(PODCAST) Dr. Alex Melkumian speaks with Lionel Shipman on the show Shape Your Finances, about how money behaves and how it impacts you.
(PODCAST) Dr. Alex Melkumian speaks with Lionel Shipman on the show Shape Your Finances, about how money behaves and how it impacts you.
Blog 1 of 3 in the Introduction to Financial Therapy blog series.
Introduction to Financial Psychology blog series
This brief blog series will illustrate how the growing field of Financial Psychology can revolutionize people’s turbulent relationships with money. Through understanding the roots and influence of their personal financial psychology, individuals find themselves able to discard the inherited programming that drives their financial decisions, and that no longer serves them.
The complete list of blogs in this series are at the bottom of this article.
The field of Financial Psychology is a burgeoning discipline that associates people’s thoughts and feelings about money with how they manage it. While personal finance tools are widely available and have grown and improved over time, clean and clear financial management still seems challenging for the average American. Even today, when financial education is easily obtainable for free through the Internet, many people continue to struggle with debt, stagnate in underearning, and substantially overspend their resources, leaving nothing for a rainy day. The numbers are staggering:
|The result? Massive Financial Stress. In fact, Financial Stress is cited as the number one cause of stress in the United States. According to the 2019 Stress in America survey, work (64%) and money (60%) are the top two stressors and are obviously interrelated (American Psychological Association, 2019). Financial advisors found that, in addition to helping clients navigate negotiations around money, they had to incorporate therapeutic approaches to assist them in making clear and rational decisions around their financial issues.
In the face of historical data and challenges such as these, it became obvious that the problem wasn’t simply a lack of understanding about how money works. Neither was it a problem with social class—indeed, many raised in poverty rose to riches, and many raised by upper middle-class parents found it difficult to earn a living on their own as adults. Psychologists began to investigate the connection between finances and emotions to better understand the influence of beliefs and feelings on specific behaviors around money.
Dealing with money is unavoidable. Whether paying rent and living paycheck to paycheck, paying a mortgage and saving in a 401-K, or living off a managed trust fund, one consistently has to make decisions around money that may play a large part in overall well-being. Such decisions are frequently stressful, which can take a huge toll on emotional health. The burden of financial stress inevitably affects all aspects of life including relationships, family, work, and personal security. Time and time again, merely learning how to manage money has proven powerless in solving financial stress. Rather than addressing solely the practical money behaviors that have caused poor outcomes, financial therapy works to uncover the triggers that cause a person’s emotional responses to finances which often lead to poor decisions around money—both now and down the road. Once people are able to recognize their individual financial triggers, they are in a much better position to put their personal finances in order and, in the future, refrain from the same emotional behaviors that caused and maintained their problems.
This is where Financial Psychology, delivered as financial therapy, helps people to change their relationship with money. Financial therapy provides an informed process to support people in changing how they think, feel, and behave around money. This results in an overall improved relationship with money, typically an improved income, lower stress, and easier interaction around financial decision-making.
For a free consultation about your best course to financial stability and health, call 818.600.2264
American Psychological Association. (2019). Stress in America 2019.
Fay, B. (2018, February 21). America’s Debt Help Organization. Retrieved September 21, 2020, from https://www.debt.org/
Northwestern Mutual. (2019). Planning and progress study, 2019. Retrieved from https://news.northwesternmutual.com/planning‐and‐progress‐2019
Blog 1 – What is Financial Psychology
Blog 2 – Why the World is Turning to Financial Therapy for Help.
Blog 3 – How Financial Therapy can Help you.
Since the outbreak of COVID 19, the lives of people all around the world have shifted drastically. From social distancing to endless quarantine, numerous sudden changes in our lifestyle have greatly impacted both our macroeconomy and our management of our personal finances. The unprecedented societal disruptions have left many people financially traumatized, and irrevocably affected our ideas around money. It is important to fully realize that such changes may be permanent, and recovery may require a learning curve for many of us.
