(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.
(Forbes) – Americans say they’re saving money. Retail spending is up. Low interest rates have sparked the housing market and the stock market has rebounded from its initial pandemic dive.
But how does any of this make sense when so many people are struggling financially months into the Covid-19 crisis and the recession that came with it? The unemployment rate is high, unemployment assistance is about to expire again in some states, overall consumer spending is down and mortgage delinquencies are on the rise.
The reason is what’s expected to be a K-shaped economic recovery, which disproportionately impacts different segments of the economy. Even now, more than six months into the pandemic, some households’ finances are largely untouched, while others are looking at a long and arduous recovery.
For many, weathering what has become a longer-term financial storm will require more than just an emergency fund. An individual’s financial issues are so closely tied to the state of their mental health, and the ongoing stresses of the coronavirus pandemic are well documented.
While you cannot predict how—or when—the American economy will recover from this period, you can take some time to reframe how you think about your finances on an emotional level.
Here’s what you need to know about protecting your finances and your mental well-being during these uncertain times.
An economic downturn and its eventual recovery can take many shapes. You may have heard of a V-shaped or U-shaped recovery. But one thing these often-referenced shapes have in common is that widespread financial challenges usually are met with widespread recovery, albeit by various degrees for individuals.
A K-shaped recovery, however, sees two groups diverging from an economic turning point, instead of tracking a single curve of decline and recovery. More affluent individuals see their situation as stable or improving during a downturn—they’re the upper portion of the K—while others experience devastating losses.
There are signs that this is happening now during the Covid-19 crisis.
People earning between $25,000 and $35,000 were nearly three and a half times more likely to report having a “very difficult” time paying for usual household expenses than those earning between $100,000 and $150,000 per year, according to a late-August survey by the Census Bureau.
Take the hospitality and leisure sectors for example, explains Brian Kench, dean of the Pompea College of Business at the University of New Haven. “Only about half of lost jobs have come back,” in those sectors, he says, due to continuing virus concerns.
Benefits designed to stabilize people who haven’t been able to return to work or find new employment—if they have been able to access those funds—are likely to run out. The grim employment outlook plus strained finances compounds the recovery process for these individuals.
“The lower part of the K feels like it’s sliding even deeper,” Kench says.
If you have large swaths of people who can’t earn money to pay their bills and make purchases, it’s going to take longer for the economy as a whole to show vast improvements, even if there are a lot of people who are doing relatively well.
And for many people, the impact of that slower recovery track can have long-term effects on their ability to earn and amass wealth.
A recent survey found that households of color face a more challenging financial landscape than their white counterparts, often with less access to aid programs like the Economic Impact Payments, popularly known as the stimulus checks, authorized by the CARES Act.
Households of color were still trying to regain ground from the last financial crisis before the coronavirus pandemic came along. Income for Black households didn’t surpass 2007 levels until 2019, according to new Census Bureau data on income and poverty.
“But that’s already old news,” said Valerie Wilson, director of the Economic Policy Institute’s Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy, during a presentation this week. “The impact of the pandemic and the recession has had a disproportionate impact on Black workers and their families,” Wilson explained.
Recognizing a K-shaped recovery can help acknowledge that not every part of the economy recovers at the same pace. Much of the process is ultimately felt at a personal level.
“A lot of industries are going to be hard hit for an extended period of time,” says Leigh Phillips, CEO of financial technology nonprofit SaverLife. “Schools aren’t back, childcare is not back and that obviously impacts a lot of families.”
Almost 90% of users of SaverLife’s financial education platform—who tend to earn about $25,000 per year—have reported a loss of income due to the pandemic.
“But that loss of income has been paired with simultaneous increased spending,” Phillips says. Households who weren’t already set up for remote work or online learning had to figure out how to cover the costs of internet access or devices, she explains.
And families who may have had their grocery costs supplemented by school meal programs may suddenly have been faced with the need to provide three meals a day at home, during a time when food costs increased, Phillips says. “Even for people who receive supplements from the government to pay for food, we’re still seeing much higher spending in that category,” she says.
SaverLife has been encouraging members to claim their stimulus checks or unemployment benefits if they haven’t already, along with pointing them to food assistance programs in their areas. The organization also partners with financial coaching programs around the country to help users work with their creditors.
