A dance of money and health.

written by Bari Tessler July 7, 2015

I almost didn’t publish this article.

It felt like too huge and deep a topic to fully honor in one, short blog post. And maybe even too tender, too.

But — this is too important.

The relationship between money and health is “up” for many people in our community and on my team. And, while I’ve talked about money and… — almost everything under the sun (Money and Shame, Money and Creative Entrepreneurship, Money and Couples), I’ve never directly addressed Money and Health.

Sure, I’ve alluded to the topic of how money intertwines with health and self-care — but in a limited way. I’ve never devoted an entire article to it. Because, the truth is: this subject is enormous. It is so intrinsic to everything we do, in life, with money, every day, that it’s hard to begin even talking about it. And that’s precisely why it’s essential that we do talk about it.

Today, I’m inviting us all to dip our toes into these waters. To begin naming some of the issues and factors, here. To share a few simple practices and resources. So we can start bringing some clear-headed compassion and smarts to this foundational relationship.

Naming the Territory: The Spectrum of Health and Money

Oh, yes. There is a spectrum, here. You might find yourself in any number of scenarios, with health and money:

  • My husband Forest was diagnosed with Lyme’s disease the same year our child was born (2008). This meant bigger expenses (for treatment and management) and lowered income (because he couldn’t work as many hours as he had been able to before treatment began. The treatment literally knocked him out flat for a while.)
  • For me to do my best work, I need a support team of healers: acupuncturists, massage therapists, and more. This is essential for me and a huge value. How much money I spend on these healers ebbs and flows, depending on my current health needs and our cash-flow.
  • Perhaps you’re facing a fresh diagnosis, and needing to navigate not only your feelings about this but financial aspects as well. They could be anything from health insurance to disability, trading for treatment, dipping into your savings, and on and on.
  • Maybe you’ve been working with a chronic illness for years, which has it’s challenges and gifts. It’s affected your ability to work, and so you have had to craft your job/income accordingly.

From ordinary health maintenance and dental work … to luxurious levels of self-care … to health crises, aging and major ailments, health is just as big and multifaceted (and emotionally charged) an area of life as money.

Health and money can intertwine and dance together in incredibly varied and intricate ways. There is the healthcare and self-care we pay for, trade for, or find for free (like hiking); you may have higher costs and lower earnings when your health falters; there are systemic issues in our healthcare and insurance frameworks, class issues, value and self-advocacy issues, power issues, and on and on.

OK. Deep breath. This is big stuff. Body Check-In, everyone.

Let’s take a first step together, and simply (courageously) honor the relationship between health and money.

Your Turn: A Mini-Money Date on Money + Health

It can be hard to know where to begin talking about money and health because these areas are so big. But here is a simple-yet-robust, 3-part start. No matter what you earn or what your health needs are, this will help you see how these two areas are talking to each other, and what you can do to support them.

So. Are you ready to take yourself on a little Money Date? Settle in and set the scene: spritz those essential oils, light that candle, nibble that dark chocolate … do whatever you need to make your space feel safe, welcoming, and sacred. Here we go…

Step One: Zoom Out on Your Health + Money

Take a few minutes to look back over the past few months or year — and to feel into the present moment.

What’s the headline about your health and your money, right now?

  • Are you currently facing a health crisis that requires investment? Or is your health in “maintenance mode”? Something in-between or totally different?
  • How do you feel about spending your money on your health, right now? Does it feel joyful and loving — or do you resent it, get scared by it? No judgment here! Simply notice.
  • What is most on your mind, around health and money?
  • What has really worked for you recently, around health and money? Is there anything you’d like to celebrate? Let go of, forgive, or change?

Take a breath. Settle into your body. Give yourself a hug! You’re doing beautiful work, here.

Step Two: Look Back Over the Numbers

If you already track your spending (in YNAB, Mint, or Quicken), take a look back over the last few months and see how much you tend to spend on healthcare.

And if you don’t track your spending yet, that’s OK, too. Run a few “back of the envelope” estimations, (by looking at your bank statements and adding up the expenses) just to get a very introductory sense of these numbers. Stay simple, slow, present.

Now, just notice what you’re spending in this area of life. Is it more or less than you’ve spent on health and personal care historically? Simple awareness of your spending can do SO much good in creating a better relationship with your finances.

When you review the numbers, do you notice any patterns? Patterns that could help you come to a new realization or insight that may change your spending habits in this area, one way or another?

What is truly needed for you in this area of life right now? Spending more on your health or less? Do you need to arrange for some trades to get more health care or personal care? Do you need to dip into savings to take care of something pressing that you’ve been putting off, or, even use a zero percent credit card offer to give yourself a short term loan to take care of your health?

What do you really need to do or shift, right now, around this uber important area of life?

Remember: this is tender stuff. Take your time. Leave and come back to this exercise as needed. Apply tender, loving self-care liberally.

Step Three: What Constitutes “Health-Care,” For You?

That might seem like a simple question, but it’s often richer than you’d think.

For some of you, “health care” might mean insurance, doctor’s visits and medications — that’s it. For many other folks in this community, groceries are in the top 3 spending categories: getting the highest quality food is a crucial form of self-care. Some of us require regular massages and acupuncture to feel our best, others love supplements, and my husband Forest categorizes his cycling gear as healthcare since this hobby helps keeps his Lyme disease symptoms in check. For him, cycling is literally his medicine. If he stops training, the symptoms from Lyme get much worse.

So take a few moments to list out what expenses you consider “health care.” Don’t include numbers, yet. Just tune into what this means, for you.

Please remember: there are no right (or wrong) answers, here. This work is about revealing to yourself what this means, to you. Release judgments for a moment … and simply notice.

These answers will shift and evolve over time. Depending on your age, your health condition, your priorities, and many other factors.

Notice: what health-care expenses feel utterly essential? Which ones would be lovely to have, but not necessary? And are there some that belong in an “Ultimate Lifestyle Level”? (You’re starting to create a 3-Tier Map of Intention! Click here for the full-blown instructions.)

How does your health intersect with your earning — would it be more healthful to cut back on work? What about savings — is this a moment to dip into them, or does it support your well-being to add to them?

You may even want to consider your self-care and health expenses as an investment — just like your mortgage, your stock portfolio, or your education.

Please bring in huge doses of gentleness, un-shaming, and compassion, here.

Depending on your unique situation and set of circumstances, this conversation may feel intense and overwhelming to you. Take your time. Do your best to breathe, feel your body, and release the need to do this quickly or perfectly.

Additional Resources

  • Body Check-Ins galore. This is the simplest, most profound practice I know. Rely on it before, during, and after working with the questions posed in this post to center yourself, navigate intense emotions, and stay present with your process.
  • Are You in a Transition? A diagnosis, illness, or even a recovery or aging — these are all transitions. Here’s support for your money relationship as you navigate a transition.
  • Somatic Practices can be tremendously helpful when dealing with these intense, foundational topics like health and money. This interview with Art of Money Guest Teacher and TA Karin Robbins is full of simple practices to help you through.
  • On Value and Advocacy: Two great things in this keynote address I gave at Emerging Women. First, the concept of value, which is so crucial when it comes to our health (and money). And second: I share a personal story of my own health scare, and how it lead me to share my voice all the louder.

The things I’ve raised here are just the tip of a mighty iceberg, everyone.

So, my friends, go slow. Stay gentle. Shower yourself with self-love, as you work through these questions. Reach out for support if you need it — from friends and family, from advocacy groups, or even money coaches.


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