Although daily life appeared to come to a screeching halt during the past five months, the shift in people’s attitudes toward money and finance accelerated. Fear, confusion, and uncertainty thrust whole populations into survival mode, with citizens frantically purchasing and hoarding common household items, leaving supermarket shelves empty. BBC news journalist Bryan Lufkin explained the reasoning behind such blind panic reactions as “fear of the unknown, and [the belief] that a dramatic event warrants a dramatic response—even though, in this case, the best response is something as mundane as washing your hands.”
Looking back, we may categorize such extreme emotional activity as irrational and unreasonable. However, David Savage, an associate professor of behavior and microeconomics, wrote, “But emotions are not irrational: they help us decide how to focus our attention” (The Conversation, 2020). As humans, our emotions play a large and important part in decision making, both in response to possibly life-threatening external factors—such as the pandemic—and considerations as mundane as personal finance. In “normal” times, certain reactions might seem unhinged and fanatical; however acknowledging, examining, and valuing our emotions can help us decipher what our feelings may be trying to convey.
Five months into the global crisis, mask-wearing is the norm and the term “social distancing” is part of our daily vocabulary. At the same time, we have weathered losses not seen since the Great Depression, both in employment and in overall personal wealth, radically altering our usual patterns of spending. Baker and colleagues (2020) recently studied household expenditures in the United States, finding a sudden, steep increase in spending between February 26th and March 10th, followed by a 50% downward spike, then another sharp drop. Behavior being a clear reflection of emotions, the upward surge was easily attributable to the “fight-or-flight” survival response, as large segments of the public hurried to stockpile certain grocery items. The subsequent precipitous decrease clearly illuminated the struggle of many families to pay their bills. Different populations have adapted to this new state of adversity by fundamentally modifying former habits and priorities. It is evident that, for many, “getting and spending” currently take a back seat to saving up for an uncertain future and maintaining as much control as possible over family finances.
Conversely, others found themselves turning to compulsive online shopping— “retail therapy”—in an attempt to “medicate” their distress. Instead of relief, this behavior only served to exacerbate their anxiety as their reckless spending increased their financial problems. Along with mounting dread over deepening debt came feelings of deep shame and self-recrimination over the increased danger of unrestrained shopping spreading infection to delivery personnel and others.
As consequences of the pandemic continue to mount, new behaviors—rooted in adverse experiences and emotions during this time—will certainly materialize. CNBC reporter Chloe Taylor (2020) wrote that “a generation of risk-averse supersavers could emerge from the fallout of the coronavirus crisis and potentially reshape the economy.” The widespread economic misfortune this pandemic has inflicted may affect the ways we manage our money far into the future. Many individuals may become much more cautious about extending themselves for financial gain. An increase in precautionary savings in the U.S. is similarly likely.
On the other hand, other sources argue that this is a temporary and a relatively small financial setback in a much bigger world. Daniel Crosby, a well-known psychologist and a behavioural finance expert writes, “It’s human nature to assume that all we see is all that will ever be, but markets operate on a more forward-looking basis and realize that ‘this too shall pass.’ ”. He emphasizes the importance of believing in a better and brighter future in order to be the best investors we can be. As mentioned above, it is a small bump in a larger scheme of things – the market does not radically change overnight and it might be in our best interest to recognize the importance of consistency by not changing our behaviour as much.
While a lot of us would choose to be proactive in terms of managing our finances, many who have been deeply wounded and traumatized worry that a successful economic adjustment may take months or years to achieve. It is helpful to acknowledge that, throughout this pandemic, workable adaptations were made quickly and reasonably. This is proof of the power of our emotions and thoughts over unconscious behavior.
Many of us previously approached our lives without a moment of doubt over the apparent permanence of our social structures. That notion crumbled before our eyes, serving as a much-needed wakeup call. The resulting rapid shift of a whole generation’s former capricious financial behavior to a “tighten-your-belt” mentality clearly proved that harnessing our emotions can change our money habits in positive, if unpredictable, ways.