But taking those first steps to access help can be challenging, especially since some of the initial shock of the pandemic’s economic impact has dulled.
“People don’t necessarily want to confront some of these issues right now,” Phillips says. “They’re frightening. But the more that you can [do to] get all the assistance you can, the better off your family’s going to be.”
With the U.S. pandemic response in its seventh month, you may have already exhausted your initial sources of financial security, whether in the form of an emergency fund or government aid. But before you strategize a long-term budget to weather this period, it’s helpful to recognize your emotional state.
In the first few weeks of the pandemic, you may have felt a fight-or-flight response to adapt to the immediate changes. But that response may no longer be enough to support you through this next phase, warns Dr. Alex Melkumian, a Los Angeles-based psychologist and the founder of the Financial Psychology Center.
Some people have fewer coping mechanisms to maintain that “fight” response for a long period, or never had the resources to be in the position to fight in the first place, Melkumian says. He uses the example of someone who loses their job suddenly and needs to apply for unemployment. “For some people, that’s a devastating place to get to in their career.”
Add that grief onto the difficulties of navigating state unemployment insurance systems and the health concerns brought on by the pandemic, and the stress you feel can start to stack up—which can do long-term damage to your relationship with money.
“Money can be a conduit for anything we’re emotionally filled with,” Melkumian explains. “If we’re full of fear and anxiety, it’s going to [show] in our behavior and our decision-making with money.”
Melkumian says that beneath patients’ frustration with their financial situation are often feelings of shame and guilt. And, to persevere over the long term, you need to address that emotional side of dealing with money. “When we fight our emotional nature, we do ourselves a disservice. The longer we ignore, the longer recovery will take.”
Whether you were struggling before the pandemic or your financial challenges are more recent, recognize that a lot of people are in a tough position. This is not the time to feel guilty because you weren’t better prepared.
“During this crisis, priorities may need to be made that focus on the present, and that is okay,” says Sarah Parker, senior director at the Financial Health Network. “Emergency funds may need to be tapped, and that is okay because it’s exactly what they’re there for.”
If your funds are coming up short for basic needs, don’t wait to ask for help. “Don’t be so ashamed and guilty that it prevents you from reaching out for help,” Melkumian says. Many financial institutions are still working with customers to offer forbearance programs, and you may be eligible for aid beyond the channels you’ve already pursued.
“Understand you need to give yourself the room to process, to get through the emotional stuff,” Melkumian says, but don’t let it pull you into a spiral of shame that’s harder to get out of later.
Don’t worry about making the perfect budget right now. But do your best to plot out your obligations, resources and any accommodations you’ve requested.
“Our research shows that planning behavior is highly correlated with improved financial health,” Parker says. “People often don’t plan because they feel overwhelmed by it, especially those with strapped budgets already. But starting somewhere with a small degree of planning for the rest of the year into the next will help.”
Thinking about your goals—even if it’s just covering the basics—can help you start to see incremental progress, Parker says.
For a boost, try using free budgeting apps that can help you track your spending and help you plan ahead. “There are many apps that analyze spending patterns and cash flow to help consumers determine what their disposable income is without jeopardizing their financial obligations when those bills roll around,” she says.
Melkumian recommends taking a few moments to do a daily emotional self-check to catch brewing financial fears before they grow larger than life.
Since you can’t predict how long the widespread economic recovery will take, you can’t let yourself get overwhelmed with daily what-if scenarios, he warns. “Everyone wants their financial world to improve immediately,” Melkumian says, but that hope can manifest irrational expectations.
It’s important to develop a mindset that can see how small improvements in your finances that may seem insignificant now can have a bigger impact a few years from now. Doing so can take time, so be patient with yourself as you continue to check on your emotional state and financially recover.
(CNET) – There are plenty of reasons to feel worried about money right now. A financial therapist can help.
As the COVID-19 crisis has wreaked havoc on healthcare, education and the economy, it has also taken a toll on our psychological and emotional well-being. Millions of people have lost their jobs and are filing for unemployment. More than 5 million people in the US have been infected, and many of them are facing an onslaught of medical bills. If you’re worried about money right now, you’re not alone.
