The link between community and financial well-being

By Shelly Gigante
Shelly Gigante specializes in personal finance issues. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications and news websites.
Posted on Apr 12, 2018

Staying connected with one’s community, either online or in person, may yield benefits beyond social support, namely, financial well-being.

How? Here are three examples:

  • A young man who credits his community with teaching him how to save money.
  • A woman who believes that getting involved with voting drives and attending local meetings contributes to a better economy, which ultimately improves the value of her home.
  • Numerous people who came to the aid of neighbors when they needed groceries, transportation, or a loan.

These are just a few of the specific instances reported in a new nationwide survey conducted by MassMutual looking at community involvement and financial security.

On a broad level, it found that Americans who interact with one another through friends and family, their neighborhood, professional networks, religious groups, or organizations that share common values, not only strengthen the communities to which they belong, but gain financial confidence in return.

Forty-eight percent of the 10,000 adults surveyed indicated that community participation improves their finances and nearly 69 percent said community involvement is important to their overall well-being, according to “You Get What You Give: The MassMutual 2018 Financial Wellness and Community Involvement Study.”

The degree to which Americans are engaged in their communities also appears to be a factor. Just 34 percent of those who are involved in five or more types of communities said they feel anxious about their current financial well-being and only 38 percent said they worried about their financial future. By comparison, 45 percent of those who are not involved in their community said they felt anxious about their current financial well-being and 48 percent said they worried about their financial future.

“It is remarkably gratifying to see research support what intuition has long told us, that those who are more confident in their financial future are also more likely to say that community involvement is important,” said Dennis Duquette, MassMutual’s head of community responsibility and president of the MassMutual Foundation. “What truly built this nation over the years was the convergence of people from all walks of life coming together to create a better, more secure life for themselves, their loved ones, and their communities at large. That same spirit remains very much alive, as so many clearly recognize that we do get back what we give.”

Respondents to the survey, regardless of age, said they engage in their communities primarily for friendship and personal support, but also to network and reinforce their financial stability.

Four in 10 said they participate in communities by donating time or contributing money to a good cause, or attending informal events and gatherings. Millennials are the most likely to participate in communities for the purpose of attending or hosting events, while respondents who are age 76 and older (the Silent Generation) are most likely to donate time or contribute money.

The majority of Americans surveyed said they believe that community is defined by geographic location, but others indicated that it includes those who share their values, culture, or lifestyle. The MassMutual study also found that respondents connected with their chosen communities both online and in person, but that most Americans still prefer to interact in person.

Here, we highlight just a few examples of how staying connected with the people and causes that we care about can potentially improve our financial stability.

Professional networking

Building relationships with colleagues and prospective employers keeps your name top of mind when job opportunities and new projects arise. Attending conferences and social events, and joining professional networking websites, not only expands your circle of contacts, but also enhances your knowledge base, which may make you more marketable in the workforce.

A 2016 survey by LinkedIn found 85 percent of all jobs are filled via networking, including those that are listed internally and never advertised. A majority of jobs, it found, are given to existing employees based on their performance history, leadership ability, and track record of success.1 

Professional networking can also potentially help propel small businesses. A 71-year-old respondent to the MassMutual survey, for example, said her community supports her small construction company by hiring her for jobs and recommending her team to others.

Fundraising and money pools

There is no question that communities provide an important financial lifeline to members who fall on hard times.

Friends and family frequently initiate fundraising campaigns using online platforms such as GoFundMe and CrowdRise to help provide for the children of loved ones who pass away unexpectedly.

They host “rent parties” to raise money for neighbors who temporarily cannot cover their bills. (Rent parties, which originated in Harlem during the 1920s, involve hosting a party in your home, typically with music, drinks, and dancing. All guests pay for admission and the amount collected is donated to a recipient in need — who may be the homeowner.)

In some cases, communities also provide loans to members who lack the savings to cover an immediate financial need (like medical bills or a car repair). And, they serve as a valuable source of capital to entrepreneurs who might not qualify for a traditional private loan.

Says one survey respondent, a 54-year-old male, “They are there for times when I need a small loan to avoid late fees on bills.”

One example is the informal money pools, or lending circles, that exist in many immigrant communities across the United States. Money pools consist of groups of family members, coworkers, or close friends who agree to pool their money equally through regular contributions to a fund. The money collected is then distributed as a lump sum to one person in the group at a time systematically, until the fund is depleted. The money pool neither generates, nor charges any interest. Rather, it acts as a form of forced savings for those who have trouble setting money aside, and a source of ready cash for those who need money quickly. (Learn more: Tanda, hui, or ayuuto? The money pool way)

Eldercare/LTC

Caring for each other can help stabilize expenses as we age, delaying or eliminating the need for costly home health services and nursing homes. Family and informal caregivers, in fact, are the backbone of long-term care services in America.

An estimated 34 million adults have provided unpaid care to an adult age 50 or older in the past 12 months, according to a joint report from the National Alliance for Caregiving and the AARP.2 The vast majority (85 percent) provide care for a relative, with 49 percent of respondents indicating that they care for a parent or parent-in-law.

Long-term care services are not typically covered by health insurance plans, including government programs like Medicare or Medicaid, which only provide care under limited circumstances and eligibility requirements.

Volunteers

Neighbors helping neighbors in the spirit of interdependence makes their communities a better place, even as they provide financial support to one another.

They do it because they care and they do it because they know that their friends and neighbors would do the same for them. 

Stories of mutual support across America are in no short supply, from volunteers who rebuilt the dilapidated home of an elderly WWII vet to the Texas family who invited a homeless man to come live with them. The unsung heroes among us provide a safety net for those in need. MassMutual celebrates their commitment to caring.

Beyond the obvious social benefits of staying connected with their community, Americans who make time for others say they get back what they give. Many report a greater sense of financial confidence and job security. Others worry less about their bills or express comfort in being part of a support circle that ensures they will never be left to fend for themselves.

“Over time, I’ve become friends with many people in my community and I know that if I were ever to need help that they would do everything in their power to support me,” one 26-year-old survey respondent told MassMutual. “From government officials to local shop owners, fishermen, and farmers, I have a healthy network of people who help each other.”

More from MassMutual…

3 steps for becoming more involved in your community

A long history of living mutual

Living mutual: Creating kindness day

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LinkedIn, “New Survey Reveals 85% of All Jobs Are Filled Via Networking,” Feb. 29, 2016.

National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, “Caregiving in the United States 2015."

The information provided is not written or intended as specific tax or legal advice. MassMutual and its subsidiaries, its employees, and representatives are not authorized to give tax or legal advice. You are encouraged to seek advice from your own tax or legal counsel. Opinions expressed by those interviewed are their own, and do not necessarily represent the views of MassMutual.