Our human capacity for adaptation over a very short period of time does not mean, however, that we can expect to coast back to “normal” at the same velocity. The unexpected crisis exposed an already precarious economic situation for many people, revealing the missing elements of thought and planning in their approach to money management. It has been a series of chaotic months for a lot of us financially. Moving forward, while we might assume that from all we have endured, our actions will reflect our experience and will be nothing like what we expected before; however, the intricate financial world does not change easily. In order to achieve a similar state as pre-covid, it may be in our best interest to keep the bigger and brighter picture in mind and seek for continuity and stability. Although it is tempting to believe that our lives will eventually return to their 2019 standard, the indelible lesson is that we must learn how to respect and understand our own emotional reactions if we are to effectively guide our financial affairs with intention and forethought. The alternative is to continue to find ourselves at the mercy of circumstance.
For a free consultation about your best course to financial stability and health, call 818.600.2264
Savage, D. A., & Torgler, B. (2020, April 24). Stocking up to prepare for a crisis isn’t “panic buying.” It’s actually a pretty rational choice. Retrieved August 13, 2020, from https://theconversation.com/stocking-up-to-prepare-for-a-crisis-isnt-panic-buying-its-actu ally-a-pretty-rational-choice-132437.
Lufkin, B. (2020, March 4). Coronavirus: The psychology of panic buying. Retrieved August 13, 2020, from https://www.bbc.com/worklife/artic le/20200304-coronavirus-covid-19-update-why-people-are-stockpiling.
Taylor, C. (2020, April 03). Coronavirus could create “a generation of supersavers” and reshape the economy. Retrieved August 13, 2020, from https://www.cnbc.com/2020/04/03/coronavirus-m ay-create-a-generation-of-supersavers-who-reshape-economy.html.
Baker, S., Farrokhnia, R., Meyer, S., Pagel, M., & Yannelis, C. (2020). How Does Household Spending Respond to an Epidemic? Consumption During the 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic. doi:10.3386/w26949.
Daniel Crosby, D. (2020, August 11). The Strange Psychology of COVID-19 and Investor Behavior. Retrieved August 24, 2020, from https://www.kiplinger.com/investing/601211/the-strange-psychology-of-covid-19-and-investor-behavior.
(3M) – More than 3 million Americans filed for unemployment during a single week in March as the spread of the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2, which causes the disease COVID-19) forced businesses to shutter and people to stay home. Job loss, reduced work hours and financial insecurity caused by the pandemic are exacerbating stress that already stems from money.
“Whether people have a lot of money or people have no money, money is a really stressful thing in our lives,” said Maureen Kelley, a Denver-based financial therapist and founder of MADRE (Money, Assets and Durable Relationships). “This crisis we’re working [with], dealing with and living with now, it just accentuated it. And the fear and the panic around this is exponential.”
Financial, physical, mental and emotional health are all intertwined.
“We can’t just assume that it’s only financial stress,” said Alex Melkumian, Psy.D., LMFT, founder of the Financial Psychology Center External link in Los Angeles. “It’s also psychological stress, emotional stress [and] the stress that compounds our concern about our physical well-being.”
Fear and panic associated with stress can trigger the fight, flight or freeze response. Melkumian explained that we react to stress because our emotional brain, or limbic system, can take over and cloud our ability to make rational decisions.
“And that’s when you see the really negative response to the stress, which can be overthinking, a lot of anxiety, worry, sadness and despair,” he said.
Studies have shown that financial stress can lead to a range of physical and psychological complications. Depression, anxiety and poor work performance are among the possible psychological effects of financial stress (PDF, 254 KB). The physical health complications of financial stress can include cardiovascular disease, increased mortality, inflammation, hypertension, diabetes and digestion problems.
Long-term financial stress can also negatively affect immune response.
“When we’re stressed—chronically stressed—that stress response takes away from our immune system functioning,” Melkumian said. “We’re actually reducing our ability to cope with the virus.”
Kelley has seen an uptick in fear and panic among her clients. And although she believes the economy will bounce back, the lingering question for many people is when that will happen.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty with this,” she said. “People are losing their jobs, their hours are cut, retirement portfolios have been decimated. These fears are very real for us as a country.”