But financial anxiety isn’t exclusive to the ranks of the unemployed. It can just as easily plague people who have enough money at the moment but are worried about the future. And regardless of where you fall on the socio-economic spectrum, money can be difficult to talk about — even in a regular therapy session.
“Financial trauma has unfortunately become a reality for some who’ve experienced extreme financial hardship,” says Alex Melkumian, founder of Financial Psychology Center. “In times of the pandemic, the overall level of financial stress and worry has risen exponentially and has negatively impacted the financial wellness and mental health of so many.”
Financial concerns can ripple into all areas of your life. After all, money isn’t always just about money; it can be a surrogate for stress, anxiety and trauma, too. That anxiety can manifest through fears about end of life and mortality — running out of money in retirement or during an emergency, for example.
There’s a type of counseling specifically for money-related anxiety: financial therapy. Read on to see if it might be a good fit for you.
According to the Financial Therapy Association, this form of counseling can help people change the way they think and feel about money — and, most importantly, change negative behaviors. It gets right to the heart of your financial attitudes.
Melkumian says financial therapy can help those who need to dig deeper into why they can’t stop living paycheck to paycheck or keep getting deeper into debt.
“If you make the same financial mistakes and can’t seem to figure out why, if money is a major source of conflict with your significant other, [or] if your financial situation is creating turmoil in your life and causing extreme emotions,” financial therapy may help you, Melkumian says.
Different people have different needs, he says, but financial therapy can help develop a detailed financial plan.
“One of the most common tasks addressed in financial therapy is setting up and implementing a spending plan,” Melkumian says. “A client can implement a comprehensive spending plan in a span of three months. For clients who struggle with extreme financial stress, worry and trauma, addressing those issues may take longer to process.”
Financial therapist Lindsay Bryan-Podvin, author of The Financial Anxiety Solution, says there are a few important distinctions between a financial therapist and a traditional therapist.
“Many therapists have a specialty in other tough areas such as trauma, sex, abuse, gambling, addiction and/or neglect — but very few specialize in money,” she says. “Money can absolutely be brought up in a regular therapy session. However, most therapists do not have additional training on the psychology of money.”
And, of course, a conventional financial advisor helps you manage your money — not manage your feelings and emotions about money. “You cannot call yourself a therapist if your background is in finance,” says Bryan-Podvin. “You can say you have financial therapy training, but to call yourself a therapist, you must have at least a Master’s degree in Counseling, Social Work, or Psychology.”
While Bryan-Podvin has a Master’s degree in social work, the Financial Therapy Association requires a financial or mental health background for those seeking to become a Certified Financial Therapist. General therapists might recommend seeing a financial therapist if they don’t have the extended knowledge, training and expertise surrounding the psychology of money.
You can find a financial therapist on the Financial Therapy Association’s database. Melkumian, who is also an FTA board member, says there are approximately 350 financial therapists in the US. The cost of a session varies by provider and location.
Many financial therapists, including Bryan-Podvin and Melkumian, currently offer remote service. If you don’t have a financial therapist near you, you may be able to set up a virtual session.
There may be less expensive alternatives, too. Many banks, credit card issuers and other financial institutions offer some form of education or counseling. Capital One offers free money coaching. You may not get the same level of counseling as you would from a financial therapist, but it may help you begin to address some of your issues with money.
And you don’t need to wait until you’ve gone through financial trauma before getting into financial therapy. Melkumian says you can look into financial therapy before issues start.
“Why wait to see a financial therapist until you are broke?” he asks. “You can save yourself from the pain and suffering by starting now.”
(Fatherly.com) – When a family member falls on hard times and needs a hand, stepping up is the sensible thing to do. The immediate reaction should be: What do you need and how can I help? But when the ensuing request is for financial help, the decision becomes a bit more difficult. Dealing with family is rarely drama-free. But lending money to family is riddled with conflict. It immediately creates a situation that dredges up resentment, anger, and worry. How, then, do you go through with a family loan without it being such a nightmare?
Even in the most straightforward agreement, money creates an imbalance. It involves power and control. You have it. They don’t, and, if the deal goes bad, the nature of your relationship, and the family dynamic, can be changed for good. It can be, in a word, “messy”, says Jennifer Calder, financial therapist in Montpelier, Vermont.
