Dr. Moira Somers on concerns about money and well-being

Published on December 15, 2021 |Last updated on January 19, 2022

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Money can be a major source of stress during post-secondary school. If you’re worried about your finances, it can affect your studies, relationships and mental health in general. Good2Talk gets that, so we reached out to an expert for some insight: Dr. Moira Somers, a financial psychologist and professor. In this interview with Good2Talk, Dr. Somers offers support to students coping with concerns about money and well-being. As you read her responses, consider what might fit for you and what feels manageable right now.

You can check out the interview below:

Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you arrive at your unique area of expertise?

I am a financial psychologist and professor. I became really interested in the psychology of money while working as a clinician in a hospital setting. It became really clear to me that people’s financial stress was affecting their mental and physical and relational health in a myriad of ways, and I set out to learn more about those connections.

Would you speak a bit about the relationship between mental health and money?

There are so many connections! First off, most people in Canada identify money as the leading source of stress in their life. In addition, money has ties to virtually every other area of life — to housing, work, marriage, parenting, access to education and medications and safe transportation, etc. — and so it also becomes an indirect contributor to many other stressors.

On that note, students may be experiencing feelings of hopelessness about their financial futures, asking questions like, “Will I ever own a home?”, “Will I be paying off loans forever?” or “Will I be able to afford to have kids?”. What advice do you have for students coping with this sort of stress?

My primary piece of advice is this: stop writing scary endings to your own life story! And my second is this: turn your attention away from other people’s scary stories about stuff that you can’t control — like, say, the future — and ground yourself in the present moment. Take stock of what matters to you, and what it is you want to create, and work on developing the financial life skills that will help you get there.

Students may also have concerns about more immediate financial pressures — paying for food, rent, bills and clothes and tech to stay on trend. These pressures can affect students’ mental health and their ability to focus on their studies. Do you have any tips to help support those students?

This is a very real problem for some students. We know that there are young people dropping out of school for the want of just a few hundred dollars. If you are in this boat, ensure that you are maximizing all sources of student aid — if you’re daunted by all the forms that you’re running across, ask for help. Know that many colleges and universities have emergency funds for students to get them through tough periods, so ask around. The best predictor of getting through stressful times is social support, so keep reaching out and letting people know what you’re needing. 

Is financial literacy important to students’ mental health? And if a student wants to become more financially literate, where could they start?

Students really need to be working on developing marketable skills as they go through post-secondary. If your program isn’t already loaded with courses that will equip you for the workforce, then seek out electives, work-terms and volunteer experiences that will. Learn the basics of negotiation so that you can weigh in on your rate of pay and other important aspects of what you need to get out of a job. Do your research ahead of time, and practise having conversations not just about money, but also about skill development, desired learning opportunities or assignments, etc.

What’s a common misconception students may have about money?

One of the most common misconceptions I run across is that money either doesn’t or shouldn’t matter in terms of educational pathways, jobs, romantic partnerships, etc. There is a sense that it is somehow shameful, shallow or grasping to be thinking about money, let alone talking about it. Certainly money is not the only thing or the most important thing, in most circumstances; but it is almost always something that contributes to other things that are really important, like health and safety and having choices.

If a student has half an hour today to do one thing that could be a step towards feeling better about money, what might that thing be?

One important thing to do is to get radical clarity on how money flows in and out of your life. 

  • How much is your life costing you? 
  • Are those expenses in line with what you value and can afford? 
  • Are you living in deprivation? 
  • How might you get creative in terms of bringing in more money or reducing your expenses?
  • I also recommend that people read or listen to something grounded and sensible about money every single day. Bruce Sellery’s Moolala podcast can be a good place to start. 

Good2Talk would like to thank Dr. Moira Somers for providing her expertise in support of Ontario post-secondary students’ mental health and well-being. Dr. Somers’s responses have been edited for length and style. If you’re feeling concerned about an aspect of post-secondary school, you can reach out to one of our professional counsellors or volunteer crisis responders 24/7. We’re Good2Talk whenever you need us!

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