Rather than becoming paralyzed by fear and making irrational decisions, Kelly says that it’s important to learn how to manage fear, stress and anxiety.
“Look at the small things that are in your control right now around spending and know that this will pass,” she said.
OnlineCounselingPrograms.com asked a number of experts in the realm of financial counseling and coaching for tips on how to manage financial stress during crises.
Become more aware of how you are feeling and identify the root of those feelings in order to move away from a panicked state.
Financial coach Jenn Steliga explained that it’s important to get comfortable being uncomfortable.
“The more we push our feelings away or ignore them, research actually shows that they grow and get out of control,” she said. “Then, we’re in a position where our emotions are controlling us.”
Simple mindfulness practices can help ease anxiety. Steliga said that if you notice you are feeling anxious, stop and ask yourself something simple.
“Sounds very silly,” she said, “but if you can say, ‘Where are my feet?’ you bring focus to something.”
Melkumian also suggested making time for short, incremental meditation sessions for a few minutes throughout the day to alleviate the buildup of stress.
“Money is still the last taboo in our culture,” Kelley said. “Nobody likes to talk about it. It’s uncomfortable. People don’t know how to talk about it.”
Money can be difficult to discuss because it is often surrounded by feelings of shame, guilt and embarrassment. Those feelings can be heightened in a crisis. Kelley encouraged people to find a safe space to talk about money with a friend, family member, financial advisor or therapist.
“Often when you’re just able to verbalize it or share it with someone else, that in itself relieves a lot of stress,” Kelley said.
Free budgeting apps can help families create and track budgets
“A budget is not just tracking their expenses,” Steliga said. “It’s spending every dollar on paper on purpose, before they ever hand it out to anyone at all.”
For those facing true financial hardship, it’s best to prioritize spending on basic needs including housing, utilities, food and transportation. Kelley suggested cutting down on nonessential spending and “really looking at what are the things that I can control in my spending and what are the things that are not essential that I can cut out.”
When it comes to shopping, shop intentionally, Steliga added. Take stock of products you have in your house; then, make a shopping list and stick to it.
After meeting your basic needs, including bills and legal obligations, make your minimum payments on loans and credit lines but don’t worry about paying off debt.
“A lot of people would say, ‘Hurry up and get out of debt,’ which is a really big misconception,” said Wendy Wright, LMFT, a financial therapist based in Denver. She encourages clients to build savings while paying down debt.
It can be tempting to take on more debt when money is tight during a crisis, but try to minimize new debt. Don’t let short-term panic dictate long-term financial decisions.
Wright suggested tracking how much money is required to meet basic obligations and then putting extra funds in a savings account for a set period of time. She encouraged using a timeline of three months and revisiting the situation after that time has passed. Having a set window to focus on saving can help reduce anxiety.
“Our brains like a beginning and an end,” Wright said.
Financial stress from the coronavirus outbreak can compound general stress surrounding the pandemic. It can also exacerbate pre-existing mental health issues, such as anxiety or depression.
The following strategies can help mitigate financial stress when paired with other mental health concerns in a crisis.
Creating and maintaining a schedule can provide structure for people who are home-schooling or caring for their children while dealing with struggles like job loss and financial insecurity. Schedules set boundaries and can help people avoid unhealthy coping mechanisms like binge-watching television, drinking too much or online shopping.
“Within that schedule, give yourself very specific time to job search and to get yourself on a budget,” Steliga said. “Be very specific.”
Rather than committing to looking for jobs without a real plan in place, Steliga suggested telling yourself, “I will job search for 30 minutes tomorrow morning at 9 a.m. at my kitchen table with my coffee while my kids are doing homework.”
Eat well, exercise, and try to avoid round-the-clock binge-watching. Avoid heavy social media use and excessive news consumption.
“Do the things that bring you into a good place so that you can continue to make good choices,” Steliga said.
People are being asked to make important decisions while dealing with fatigue. Wright said that “pacing yourself, building a routine [and] sticking to your routine as much as possible” can help create a sense of steadiness during uncertain times. That can also include maintaining previously established mental health interventions.