Still, you’re not turning away from a relative, and a family loan does not automatically mean disaster. But, to make lending money work, you need to balance your head and heart. It takes self-examination about what you’re getting into and it involves having open conversations. This isn’t a fun exercise. But the process can head off the anxiety, reduce surprises, and end up making a deal that works for both sides.
Your brother asks you for money. You want to respond, “Of course,” but the answer can’t be impulsive. You need time. There are complications, both obvious and unforeseen, to explore. So how do you begin?
Calder says to start with two essential, fair questions: “How much?” and “What’s it for?” Once you have the basics, it’s perfectly reasonable to then say, “Let me think about this for a couple of says,” because there is even more to take into account.
On the practical level, the main concern is Can I afford to give him this money? Over-extending yourself merely causes stress that can bubble up into resentment. If the amount of money he’s requesting is doable, then you have to talk it over with your spouse, particularly if its a joint account. Not mentioning it, Calder notes, is breeding ground for financial infidelity. Lying to your spouse about money is never a good move.
But the considerations you need to make before lending money to family are not all practical. The most essential is a basic rule of lending: You may never see the money again. But you will see this person again. You have to ask yourself: How will I feel if it’s not repaid?, notes Alex Melkumian, financial therapist and founder of Financial Psychology Center in Los Angeles.
This is an important question. And if you’re comfortable with the prospect, it becomes a smoother process. Calder and Melkumian both say that making it a gift — tax implications, aside – makes it even smoother. (More on that in a bit.) But before you go ahead, it’s necessary to think: Is this request part of a troubling pattern or a sign of atypical hard times?
With all these considerations laid out, you come to three options:
Regardless of your answer, the conversation continues, and ways to help are still possible.
If a family member asks you to lend them money and your answer is “No,” the way in which you deliver your answer is crucial. Is the reason because of your financial situation? Say “I love you, but I can’t afford it right now.” Is the reason because you don’t feel comfortable giving the money, say something like, “I love you too much and I’m worried that this will damage our relationship.” It’s not a desired answer, obviously. But you can follow either with, “I still want to help,” and then you two can brainstorm.
Depending on the underlying issue – bad job, outdated skills, poor money management – you could offer to pay for a counselor or adviser. You could look for ways to free up your brother’s time in order to job hunt or take a class. The point is, as Melkumian notes, “money is not the only resource.”
If your answer is yes, then you need to talk with the requestor frankly. Again, it’s simpler to gift it, and you can put it on yourself with, “Do this for me. I don’t want to jeopardize us. Pay me back if you can, but you don’t have to.” It doesn’t take away all the guilt, but some weight is lifted, notes Melkumian. Plus, the option still exists to repay, which doesn’t conflict with the asker’s pride.
One thing that helps is to set a re-payment schedule that includes regular check-ins where you talk about the practical as well as the emotional issues. It could be asking along the way, “How are you doing?” Remember, it’s family, and, “Family relationships are more important than money,” Melkumian says.
With the schedule, you’ve built in a release valve. You, as the lender, don’t have to stew or wonder about what’s happening, because you know you two will be talking. “The more we leave to the imagination, the more opportunity there is for stress, anxiety and resentment,” he says.
And talking serves two more purposes. It’s a barometer, for one. If your relative isn’t willing to engage, it’s a strong sign that lending isn’t wise. But by getting everything out, fewer things will come as a shock. “The more you talk about the transaction, it will become easier to talk about it,” Calder says.
Here’s one more thing to accept: Once you give the money, it’s gone, and you need to let it go, Calder says. You can’t constantly check up on or micro-manage the person. At family gatherings or even on text threads, no one wants to feel judged or that every comment is interpreted through the outstanding loan.
Here’s a way to reframe perspective. Instead of focusing on the money, Melkumian says, think of this: Your brother or sister is struggling. You want to see him or her rebound and you want your relationship to remain strong. Act like you would with watching your stocks or even your hair grow. Progress isn’t seen by the hour, day, or week. You’re making an investment into someone you care about. That takes time. “Trust the process,” he says.
