Listen to their financial concerns and considerations before jumping into an asset-allocation conversation. Once there is that basic conversation going, then you can discuss the best course of action.
If you're meeting clients for the first time who are just starting out on the financial planning journey, be aware that they may be nervous. They might be unsure if they have enough assets to embark on this relationship. Take the time to calm their fears and remind them that starting to build a financial plan is the hardest, most crucial step.
Get a checkup. Just like that annual physical exam, there should be a routine financial fitness checkup. Advisors should make sure that clients do a personal assessment of their money and then a financial plan can be created and reviewed periodically. Think about the client's near-term and long-term savings goals and how you will help reach them.
Even if a client has hit a rough patch financially, remind him or her about the importance of taking the long-term view.
That can be hard to remember given the short-term focus in today's society, so your words of encouragement are important to help your client keep those goals in mind.
Stick with the plan. Since you've now spent the time to put a plan in place, be serious about holding your client to it.
They'll have a better sense of whether they are on track to reach their financial goals. Many of us have seen the importance of sticking to a plan when it comes to our physical health.
Making concrete appointments with ourselves to work out at the gym or run regularly pays off with results over time. The process for our financial health is no different. Following any plan requires small steps toward the goal of better health one workout or one new IRA at a time.
Use the tools. There are a ton of resources out there to guide your clients, whether a do-it-yourself type or one dependent on the advisor. Whether it's helping someone save for college, purchase a home or retire comfortably, most banks and brokerages have several tools to help keep your clients in shape and confident.
As a woman, I find it helpful to talk to friends and family about personal finance issues and I enjoy learning from others through our "Beyond Today" retirement blog here at Wells Fargo. It offers financial perspectives for life.
Whether you use resources from your bank or others, find the ones you like best and use them with clients.
So remember, financial health is as important as physical health. And it causes seven more stress.
Are your clients feeling financially fit and happy?
Karen Wimbish is the director of Retail Retirement at Wells Fargo.