A multidimensional approach to financial wellness

I just completed an epic road trip across the entire state of Wisconsin. I began the mission in Milwaukee, right next to Lake Michigan and made my way to La Crosse on the Mississippi River. My adventure lasted 11 days and has become one of those life-affirming experiences.

This road trip, however, wasn’t just about exploring. I had a purpose. I wanted to connect with credit unions across the state and learn about their approach to financial wellness, and share my multidimensional approach to financial wellbeing.

Early this year, I was selected as a keynote speaker for the Wisconsin Credit Union League’s 90th Convention and Expo. In keeping with my personal brand, I simply didn’t want to show up for the talk; I wanted to show up for the people.

These are the lessons I shared and some I learned while visiting with four credit unions in the state.

What is financial wellness?

There is no one definition when it comes to financial wellness. People define it in many different ways and that’s the beauty of it. I shared my definition: Financial wellness is about your health and wealth. It’s about the overall quality of the life you’re living. It’s not simply about the numbers or the calculations. It’s so much more. Financial wellness takes into account your thoughts and feelings, as well as your hopes and dreams. It goes deeper than financial numbers and into the why behind those numbers.

Multidimensional approach to wellness: I wrote a book called Happy Money Happy Life (Wiley, 2023), in which I introduced the concept of the wellness dimensions. I refer to them as the happy dimensions, which include mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, social, environmental, occupational, and financial wellness.

These dimensions are overlapping, interconnected, and intersectional. When one dimension suffers, it has a ripple effect on other areas. My work focuses on strengthening the financial dimension so it can support other dimensions that may be suffering.

I take a holistic approach. I want people to understand how these dimensions affect one another. For instance, it’s widely accepted that experiencing financial challenges leads to mental distress. But, it’s also true that people who are experiencing mental health issues unrelated to finances often make decisions that can lead to future financial stress.

So, if we only provide prescriptive advice on money, we leave out many others suffering financially that no budgeting steps can resolve.

In Fort Atkinson, a population of about 13,000, I was with Fort Community Credit Union. We had an early morning staff session on wellness. Then, we had the opportunity to visit two small businesses, the high school, the public library, and the local Chamber of Commerce. My friend and guide, Whitney Townsend, Director of Community Development, explained what holistic wellness meant for them. It was about investing in their team members and their community. They understand the financial health of their staff is vital in serving the membership, residents, and businesses. In fact, their Buy Local Spend Local program has generated over $250,000 in direct investments back into local businesses.

Financial wellness isn’t financial literacy: You read that right. I often find financial institutions saying they are doing financial wellness when all they’ve done is replace the world literacy with wellness and call it a day. Financial literacy is the starting point. It’s not the goal. In fact, I shared that financial education is an ongoing process because as we personally grow and change so do our financial challenges change too.

When I was with Altra Federal Credit Union in La Crosse, Lori Horstman, VP of Member Education, shared that they hadn’t used the word literacy for some time. They understand that financial wellness is much deeper than how-tos and steps. When I sat down with their financial coaches for a masterclass on wellness, I knew from the conversations how important it was to connect with members and provide customized guidance, not just prescriptive advice.

Money isn’t the end goal. Money is the tool to achieve the goals: We need to better understand how to use money as a tool. The goal is to master this tool to help us achieve our goals.

When I made my way to Eau Claire, I spent time with Royal Credit Union and met Melissa Jannsen, the Program Director of Community Relations. After kicking off their Monday morning chat, I shadowed their financial education coaches on a takeover day at the local elementary school. I saw these educators wearing capes teaching kids about money. The kids loved it. I also witnessed my first in-school branch at the high school. I spoke to a student teller who told me working for the credit union has taught her so much about money management and that she feels more confident about finances.

Money can buy happiness when we spend it on wellness: We often hear that money can’t buy happiness, but the research I’ve included in my book says otherwise. My lived experiences and stories from countless people support the idea that money can buy happiness, too. The important thing to understand is that money itself isn’t happiness.

Let me say it again: money can buy happiness, but money isn’t happiness.

In Milwaukee, I visited Brewery Credit Union. The CEO, Kristin Brojanac, shared their vision of improving the lives of their members by engaging with the community and investing in the neighborhoods. As a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI certified), they have a commitment to improving the financial well-being of underserved communities. After spending more time with some of the staff at the convention, we had deep conversations about how money can buy happiness by helping us improve our mental health and emotional well-being, along with uplifting our neighborhoods (environmental wellness).

Financial wellness is so much more than about the money. It’s about what brings joy and happiness into our lives. The multidimensional approach emphasizes offering financial education but also providing a true financial wellness program that addresses the dimensions that make us whole.

Jason Vitug

Jason Vitug

Jason Vitug is a former credit union executive and founder of the personal finance website phroogal.com. He’s a bestselling and New York Times-reviewed author with a second book ... Web: www.phroogal.com Details