Written by Steve Calechman
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Debt is a four-letter word in many households. Some people don’t want to talk about it or face the debt they owe. Whether it’s because they’re ashamed of their debt or they don’t know how they’re going to pay it back, ignoring debt can become a significant problem.
If you’ve been ignoring your debt, you aren’t alone. But figuring out how much you owe can help you take control of your situation.
According to a recent study from Northwestern Mutual, more than one in three Americans don’t know how much of their monthly income goes toward paying off debt. To make matters worse, roughly one in five Americans don’t know how much debt they carry.
When we’re faced with something we’re uncomfortable with, the first reaction to stress or fear is avoidance, according to Dr. Alex Melkumian, founder of the Financial Psychology Center in Los Angeles, California.
The Northwestern Mutual study found that 45% of Americans with debt feel anxious, 35% feel guilty, and 20% feel physically ill about their debt at least once a month.
Anxiety can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you’re anxious about your debt, you won’t feel motivated to tackle it. But the more you ignore it, the more anxious you may feel. This creates a negative feedback loop that can be hard to stop.
Anxiety can create physical symptoms such as muscle tension, shortness of breath, insomnia, and fatigue, Dr. Melkumian said. People with these symptoms may not be able to confront their debt as easily as others.
Others may avoid their debt because the total amount owed is significant, and it will take a long time to pay it off. About 12% of people had no clue how long they’d be in debt, while 15% of people believed they’d be in debt for the rest of their lives.
“People think of their debt as scary by the time it accrues to a certain number,” Dr. Melkumian said.
This number varies by person, but the longer you feel you’ll be in debt ,the more hopeless you may feel about your situation.
Some people don’t check how much they owe because it’s not a pressing issue. They may feel like they have a good handle on their financial situation. They make their payments without any issues, but still can’t calculate how much of their income goes toward debt.
“I am one of those Americans who didn’t know how much debt they had,” said Steffa Mantilla, owner of the personal finance blog Money Tamer. “We would purchase everything based on the payments. If the car dealership or furniture store ran our credit and said we could afford it, we’d go forward. Over time, it adds up and you don’t realize that you have thousands of dollars leaving every month via monthly payments.”
To calculate the percentage that your monthly debt payments take up compared to your income, you have to know your combined debt and income numbers. These numbers aren’t readily available for people who aren’t tracking their payments regularly. They have to spend time researching and compiling this information to get the answer.
While ignorance may feel like bliss, being oblivious about your debt won’t help improve your finances. Even if your monthly payments are under control, being aware of how much you owe and how much of your income goes toward paying off debt is important. It may motivate you to get out of debt faster.
“Knowing how much debt you have gives you clarity and the power of choice,” Dr. Melkumian said.
Being aware of your debt situation helps you gauge how much money is left to tackle your other financial priorities. This can include saving for retirement, paying for your child’s college education, or traveling abroad. The less you owe, the more you have available for other goals.
If you plan to apply for a mortgage, knowing your debt-to-income ratio is vital. Lenders require your debt-to-income ratio to be below a certain amount to qualify for various loan programs.
While the ideal goal is maintaining a debt-to-income ratio of less than 36%, a few mortgage programs allow ratios as high as 50%. If you know your debt-to-income ratio, you can figure out how large of a mortgage you may be able to get approved for based on your current income and debt levels.
You can calculate your total debt in two main ways. First, add up the balance you owe on each of your loans and lines of credit, including credit cards, student loans, car loans, mortgages, personal loans, and and any other outstanding debts.
The other way to calculate your total debt is to add up the monthly payments you make each month. This can help you answer the question of how much of your monthly income goes toward paying off debt. For most types of debt, use the minimum amount due each month.
When using the monthly payment method, calculating your mortgage payment is an exception. You can’t always add your full monthly mortgage payment. Most people have an escrow payment (used to pay homeowners insurance and property taxes) as part of their monthly payment.
To get the debt portion of your mortgage payment, consult your mortgage statement. Then, add the principal, interest, and private mortgage insurance (PMI), if applicable.
Once you know the total debt payments, divide it by your monthly income. This method gives you insight into how much of your income goes toward making your debt payments each month. Once you have this information, you can calculate your debt-to-income ratio.
