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How financial stress hurts your health — and how to fight it

These free and effective strategies can help you cope with money worries and protect your well-being at the same time.

Hallie Levine By Hallie Levine

Lying awake at night stressing about how to afford rent or utilities doesn’t pay the bills. But merely knowing that likely won’t stop you from worrying. In fact, worry about finances was the No. 1 stressor in a recent national survey.1

Unfortunately, money is a problem for a lot of older adults. One-third of senior households have no money left over each month, reports the National Council on Aging (NCOA).2 Or older adults are in debt after meeting necessary expenses.

That can take a real toll on both mental and physical well-being. For example, one study looked at financially strapped seniors during the first few days of the month, before their Social Security check arrived. It found that levels of inflammatory substances in their bodies rose significantly.3

“These inflammatory chemicals are linked to a whole host of conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure, autoimmune disorders, chronic pain and depression,” says study author Laura Samuel, Ph.D. She’s a registered nurse and an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing in Baltimore.

If you need help keeping financial stress in check, try putting one or more of these six tips to work in your life.

1. Find help with free resources

You may be eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and not realize it, says Samuel. In fact, 3 out of 5 older adults who are eligible for SNAP are not enrolled. That’s about 5 million people overall.4

“There’s a misconception that the average SNAP benefit is only $16 a month,” says Samuel. “But in reality, it’s just over $100.”

One helpful tip if you spend more than $35 a month on out-of-pocket medical costs: You may be able to deduct those costs from your gross income when you apply for SNAP. That will increase your monthly benefit.2

Another program to look into is the Seniors Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program. It gives older adults coupons to use at local farmers markets for fresh produce. To see if you qualify, go to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service website.5  

Many Aetna® Medicare Dual Eligible Special Needs Plan, or D-SNP, members get a benefit card with a monthly allowance for approved healthy foods. These foods include fruits, veggies and more. Go to to learn more about D-SNP plans.

2. Get financial advice

There are many organizations that offer low- or no-cost financial help for seniors. A few to try:

  • The NCOA AgeWellPlanner: This free online service can help seniors lower their debt, find work, cut spending and learn about using their home equity.6
  • The NCOA BenefitsCheckUp: This free online service can help limited-income seniors. It includes more than 2,500 public and private benefits programs.7

3. Pay off debt

Do you have a lot of credit card debt? If so, you can lower your interest rate and consolidate debt with a home equity loan or a home equity line of credit. The home equity line of credit is a good option because you pay interest on only the borrowed amount. Just remember that for these types of loans, you must put up your home as collateral. If you can’t make the payments, you could lose your home.

Another option is a reverse mortgage, which lets you convert the equity in your home into cash. You do not have to make any payments. But you do need to repay it if you sell your home (or upon your death).

4. Create a budget calendar

Rising food prices can really strain your wallet if you’re on a fixed income. So can inflation and supply chain issues. To deal with these challenges, the NCOA suggests that all older adults create a budget calendar. Here’s what you need:

  • A desk calendar or wall calendar
  • A list of all your monthly income (including Social Security checks, income from pensions, disability benefits and SNAP payments)
  • A list of monthly expenses (including rent, health insurance, medication copays, food, utilities and transportation costs)

On your calendar, find the days you get income or benefit checks. Write down the amount of each check on the date. Circle the amounts. Next, write down your household bills on the days they’re due. Finally, subtract your expenses from your income to see how much you have left.

Keeping a budget calendar will give you a clear picture of how much money you have to spend on things like eating out and clothing each month.8 It also gives you a sense of financial control, which can help ease stress.

Aetna® D-SNP members who use a network pharmacy pay $0 for most covered prescription medications. Go to to learn more about D-SNP plans.

5. Ask your health plan about resources

Depending on your health plan, you may have benefits that can help ease some financial pressure. For instance, many people with an Aetna® Medicare Dual Eligible Special Needs Plan, or D-SNP, have:

  • A quarterly over-the-counter allowance to buy approved health and wellness items
  • A monthly allowance for healthy foods to buy fruits, vegetables, meats, seafood and other healthy food items
  • Transportation to and from medical appointments and the pharmacy
  • Social work support
  • Healthy meal delivery programs

Many Aetna® D-SNP members get a regular over-the-counter allowance to buy approved health and wellness items, such as pain relievers and first-aid supplies. Go to to learn more about D-SNP plans.

6. Don’t give up on easing stress

If you have taken steps to ease financial stress but still feel on edge, talk to your doctor. They can offer stress-management tips. Or they can refer you to a mental health professional for support.

Aetna D-SNP members who need help managing their mental health can reach out to their care team for support and, if necessary, get access to a professional. Go to to learn more about D-SNP plans.

1Purdue University. Mental well-being inherently connected to financial wellness. January 27, 2021. Accessed April 20, 2022.

2National Council on Aging. Five tips to boost your income and savings. March 22, 2021. Accessed April 20, 2022.

3Saumel L, Szanton SL, Fedarko NS et al. Leveraging naturally occurring variation in financial stress to examine associations with inflammatory burden among older adults. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. November 2020; 74, pp: 892-897.

4National Council on Aging. 7 facts about older adults and SNAP. March 31, 2021. Accessed April 20, 2022.

5U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Emergency Food Assistance Program. Strengthening the nation’s nutrition safety net and supporting American Agriculture. Accessed April 20, 2022.

6National Council on Aging. Guidance to age with confidence. Accessed April 20, 2022.

7National Council on Aging. BenefitsCheckUp. Accessed April 20, 2022.

8Purdue Extension. Nutrition Education Program. Budget calendar. Accessed April 20, 2022.

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