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Financial Wellness Month, observed in January, highlights the importance of understanding personal finances and prioritizing financial well-being. This guide offers nurses some useful tips to help boost financial wellness. Key components of personal finance for nurses include keeping track of expenses and developing a budget, paying down debt and managing credit, and putting aside money for savings and investing.
What Is Financial Wellness?
Achieving financial wellness helps to establish financial security and financial freedom. A 2017 report from the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau identifies four elements of financial wellness:
- Control over daily and monthly finances
- Capacity to absorb financial shock
- Ability to meet financial goals
- Financial freedom of choice to enjoy life
Managing personal finances, while important for most of us, poses particular challenges for nurses. Trying to make ends meet on a nursing salary can get in the way of making good choices about financial well-being.
Chris Shoup, a certified financial planner® with 18 years of experience in the financial services industry, cites time as the major barrier to achieving financial security: “Nurses can have grueling schedules, and it is difficult to devote the time to assess, track, and take steps to improve financial wellness.”
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Barriers to Financial Wellness for Nurses
Nursing offers considerable personal and professional rewards, but it can also impose barriers to achieving financial wellness. Many nurses begin their careers saddled with significant financial debt, usually in the form of student loans. Shoup cautions that student loans, combined with high interest debt like credit card debt “can snowball into a larger hole to dig out of” if the principle on the debt is not paid down.
Although nurses can earn well above the national average salary for all occupations, they must pay for essential work-related items, like shoes, scrubs, and stethoscopes, out-of-pocket without reimbursement.
Nurses who work on a per diem basis usually do not qualify for retirement plans, health insurance, or other financial benefits offered to full-time salaried employees. Nurses often experience stressful working conditions, irregular hours, and emotional and physical strain, leaving them with little time or energy for financial planning.
Personal Finance Tips for Nurses
Despite the challenges nurses face in achieving financial well-being, they can take a few simple steps to build up their financial skills and establish personal goals to secure their future.
Track Your Expenses and Make a Budget
Achieving financial wellness begins with an understanding of how you spend your money. Shoup recommends expense tracking to see where your money actually goes. This can be easily accomplished by saving receipts. You can also use free apps and software that provide financial planning tools and downloadable spreadsheets.
Once you have a clear picture of your income and spending habits, you can develop a realistic budget to help you prioritize your needs and prevent impulse purchases. A budget ensures that you will cover necessary personal expenses, such as rent and debt repayments, while building a savings and an emergency fund.
Budgeting can be especially important for nursing students as a way to develop responsible spending habits. Prospective nurses must make sure their income, whether from employment, financial aid, or other sources, covers the costs related to becoming a nurse, including tuition, supplies, licensing fees, and food and lodging.
Pay Down Debt
Nurses just entering the workforce are often saddled with credit card and nursing student loan debt, making monthly payments that eat into their incomes. Graduates of bachelor’s nursing programs carry an average debt load of $23,700 while the amount almost doubles for master’s nursing degrees.
The best way to reduce your debt load, according to Shoup, starts “by looking at all debt together and evaluating balances, terms, and rates.” Strategies for eliminating debt include paying off loans with the highest interest rates first, refinancing the outstanding balance at a lower rate, or paying more than the minimum each month.
Student loan forgiveness programs for nurses provide a way for students to begin their nursing careers with a reduced debt load. However, make sure you understand that these programs may come with strings attached, such as employment commitments for a specific length of time or with particular patient populations.
Build Up Savings
With the right savings strategy, nurses can pay off their student loans, build up an emergency fund, and plan for their retirement and other life goals. Shoup advises nurses to make saving a habit by automating it with technology “just like retirement plans deduct from paychecks for contributions.”
He says, “One can open a second bank or investment account to have money automatically pulled on a certain day of the month.”
Financial planners often suggest you put aside between 3-6 month’s salary to cover emergencies. If you are concerned about getting access to your savings should you need them for unexpected expenses, consider opening a high-yield savings account that is easier to access and poses less risk from market fluctuations than an investment account or a locked-in retirement plan.
Investing for Nurses
Shoup contends that the key to successful investing is risk management and longevity that take into account how markets perform over time:
“The best advice I can give to first time investors is to really understand what volatility and returns have looked like historically for whatever you are investing in. This can help build a framework for what is normal in down and up years for the market.”
Beginning investors may not understand how the market works. If nurses have a negative experience when they begin to invest, they may make poor decisions. They may pull money out of the market when stock prices trend downward rather than taking a long view.
Nurses can avoid these pitfalls by working with a financial advisor or by using a robo-advisor app that provides automatic investment services for a small fee.
Nurses who are new to investing should be wary of ventures that offer immediate high rewards with little risks. Successful investing is a slow process rather than a get-rich-quick scheme.
Planning for the Future
Financial planning takes time and effort but, when done intentionally, can have a significant impact on your current and future well-being. A financial plan provides a road map to achieve both short- and long-term financial objectives, whether they involve getting out of debt, going back to school, or buying a house.
Planning does not always have to be about big goals, like building up a huge investment portfolio or a retirement nest egg. It should be adaptable to your changing personal and career needs. Shoup reminds nurses “… to focus on tracking the small steps of progress one makes. It can become frustrating to focus on an end goal when there is adversity but refocusing on steps of progress can be powerful over the long run.”
Frequently Asked Questions About Financial Wellness
Do nurses struggle financially?
Financial problems affect nurses just as they impact the rest of the workforce. Significant student debt load, the absence of retirement and savings plans, and general lack of financial knowledge are among the factors that contribute to their financial instability.
How do nurses pay off debt?
The most common strategies for reducing debt include paying more than the minimum due on balances, refinancing loans to lower interest rates and reducing monthly payments, and applying for student loan forgiveness plans.
Changing jobs to a higher-paying area of the country or boosting your earnings by becoming a travel nurse can free up more of your income to pay off debt.
How can a nurse be financially smart?
Nurses who begin their financial planning early, even when still in nursing school, will have an advantage over others. The tips offered in this guide to track expenses, pay down debt, budget, and invest for the future will guide you to better, smarter financial decisions.
Is being a nurse worth it financially?
Compared to many other professions, nursing continues to offer competitive salaries, job security, and career advancement. Nurses who understand the importance of financial wellness can build wealth, save for major life milestones, and plan for retirement.
Meet Our Contributor
Chris Shoup, CFP®
Chris is the founder of Southshore Financial Planning, a retirement planning firm offering financial planning and investment management services located in Tampa, Florida.
Chris is a CFP® practitioner with two finance-related degrees from the University of North Florida. His entire career of 18 years has been dedicated to serving families in the financial services industry.
Page last reviewed December 1, 2022