Finding how much you owe can be problematic if you haven’t been tracking it in the past. First, decide what kind of system you want to use to track your debt.
“If you’re a paper and pencil person, then do that,” Dr. Melkumian said. “If you’re very high tech, then you can do your own spreadsheet.”
You can find your debt in a couple of ways. The first is to watch for all debt-related bills you get over the next month. Every time you get a bill emailed or sent to you, put it in a folder. At the end of the month, add up all of the debt.
Your credit reports can help you find your debt faster. You can visit AnnualCreditReport.com to get a copy of your credit report from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. The information may not be 100% up to date because it may not reflect your most recent payments, but it should be fairly accurate.
If your creditors don’t report a debt to one of the bureaus, then it won’t show on your credit report. That’s why you should double check this against the bills you receive and the payments you make.
Calculating your debt-to-income ratio is easy once you pull together the underlying numbers. There are two ratios you can calculate. The ratios use the same numbers for debt, which is your total monthly debt payments. However, they use different numbers for income.
The first debt-to-income ratio uses your gross income. Your gross income is all income you receive before taxes or other payroll deductions. For salaried individuals, this is your salary. For hourly individuals, it’s your hourly rate multiplied by the number of hours you work.
To calculate your debt-to-income ratio based on your gross income, divide your monthly debt payments by your gross income. You can use this debt-to-income calculator to do the math for you. This is the debt-to-income ratio most mortgage lenders use when calculating how much mortgage you can get approved for.
This is the amount of money that’s actually deposited in your bank account on payday. However, many people have their healthcare premiums or 401(k) contributions taken out of their income. If that’s true in your case, you’ll add those back in for the sake of this ratio.
To calculate your debt-to-income ratio based on your net income, divide your monthly debt payments by your net income. This ratio is more useful for figuring out how much of your available income goes toward debt payments each month.
Figuring out exactly how much you owe can be an eye-opening experience. For some, it’s less than they thought. For others, it’s much more.
Regardless of what you find out, knowing your numbers gives you the power to change your situation for the better. Once you know where you stand, you can start getting out of debt. This may include creating a budget, starting a side hustle, or becoming more mindful of how you spend money.
Understanding your debt can motivate you to stick to a budget or cut back on spending. This may be the best wake-up call you can get. You can look to others for inspiration to see it’s possible to get out of consumer debt for good.
(Fabric) – After my husband bought an additional TV for our bedroom, he, our son and I were on three devices at the same time. The only real talking we did was to tell each other to turn down the volume.
Before coronavirus forced us to spend every minute together, I’d find myself complaining about picking up my son from preschool, biking the few miles in the intense Florida heat.
The fact that my husband and I both work from home, plus my son’s getting used to his at-home routine means we have plenty of “opportunities” to spend time together. Of course, relishing these moments can feel hard, especially with work deadlines and your children acting up because their routine is disrupted.
That’s why I’ve asked relationship, family and money experts to help you find ways to savor even the mundane time that you spend with your family—whether or not you’re in the middle of a pandemic.
Here are some seemingly ordinary activities you can do with your family that’ll help you grow closer together (instead of tearing each other apart).
It can be helpful to create a new routine, especially if your old ones have been disrupted. Instead of dictating the routine to your kids, why not involve your children in the planning?
Jonathan Dixon, a licensed marriage and family therapist, suggests families start slow. Schedule a time when everyone is free and won’t be interrupted. Take the time to listen to what activities each family member enjoys and how they can be implemented into the week ahead.
“Try a routine similar to you and your children’s typical daily schedule,” he says. “This can help you get into your child’s world a bit; ask them to show you what their day would’ve looked like at school. Ask what they love to do for recess and try incorporating those activities.”
It could also be helpful to discuss a morning routine where you’re spending time together before going off to your separate activities. For example, Fabric’s editorial director Allison Kade has found it hard to be quarantined with her husband and toddler while trying to work a full-time job, but she’s been trying to see the upside: “The three of us now have breakfast together pretty much every day, which we didn’t do before.”
See if you can build positivity into these new daily routines. Kade says, “To try to focus on—and bond over—something positive, we’ve been taking turns saying something we’re grateful for over breakfast.” More often than not, her 2-year-old announces that she’s grateful for the bib she’s wearing. “One time she said she was grateful for her Papa, though!”