She also said that it’s important to remember everybody is doing the best they can.
Crises can bring a heavy sense of loss. Identifying the stage of grief that you’re experiencing (denial, anger, bargaining, depression or acceptance) can help you build connections with others. People experience grief at different rates, so naming which stage you are in can allow you relate to people in different stages.
Melkumian also encouraged “scheduled worry sessions”—actually set aside 5 to 10 minutes during the day where you allow yourself to worry. The paradoxical intervention helps contain anxiety.
“You get your worries out for 10 minutes, but then the rest of the day you’re worry-free,” he said.
Although worrisome thoughts may still arise throughout the day, it’s up to you to guard your own mental well-being and protect yourself from those automatic thoughts, Melkumian said.
Staying connected in times of crisis is vital.
Seek financial advice from people who are grounded. Look for support from friends, family members and counselors who are financially stable. And if you are unable to see your regular counselor, look into telehealth options.
These resources can help alleviate financial and other stress-related to the coronavirus outbreak.
This article is for informational purposes only. Reach out to a financial professional before making any important financial decisions. If you are experiencing mental health issues related to financial concerns, consult a mental health professional.
Are you interested in supporting people through mental and emotional challenges? Learn more about how to become a counselor.
(RallyHealth) – If your finances make you anxious, you’re not alone. Before anyone had ever heard of COVID-19, 60% of Americans were stressed out by money, according to the American Psychological Association. None of us are untouched by uncertainty about what lies ahead, and that can cause unexpected emotions.
“Entering into this crisis, most of us already had anxiety and stress around money,” says Brad Klontz, PsyD, CFP, a financial psychologist and managing principal at Your Mental Wealth Advisors and associate professor at Creighton University. “Then you throw the virus on top of it. You’re worried about your financial situation, and you’re also worried about people you love getting sick.”
It’s normal to need time to come to terms with layoffs, business closures, investment losses, or other financial upheaval due to COVID-19. And it’s OK to be upset about the situation, says Patricia Tidwell, PhD, a licensed clinical social worker. “It’s incredibly stressful,” she says. “I’d be worried about people if they weren’t upset.”
But there are many ways to move through the financial stress, anger, and sadness to a place of action. By recognizing your emotions, you can use them to drive your effort to take as much control of your financial situation as possible. Financial and mental health experts share insights on how to get started.
“We all have feelings and beliefs about money: earning money, having money, losing money,” says Tidwell. “Anger, grief, anxiety, and sadness are all feelings that are healthy, albeit uncomfortable, to have about what is happening now.”
Alex Melkumian, PsyD, a licensed marriage and family therapist and founder of the Financial Psychology Center, adds fear, worry, and avoidance to the list. He says that financial stress from the pandemic can force people into survival mode. “Being in survival mode activates the fight, flight, or freeze response,” he says. “Considering the sudden onset of the pandemic, many people are in the freeze cycle. They feel paralyzed or are overthinking what to do next.”
The first step to working through these emotions is recognizing them and understanding that they are normal, Tidwell says. By taking a moment to identify what you’re feeling, you’ll be able to more easily find ways to work toward solutions.
“The sooner you can get to acceptance, as difficult as it may seem, everything else will be easier,” says Melkumian. “It’s a mental pivot that will disengage the emotional part of your brain, which is not helpful in moments like these.”
Unlike other, more personal financial upheavals, remember that many of the economic forces of COVID-19 are completely out of your control. Your state or local government may have told you that you can’t go to work or need to work altered hours. And it’s necessary for people to stay away from businesses in order to stop the spread of the virus. If these circumstances have altered your financial situation, it’s important to recognize that it’s not your fault, says Klontz.
“The good news is you don’t need to feel ashamed about it,” he says. “You’re also not alone.”
By recognizing this, you can avoid “personalizing the pandemic,” says Melkumian. Keeping an eye on the big picture can protect you from some of the negative emotions that are often associated with financial trouble, such as shame and guilt.
