Stressed About Money? 7 Tips From Financial Therapists for Boosting Resilience

The current economic climate is a stark one. Experts share this advice for keeping your cool.

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Young couple working on finances in living room
Make time to communicate about financial priorities if you share money with a spouse or partner.Stocksy

Consumer prices on goods across the United States rose 8.6 percent on average from May 2021 to May 2022. That’s according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and includes prices for gas, food, clothing, medical care, and housing.

If you’ve been feeling that pinch, or you have concerns about your financial future, you’re not alone. A May Pew Research Center poll showed that 7 in 10 Americans view inflation as a very big or moderately big problem facing the country, putting economic concern ahead of all other national problems facing the United States today that were included in the survey, such as the pandemic, healthcare affordability, gun violence, illegal immigration, racism, climate change, and others.?

And more adults rated inflation as a top source of stress than any other issue asked in a March poll from the American Psychological Association. The rise in prices of everyday items due to inflation was also the highest-ever ranked top stressor (87 percent of those in the national survey deemed it so) in the poll’s 15-year history.

But experts say it’s possible to boost your financial wellness, and resilience, no matter how much money you have.

In a January 2015 report on the goal of financial education, the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) defined financial well-being (or financial wellness) as meeting the following criteria:

  • Control over day-to-day finances
  • Ability to absorb a financial shock
  • Being on track to meet financial goals
  • Freedom to make choices that help you enjoy life

In other words, financial wellness isn’t just about sticking to a budget and planning for retirement. It’s also about managing your thoughts and emotions around money. (That includes the anxieties you might be feeling over rising prices.)

While a financial planner can help you with the former, a financial therapist will be able to help you with both pieces of the puzzle.

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According to the Financial Therapy Association (FTA), financial therapists use both therapeutic and financial expertise to help people manage their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors around money in healthy ways.

Financial therapists usually have a background in finance or financial planning, plus advanced training in coaching or counseling. But individuals who have a psychology background can also pursue the certified financial therapist designation, according to FTA. If you're seeking financial planning advice from your clinician, it's a good idea to check they also have financial planning certifications in your area.

Here are steps you can take to boost your financial well-being and resilience, according to three financial therapists:

1. Recognize That Your Net Worth Doesn’t Define Your Self-Worth

First things first: Recognize the role money and your finances should play and the roles they should not play in your life. Your financial situation may affect many choices you make (where you live, your lifestyle, and much more), but it doesn’t have to define you or your value. “Your self-worth doesn't equal your net worth,” says Preston Cherry, PhD, a financial therapist and an assistant professor of finance at the University of Wisconsin in Green Bay.

Defining your worthiness (or how you value yourself) by how much money you have can be interpersonally destructive and harmful to emotional well-being, explains Dr. Cherry, who is also the president of the FTA and has researched how personality traits affect financial uncertainty risks.

Research has shown that a higher level of materialism — how much a person’s values center on making money and acquiring things that convey status — is associated with worse overall well-being, regardless of income level.

Instead, focus on living in a way that brings you happiness and feels in line with your values to build a healthy sense of self-worth, Cherry says.

2. Cultivate Self-Love

Being able to think positively about yourself, your actions, and your abilities will help you navigate financial matters more effectively, Cherry says. Practicing self-love and self-compassion when you're looking at your financial situation, for example, can help money stressors feel less destabilizing.

“Self-compassion is an important piece of getting more comfortable with money,” says Ed Coambs, a certified financial planner, financial therapist, and licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Matthews, North Carolina.

Accept that you’re not perfect and that many of your attitudes about money may stem from past experiences that were likely out of your control, he says. This can take some pressure off, alleviating the feeling that there's one right way to manage your money and yours isn't it, and ultimately help you stress less about your money decisions.

3. Know Your Numbers

Feeling in control of your finances is a big part of financial wellness, and that’s impossible if you don’t know your numbers, says Saundra Davis, an adjunct professor of financial planning at Golden Gate University in San Francisco and the executive director and founder of Sage Financial Solutions, an organization that develops comprehensive financial capability programs for low- and moderate-income communities. The important ones to pay attention to include?income, expenses, net worth, savings, retirement goals, and debt.

Whether you’re living comfortably or struggling to make ends meet, getting clear on what your current financial situation is (and continuing to track that information as it changes over time) can help you make sound, informed choices about money. It can help you feel less stressed about money, because knowing the truth is better than being in the dark. And, Davis says, it gives you a starting point for improving your situation or setting certain goals.

