Illustration of Michelle sitting in her garden
Illustration of Michelle sitting in her garden

Living with financial stress – Michelle’s story

Due to employment and financial insecurity caused by the pandemic, many people in Australia are struggling to balance the books right now.

And as financial wellbeing and mental health are so closely connected, it’s unsurprising that many of us are feeling the strain in some way.

From worrying about day-to-day costs to fears about the future, Michelle has been experiencing financial stress for some time. We talk to her about how her financial situation is impacting her mental health and what she’s doing to cope.

Michelle’s story

Michelle’s position was made redundant in July last year.

Since then, and particularly during the pandemic, the 56-year-old mother-of-two has struggled to find work in her field, leaving her uncertain about her future job prospects and financial stability.

“I applied for some jobs straight after my role was made redundant but in hindsight, I didn’t put my heart and soul into it. I expected to get the positions I went for but didn’t, and after several unsuccessful applications it became pretty demoralising,” says Michelle.

“I then took on looking after my uncle whose health had started to really deteriorate. I help my elderly mum a lot too, so that occupied much of the latter part of last year.”

On reflection, Michelle admits that she probably needed to take a step back and get her head into a good space before embarking on the job search.

“I’ve found it hard to find suitable roles and the content of my resume doesn't seem to fit into any boxes whatsoever. I also struggle with self-confidence and question whether I even have the relevant skills anymore. I know I need to tackle these feelings head-on.”

COVID-19 changes everything

Fortunately, to enable Michelle to have a bit of breathing space, her partner was happy to keep things ticking over financially. But then along came COVID-19.

“Us managing on one income was doable for a while but then the pandemic happened and my partner was also made redundant. So our situation is obviously very, very different now,” says Michelle.

“I’ve gone through all my redundancy pay, and we’re both relying on our savings and minimal JobSeeker payments. And that's scary. We’re starting to really worry about our retirement and coming to the realisation that we don’t have the amount of savings that we probably should have by now.”

We’re starting to really worry about our retirement

“As a woman in my mid-50s, I do feel ashamed that I haven't organised my financial affairs to anticipate a recession, especially as I've already lived through one,” admits Michelle.

“I watched as my dad had to close his business. It wasn’t the end of the world for him as he was nearly ready to retire anyway, plus he had the foresight to anticipate such a situation and was well-prepared financially.”

“It didn't decimate my parents’ retirement, but I’m very worried for my partner and I – and our kids. There's lots of things we will never be able to do and afford now,” says Michelle, who before being made redundant had always felt confident in her ability to provide her daughters with options, particularly in terms of healthcare and education.

Taking its toll

When it comes to recognising how her financial situation has affected her mental wellbeing, Michelle is in no doubt that it’s taken its toll.

“I've been so upset, and really, really angry over the past year or so because so much of my money has gone,” she says.

“I’m also feeling very disconnected from people that do have jobs. I feel anger towards them too. Of course, I know this isn't remotely fair.”

We definitely need a good financial plan

As well as causing deep unrest from a personal point of view, financial stress can place a huge strain on relationships, as Michelle and her partner have discovered.

“We’ve always had a different approach to money but while we were both employed it was never too much of an issue, we just made things work. Now I feel a real imbalance in our relationship which often causes conflict between us. Even the usual everyday niggles are exacerbated by our current financial situation,” says Michelle.

Finding ways to cope

From learning about mindfulness to opening up about her feelings of anxiety, Michelle has been proactive about supporting her mental health while navigating this difficult time.

“Mindfulness helps me be far more present. I struggle with sleeping well but I’m now confident that I have the tools to at least calm myself at the end of each day,” she says.

“I also have a good counsellor, she’s very pragmatic, which is good. I talk about what's going on for me and she helps me identify ways to improve things.”

Looking on the bright side, Michelle acknowledges that this challenging time could be an opportunity for her to tackle underlying feelings of low self-esteem, and for her and her partner to unite and come out the other side even stronger.

“We're going to have to find a way through this, and if we can, then we could actually create something amazing. But we need to be really honest with each other – and we definitely need a good financial plan.”

*Not her real name

This article was created as part of a collaboration between Beyond Blue and Financial Counselling Australia looking at what people can do to support their financial and mental wellbeing. You can find more information here.

For practical financial tools, advice and resources visit: moneysmart.gov.au.

To learn more about free financial counselling go to Financial Counselling Australia. Financial counsellors give free, independent, and non-judgemental advice to help people get back in control of their finances.

If you, or someone close to you, are in financial difficulty contact the National Debt Helpline, which offers free professional advice and does not lend money or advise people how to invest.

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