While you’re getting used to a new routine, Dixon suggests checking in once a week and adjusting if necessary. Dr. Alex Melkumian, a relationship therapist and founder of the Financial Psychology Center, agrees. “Have your family think of this as a team effort so it’ll encourage buy-in from them.”
Especially in a “socially distanced” world where there isn’t much to do other than going for a walk, this sounds about as mundane as it gets, right?
For Leisa Peterson, author of soon-to-be published book The Mindful Millionaire, this seemingly simple activity helps her to engage in really good conversations and learn new things about her family.
“I have a teenager, which means conversation, when it happens, is priceless. It allows us to ask each other questions about how what’s happening in the world could affect our lives and our future,” she says. “My son is incredibly insightful and I always learn new things when he is talking.”
Walking or hiking in nature also helps her family get some much-needed exercise. “I think that spending time with my family is my greatest joy in life—there is nothing like being able to connect deeply with my family through communication and being in nature together,” Peterson says.
For younger kids, too, getting outside can make a big behavioral difference. “My toddler might be throwing a tantrum at home, but once we get her outside, she tends to absorb what’s around her and become a different person,” says Kade.
After discovering that my family watches three different shows on three different screens, I made it a point to watch a movie together. We each take turns picking one we like and we all talk about it.
Couples counselor Adam H. Kol, J.D. says that spending a few dollars to rent a movie (which you can do through plenty of online services like Amazon) can actually be a great use of funds because it can facilitate meaningful discussion.
He suggests movies that help you relive your childhood memories, which will encourage you to share some of these stories with your children. Or, really, any movie where you kids will be able to recall details and be able to articulate their opinion afterwards.
“A mundane activity such as this means you’re carving out intentional time where you minimize the use of cell phones or other distractions,” he says. “It means setting aside jobs or other commitments to simply be together.”
OK, let’s be real: When life is busy, it’s not always possible to carve out special time. But attempting to relish the moment with your kids doesn’t have to mean special field trips, especially if you can make your chores feel more meaningful.
It can feel anxiety inducing to have your kids, especially little ones, do chores. How long does it really take to put building blocks away?
But Joel Larsgaard, host of the How To Money podcast and father of two young kids himself, takes chores as an opportunity. That means embracing the craziness, and accepting that the house will get messy and it’ll take longer to complete certain tasks.
“It’s a blast to have our kids cook with us, but only if we go into it knowing that we’ll have a far bigger mess on our hands when all is said and done,” he says. “The goal isn’t efficiency. It’s to enjoy time together, and to help them learn some important skills.”
Laarsgard also suggests resisting the temptation to use your phone during these times. Especially if you find yourself stuck in the house together, try to forget about the additional time it’ll take to cook or put away laundry or do the dishes—and attempt to make these things feel less like chores in the first place.
Constantly trying to come up with activities to keep our kids engaged is all well and good, but it can be exhausting. Especially if you’ve internalized the pressure to make every activity educational, and if you have a life of your own and things you need to get done.
Emily Guy Birken, author of End Financial Stress Now, suggests finding ways to incorporate your hobbies into the activities you do with your kids, so you can get something out of the experience, too.
“My husband is an automotive engineer, and he will have the kids help him with any car repairs he is doing,” she says. “He’s also got an old lawnmower engine that he kept specifically so he and the kids could take it apart.”
Birken, meanwhile, asks her kids to help her with her current cross stitch project. She has also passed on her love of reading by sharing her favorite comic books from when she was a child. “Sharing the things you love is a wonderful way to enjoy time together,” she says, and it enables you to take some time and energy for yourself, too.
Think about whether any given purchase, whether it’s a board game or paying extra for a convenience that saves you time, is worthwhile if it means more quality time with those you love.
Dr. Melkumian suggests that if your kids are old enough to talk about budgeting, this could be a great opportunity to teach them about financial concepts like weighing the costs and benefits of a purchase.
The key, really, is that you don’t need to do anything grandiose to show someone you care, or to make the most of your family life. It’s what you do with your time that will make it special, even (or especially) those seemingly mundane minutes.