Being a struggling student/young person is something almost everyone can relate to. There’s nothing fun about going from pay check to pay check with only $20 in between for petrol, coffee (without milk because you can’t afford the extra $1 that costs) and having some kind of social life.
We’ve all been there at some point. Some of us are lucky to get out of the grind, while others aren’t so lucky.
The student struggle can haunt us well out of university and into adulthood.
Because money struggles aren’t crap enough, apparently they also cause us to age faster. So, not only do we have to watch our bank balance reach dangerously low levels every week, we get early wrinkles and poor health too.
Researchers at the University of Copenhagen conducted a study which found a significant tie between living through periods of poverty and ageing prematurely.
The study defined “relative poverty” as an annual income at least 60 percent below the median.
The median income in Australia varies from state to state but, generally speaking, if you’re a full-time worker and you earn more than $1261 a week (before tax and superannuation) then you are earning more than half of all other workers, aged 15 years and older.
This equates to an income of $65,577 a year – a really decent amount of money. 60 percent below this amount is approximately $28,000 – if you earn this amount or lower, you are considered ‘poor’ (according to the study, at least).
The 5,500 participants in the study were required to participate in a range of physical and cognitive challenges. Physical challenges included things like grip strength, standing and sitting in a chair repeatedly for 30 seconds, and jumping as high as possible; cognitive challenges included memorising a sequence of items. All of the fun stuff.
On average, people who’d never experienced any sort of economic hardship performed better in every category.
Researchers ultimately concluded that living in relative poverty for four or more years is significantly associated with “poorer physical capability [and] cognitive function.”
It’s almost hard to conceive – how does less money mean you have bad grip strength? But, if you think about it for a second, the correlation actually makes perfect sense. The less money you have, the more stress you are likely to experience. You’re less able to afford everyday pleasures like dinners out and necessary expenses like health care and debt repayment.
Missing out on those things is upsetting and worrying, and stress wreaks all kinds of havoc on the body: lack of sleep, headaches, hair loss, elevated heart rate, poor immunity, and more.
But improving our health isn’t as easy as just earning more – if it were that simple, we’d all be doing it. So what can we do to look after our stress levels during times of financial difficulty?
The answer varies from person to person. I’m no financial expert but planning ahead and helps me. Having a weekly/fortnightly/monthly budget gives me an overview of things and helps keep my spending in line. I also factor in some $$$ so I can treat myself (within reason) – sure, I can’t afford a $100 meal with friends every weekend, but I can buy a couple of new t-shirts.
It’s a trade-off. Better a t-shirt and happiness, than nothing and wrinkles.