4. Set Financial Priorities

If you’re striving for a better relationship with money, it’s important to know your financial priorities. Davis recommends asking yourself what matters most to you, and then thinking through how you can align your current financial situation and money decisions with those priorities.

When you understand what your priorities are around money, you’ll be more motivated to make decisions that support them, Davis says.

If you understand that one of your top values is education, for example, that can make you feel better about setting aside money in a college fund for your children each month. If you recognize that you value seeing new places, channeling a portion of your disposable income toward travel expenses will feel worthwhile. If supporting the community you’re a part of is extremely important to you, spending more on local goods and services might equally feel very worthwhile to you, even if you could get those same or similar goods and services elsewhere for less.

In all these cases, financial wellness doesn’t necessarily come through spending less or making more money; it’s about using your money in ways that make you feel good about yourself and your choices. And that’s a win for your emotional health. (Spending money on other people and causes you care about, for instance, has been linked to boosted happiness, mood, and overall life satisfaction.)

RELATED: Why Giving to Causes You Care About Is Good for Your Health

5. Work With a Financial Planner

If you haven’t yet met with a financial planner, it might be because you’re afraid to face your current financial situation or make changes to your spending and saving habits. But a financial planner’s job is to help you make decisions about your money in ways that help you with your spending and saving priorities.

“Part of building financial well-being is being able to see money in a broader context and depersonalize it,” Coambs says. A financial planner will look objectively at your finances and offer expert advice on how you can reach various goals, from paying off debt to saving for retirement. And importantly, they don’t get to tell you what to do. Your choices about how you spend your money are still up to you.

A financial planner can help you make a road map for meeting your financial goals, and this is crucial for financial well-being, Coambs says. Working with an expert can help keep you accountable, gives you a resource to get an expert opinion on your financial plans, and can help make you feel more in control of your finances overall.

6. Get Financially Intimate With People You’re Close With (Especially if You Share Money)

If money is driving a wedge in your relationships, that’s definitely going to affect your financial well-being (and probably your overall quality of life). In one study, researchers surveyed married couples about various relationship conflicts. They found that conflicts about money were typically more pervasive and less likely to be resolved than any other type of conflict.

Coambs helps couples cultivate financial intimacy in order to minimize money conflicts. You can learn to communicate your financial priorities and your emotions around money with each other. “Financial intimacy is being able to be with your partner and yourself about both the good feelings and the challenging feelings, and being able to talk openly and candidly about all financial topics,” Coambs says.

Make time to do this regularly —?Coambs recommends that couples block out time on their schedule to have money conversations so that no one feels caught off guard — this will lessen money conflicts and boost each person's financial well-being. It’s a good idea to do this with a spouse, partner, or anyone you share bank accounts or big financial responsibilities with, like a roommate or a business partner.

7. Bring a Few Close Friends Into the Conversation, Too

Financial intimacy with your partner is essential, but Coambs also recommends getting comfortable talking about money to people outside your immediate family. “Having a couple of really close friends that you can talk to about your experiences with money is so helpful,” he says.

We seek out our friends’ advice and consolation when it comes to other important decisions in our lives. It can be helpful to turn to them when you’re struggling with financial decisions and issues, too. Friends may have been through a similar situation or have a different perspective that can help inform your decision or thinking.

With a partner or other family members, the stakes may be higher in money conversations because they may also be affected by your financial decisions. Your friends may be able to offer a more neutral point of view, and may offer a safe space to talk through what you’re feeling without any pressure to make decisions one way or another, Coambs says.

Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking

  • Financial Well-Being: The Goal of Financial Education. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. January 2015.
  • Become a Financial Therapist.?Financial Therapy Association.
  • Dittmar H, Bond R, Hurst M, et al. The Relationship Between Materialism and Personal Well-Being: A Meta-Analysis.?Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 2014.
  • Dunn EW, Whillans AV, Norton MI, et al. Prosocial Spending and Buying Time: Money as a Tool for Increasing Subjective Well-Being.?Advances in Experimental Social Psychology. 2020.
  • Papp LM, Cumming EM, Goeke-Morey MC. For Richer, for Poorer: Money as a Topic of Marital Conflict in the Home.?Family Relations. December 6, 2011.
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