Once you’ve identified your emotions, it’s important to find mindful ways to manage them, says Tidwell. She suggests a physical exercise for a serotonin boost and meditation for reducing anxiety.
“Putting feelings into words also helps reduce the experience of feeling overwhelmed,” she says. “Talking to others helps you feel less alone. It can be helpful to learn that others are in similar situations with similar feelings.” Consider talking to a therapist or other mental health professional for more personalized methods for handling your emotions, she says. If you’re employed, check if your company offers free counseling through your health benefits or an employee assistance program.
If you still feel paralyzed by fear and anxiety, Klontz suggests confronting it head-on by thinking through any worst-case scenarios. What if you lose your job? Maybe that means you wouldn’t be able to pay your mortgage, and would eventually have to move in with your parents. Though it’s difficult to think about, letting this hypothetical play out can actually calm your body’s “life or death” reaction, by demonstrating that even in the very worst-case scenario, you will likely still be physically safe, Klontz says.
With so much uncertainty ahead, it can be easy to fall into regret about the past. Why didn’t you start that emergency fund earlier? Why did you take that vacation last year, when you could have saved that money? While it’s natural to wonder about the what-ifs, it’s important to remember that dwelling on the past will do nothing to improve your current situation, says Tidwell.
“Regret is about mourning a lost opportunity, and is often filled with shame,” she says. “It can take over, making it harder to do what will help now.”
Instead of letting your regret balloon into shame, which can keep you stuck, use any missed opportunities as lessons for the future, helping you chart a path forward, Klontz says.
“Did you have an emergency fund?” he asks. “Probably not. That makes you the average American. But now you see why you need one. This is a perfect opportunity for you to look at your spending habits.”
Being stuck at home may actually give you the time to start sorting out your finances in a way you haven’t been able to before. Maybe you can create a pandemic-specific budget, or place some monthly subscriptions on pause and use those savings to start a rainy day fund. This type of action might be exactly what you need to ease your financial worries, says Tidwell. “Taking stock and making plans can reduce anxiety and help you feel more in control,” she says.
“Become conscious of your spending, looking for ways to minimize expenses that are unnecessary,” Klontz suggests. “Interest rates are really low, so maybe now is the time to refinance your mortgage. There are opportunities right now for people.”
He also suggests researching some of the federal relief programs to see what type of assistance you may qualify for, especially if you’re a small business owner. And to keep yourself motivated, remember that, eventually, the COVID-19 pandemic will be in the past.
“Picture yourself when this is all over,” Klontz says. “How do you wish you would have gone through it, including your mindset, attitude, and behavior? Try to be that person now, because eventually this will be over.”
Note to our readers: This information is being made available as a free resource to the public. It is not an endorsement of any of the Finance-Related Resources listed in this article — financial consultants, planners, services, organizations/associations, websites, tools, lenders, credit unions, or banks. None of the finance-related resources listed have solicited Rally Health to be included, and Rally Health receives no compensation from the Finance-Related Resources mentioned in this article.
In times of intense uncertainty most of us experience heightened emotions and deal with them as best we can. As we are navigating the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are inundated with feelings of panic, extreme stress and anxiety about their health, finances and emotional stability. We all cope with the distress by engaging in behaviors with the underlying hope to feel “normal.”
Despite the tumultuous circumstances, some of us find shopping for nonessential items fills the need to feel like everything is “normal.” It takes us back to a simpler time and soothes us with a familiar, comforting behavior. Unconsciously, some do it to excess, in hopes of staying in the emotional comfort zone.
Prudence and budget were thrown out the window as we spend unconsciously to soothe our emotions. Then comes the feeling of overwhelming shame and buyer’s remorse.
On top of that, we may feel a moral dilemma around putting other people at risk of the COVID-19 virus as they package and deliver the nonessentials that we bought. Despite the very unlikely possibility of the newly arrived nonessential package infecting someone in the home, the complications of the emotions and morality create an unnerving reality.
How to deal with the moral and emotional dilemma of overspending.