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Ever wonder why money is such a hot-button issue? Maybe you struggle to log into your bank account without anxiety. Or you can’t seem to break the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle. Or, you make plenty of money but you feel a little guilty about your financial success.
Thankfully, people like Lindsay Bryan-Podvin exist. She’s a financial therapist who knows that money is more than just dollars and cents. She helps her clients understand and fix money mindset problems that they may be struggling with. In this Money Talks, Lindsay walks us through what a financial therapist does (it was new to me), common mindset issues she sees, and what she has struggled with in her own financial and personal life.
I hate to admit this, but I don’t really know what a financial therapist does? Can you explain that for us?
Of course! It’s a really new field that was established in 2010. A financial therapist is someone who works with people around psychological and emotional concerns about money. You can think of it as a mashup of psychologist and financial planner in one. We provide financial education and psychology to our clients.
Got it. So it’s therapy for your money?
Yes! Money is such an integral part of our life and it comes up in so many situations. You may not even realize that an emotional problem that you’re facing is about money until you dig into it deeper. On the flip side, someone might not realize that a money problem they have is tied to your mindset.
For example, a couple might go in to see a financial planner and through the session, it becomes apparent that they aren’t on the same page. Their financial planner isn’t necessarily qualified to help them work through their issues. That’s where a financial therapist would come in.
I actually decided to become a financial therapist when I realized money issues can plague so many parts of our life. I was working as a social worker and with every single person that I worked with, money would come up. There wasn’t a great option for them to work through their problem. Therapists would say, “tell me about how that makes you feel” and financial planners would say, “this is your budget and these are your goals.”
I saw how helpful it would be for my patients if I could offer them a way to work through their feelings about money while also offering basic financial education.
What are some common money hangups that people struggle with?
One that comes up with couples a lot is financial infidelity: when one person spends or uses money in a way that they keep hidden from their spouse. This could be something small like not putting your Starbucks order on the debit card because you don’t want them to see what you’ve spent. Or it could be something bigger like keeping a secret credit card.
Another thing that I see a lot is guilt and shame around money. I work with a lot of professional women who do very well financially. I’ll see the same patterns come up relating to guilt.
They’ll say things like, “why do I deserve to have this income when income distribution is so terrible?” or, “Why do I deserve to have a new car when growing up that wasn’t allowed.”
These thoughts can lead them to self-sabotage. They might not go for a promotion or ask for a raise because they feel guilty about that.
How does someone who is struggling with that move forward?
It’s important for them to find a way to do things that they feel comfortable with. For example, if a woman is struggling with this guilt and isn’t comfortable asking for a raise, she needs to find the right language that makes her feel comfortable.
It’s standard advice for a man to say, “this is what I deserve to earn because I’ve done x, y, z.” If a woman struggles with guilt, she may not feel comfortable saying that. She needs to find the language that makes her feel confident. It may be something like, “Here are my numbers, this is what I’ve contributed, and this is what I want to do next year. I’d like to talk about a raise.”
Everything I’ve read about money mindsets suggest starting with your earliest memory. Why? What’s the significance of that?
We all have our own personal money story but we don’t talk about it. What we know is the lens through which most of us view money is cemented by the time we are 8-10 years old. Those first money memories really dictate the way we view, spend, or save money.
For example, if you would see your parents stressed every year during tax time, that’s going to impact how you feel about money. Or maybe your dad would always come home saying things like, “I’m going to hit it big this time.” You have an idea that money is going to come, but it never comes to fruition.
The lens through which most of us view money is cemented by the time we are 8-10 years old.
That’s terrifying that how your view money is cemented at such a young age. Do you have any advice for parents?
Here’s my anecdotal advice: model good money behaviors. Talk about it in a way you’d talk about any hot-button issue (sex, race, etc). Try to be open and honest about money in a developmentally appropriate way.
If you’re in the grocery store and your child really wants Oreos, instead of saying “no we can’t afford them”, say “those are really for special occasions and we buy them for your birthday.” If you have a lot of money, you could talk to your kids about this by saying this like, ”we are so fortunate to have this and it’s important for us to volunteer and donate.”
You could also help them learn about money through different activities. Let’s say there’s a book fair coming to their school. You could give them a budget and have them spend within that. Or if they have a lemonade stand, you could talk with them about saving 20% of what they earn.
Ok, so you help other people with their money problems. Did you have a money hangup that you struggled with?
Oh yes. My parents are divorced and growing up I internalized the story that you should have your own money so you can get out of a relationship if you need to. My husband’s parents have a very stable, healthy marriage and he didn’t have this same perspective. We were together for seven years and bought a house together before getting married.
But as soon as we got engaged, my anxiety went through the roof. I couldn’t fathom the idea of having a joint bank account. My husband couldn’t understand my anxiety. To him, a joint bank account was one way to show commitment.
Why did I need my “get out” cash?
It took a lot of time — and a lot of conversations — to begin to feel safe and come up with a solution. The end solution was we did combine bank accounts because it was important to my husband, but we also each have separate spending accounts. We have our “fun money” allowance deposited into separate accounts at the beginning of each month. It’s the best solution for us because it still gives me some independence.
Do you have any money habits that you’re proud of?
I do! I’m a big proponent of set it and forget it. I’ve automated everything that I can with my money because it shouldn’t stress you out day to day. I watched where it flowed in and out for a while. Then I set up automatic payments for our vacation fund, our credit card, our “oh shit” fund, retirement, etc. Money doesn’t dominate our day-to-day.
Then monthly my husband and I sit down for what we call the state of the marriage meeting. We look through our spending on Mint from the past month and see if our spending feels right for us. Some months we’ll look and see that we’ve spent too much in one category, like eating out. We’ll then try to be more mindful going forward about eating out the next month. This helps us both get a really solid sense of where our money is going.
Photo credit: Sean Carter
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