Financial Health May Equate to Better Overall Health

Financial Health May Equate to Better Overall Health

By Micah Mertes

Julie Kalkowski believes that a good financial education won’t just save you money; it might also save your life. Now she’s trying to prove it.

Kalkowski is the executive director of the Financial Hope Collaborative, which helps low-to-moderate-income families in the Omaha area get their financial lives on track.  

Housed in the Heider College of Business, the Financial Hope Collaborative’s key effort is the Financial Success Program, a year-long course that teaches single working mothers such skills as tracking expenses, saving for emergencies and repairing credit reports.

“The program taught me how to budget better and manage my time,” says Auntiné Holland, a 27-year-old single mother in Omaha.

Since completing the program, Holland used what she learned to get a new job and now has more time to spend with her children.  

More than 750 students have gone through the program since 2009, many of whom went on to get raises at work, reduce their debt and purchase homes.

Along the way, Kalkowski began to notice something about her students: They weren’t just saving better; they were feeling better. They’d become healthier.

At this point, Kalkowski and her team’s observations were anecdotal. She wanted hard data. She enlisted the help of Creighton faculty.

They’re now two years into a three-year study, supported in part by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The study is looking at the mental and physical health of more than 400 single working mothers. Single working mothers earning a median income of $35,000 or less represent 13% of U.S. households. Half the women will go through the program, half will not.

Katie Elliott Packard, PharmD’01, MS’01, professor of pharmacy and one of the study’s lead researchers, says the clinical trial was inspired by the hope they saw in these women. Now they’re measuring the positive effects of that hope. The researchers are looking at many data points and hoping to show that a reduction in financial stress can lead to a reduction in risk for strokes, diabetes and heart disease.  

“If we can show that the program helps make people healthier, that would really change the national conversation about financial education,” Packard says.

Money continues to be the top cause of stress for Americans, according to the American Psychological Association, with nearly three in four people reporting regular financial stress. Kalkowski believes that financial stress is not an individualized budgetary problem but a national health crisis. And one that can be addressed at a fairly low cost.

If she can prove it, she might be able to give the Financial Success Program a much bigger platform, she says. Help more people. Save more lives.

She sees potential ripple effects in the health care system and the economy at large.  

“I’m optimistic enough to believe that we can influence the national dialogue concerning health care,” she says, “and that we can save money by focusing on prevention and eliminate a lot of human misery in the process.”

As the researchers await the data, the Financial Hope Collaborative continues to receive funding from several foundations and corporations, including the Sherwood Foundation, Weitz Family Foundation, William and Ruth Scott Foundation, First National Bank of Omaha, Peter Kiewit Foundation, Sokolof Foundation and Centris Federal Credit Union.