Essays & Confessions/Living/Money Management/Relationships

The 8 Pillars Of “Financial Wellness” & Why They Matter For Black Women

By | Thursday, August 13, 2020

As a Type-A Black woman, I used to think the best way to live was to compartmentalize every aspect of life: work, play, health, and relationships. My goal was to focus on achieving the perfect work-life balance. But in reality, I only concentrated on the work aspect of my life, trying to accomplish the ideal work-life, and I neglected any kind of self-care. 

In my 20s, I suffered from frequent panic attacks. My doctor discovered I had two cysts in my thyroid. My Type-A lifestyle wasn’t working, so I found a Black therapist to help me make sense of my panic attacks. My therapist explained that my experiences were universal: As a Black woman, I often feel as if I carry the weight of the world my shoulders. I felt I needed to work hard, ignore my feelings, and keep my head down. The cost of code-switching, as one out of only six Black employees — and the only Black woman in my department — was draining. It was all draining.

I thought I was working towards upward mobility. I needed to do something about my health and my finances, as I realized the two were interconnected. 

I’m not alone. The National Institute of Health explains that people of color have to push harder to get their personal needs met. Based on race and gender, there is a psychological and behavioral change when entering a workplace. Black women earn significantly less than our white counterparts, and there is added pressure to work twice as hard. I could certainly relate. I was so stressed about fitting in at work and worse, I had to hide it, being taught that as a Black woman, no one should see you stressed. But I was tired and stressed. As comedian Ali Wong says, “I don’t want to lean in,”; “I want to lie down.”   I had to change how I viewed my success and my money.

Over time, neglecting my physical and mental health cost a lot of money. I made a rough estimate that in my 20s, I’d spent over $15k in hospital bills due to stress and exhaustion.  For someone who was making less than $30k my first couple of years out of college, I couldn’t see my disparity because I thought I was working towards upward mobility. I needed to do something about my health and my finances, as I realized the two were interconnected. 

Hence, my journey into financial wellness. 

Financial wellness is a phrase tossed around the financial services industry with no real explanation as to how one can achieve it. The definition follows a one-size-fits-all model: Pay down debt, save, invest. Basic money management is important, but that’s not wellness. So I came up with my own definition:

Financial wellness is the act of learning about how your personality, environment, and experiences affect your money habits, leading to financial stability.

The US Department of Health and SAMHSA created a holistic definition of overall wellness, based on eight pillars:

  1. Physical
  2. Nutritional
  3. Emotional
  4. Social
  5. Spiritual
  6. Intellectual
  7.  Financial
  8. Occupational

Looking at these pillars gives us a larger view of how our money influences every aspect of our lives. It can be helpful to think about your own financial wellness through the lens of the SAMHSA’s eight pillars. It certainly helped me.

Here’s a brief overview of the eight financial wellness pillars described above, along with some recommended reading to get you started. Take stock of your spending in each of these categories. Think about how that spending contributes to your overall wellness — are you using your money in a way that is truly nourishing and beneficial to your self-care?

1. Physical

Your physical wellness has to do with your health and body, yes, but it goes a bit beyond that. It also involves your day-to-day routines: your environment, how you sleep, regular exercise, and making sure your basic self-care needs are met. 

What do you truly value in terms of taking care of your physical health, lifestyle, and environment? How can you build a routine that centers around those values? That might mean a gym membership or a massage or regular facials. Whatever feels right to you.

Examples in your budget: Rent, utilities, gym membership

Recommended TFD Reading: 

2. Nutritional

What we eat is personal. How we take care of our bodies through nourishment is personal, and our relationship with nutrition is vital to our long term health and mental health. Writer Inez Bye said it best, “We try to save as much as possible, spend only on the things we ‘should,’ like groceries, bills, etc., and don’t allow ourselves to enjoy the fruits of our labor.”  So the question is, what are you doing to nourish yourself, and how much does it cost? Is this a priority for you, and if not, what are some small steps you can take to make it more of one?

Examples in your budget: Groceries, meal planning apps, restaurants

TFD recommended reading: 

3. Emotional

Human beings are not always rational. We use emotions to make sense of the world in every decision we make. I would argue that our emotional pillar is the most important because it influences how we view — and ultimately handle — our money. 

In my experience, it’s essential to look at my family’s past to understand why I did not pay attention to my feelings and take care of them — and how that impacted my finances. Because I’m a recovering perfectionist, I noticed that I only expressed two feelings: motivation and anxiety. Those are great in theory, but I have to recognize ALL my emotions and not avoid them. Ignoring your feelings often leads to bad money decisions, as well — like impulsive shopping sprees when you’re stressed out, or not bothering to make a budget because the numbers make you feel bad. In short, it’s crucial that we invest time and energy into regulating our emotions and think about the ways in which they influence our money.

Examples in your budget: Impulsive purchases, therapy, emergency funds

TFD recommended reading: 

4. Social

Who we interact with as adults heavily depends on how we grew up and the social norms of our family. And that can determine how we view our money, too. 

It’s important to ask yourself how much do your friends and family influence your spending? Is money something you can talk about openly with friends? Do you overspend on gatherings and outings because you don’t feel comfortable saying no?

Examples in your budget: Happy hour, travel to see friends, entertainment

TFD recommended reading: 

5. Spiritual

Some of us find spirituality in places of worship, yoga retreats, or even work. Spirituality can affect how you value your money and self-worth. In my 20s, I learned how yoga, wellness, and the life coaching community was not inclusive to the Black community, so I spent a lot of money investing in building my own spiritual pillar. Wherever you find spirituality, think about how you use money to invest in this aspect of your life, whether it’s going on a retreat or tithing or simply donating to causes that you deem important.

Conversely, think about how your spirituality can impact your views on money. Growing up with spiritual parents, I had to recognize how my spirituality had a substantial impact on my beliefs around money, for better or worse. 

Examples in your budget: Yoga retreats, travel, mindfulness apps

TFD recommended reading: 

6. Intellectual

Are you taking the time out to build your brainpower? Are their new ideas you’d like to implement? Would you like to read more books? The intellectual pillar has to do with learning about what fascinates you. 

Sometimes we use our intellectual pillar to earn degrees or learn a new trade. And when we’re curious about our career possibilities, we can exercise different ways of making more money. 

For example, a couple of years ago I took an e-course on how to start a blog by Melyssa Griffin. My curiosity in blog writing helped me be able to include writing on my resume and eventually led me to write for companies I work with. I was able to use a soft skill that I learned as a hobby and turn it into income with my jobs. 

Examples in your budget: Books, writing retreats, cooking classes 

TFD recommended reading: 

7. Occupational 

Your occupational pillar is all about the relationship between money and work. We spend most of our time working, so it’s essential to identify what you want and need in your career, both financially and emotionally. 

How do your financial goals compare to your long-term career goals outside of money? Does your employer offer growth and stability, and can they help meet those goals? Can you afford to take a job that might pay a little less but also make you much happier day-to-day?

Examples in your budget: Online courses, public transportation (commuting), negotiating a higher salary to increase your income

TFD recommended reading: 

8. Financial

Finally, since this is about overall financial wellness, your financial pillar is about how you’re using money to support all of those other pillars in a way that feels like you’re living your best life. 

This is where those basic money rules come in: build a budget, pay off debt, save for the future — make sure you’re adopting all the healthy money habits that support your well-being and make you feel secure.

Examples in your budget: Savings accounts, retirement, debt payoff goals

TFD recommended reading: 


There are a handful of ways to create a budget, and whichever you choose, think about your budget in terms of these eight pillars. Decide how much you’re willing to spend on each and how each of these pillars also affects your own relationship with money. Money is important, but if we want a healthier relationship with it, it’s crucial to think about how it impacts every aspect of our lives.

Image via Pexels

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