Discussions about money with Ally Bayard, Licensed Professional Counselor Supervisor and James Bayard, Certified Financial Planner
In the mental health world, there are some common themes when it comes to stressors. Money and finances are one of those stressors. Money can affect every dynamic of a person’s mental wellness: from the thoughts they have about themselves to the relationships they value, even the resources they can access for help. Money is a hot-topic, and as I’ve seen it come up frequently in my sessions recently, I thought it might be fun to pick the mind of a financial professional and have some discussions about money and mental health.
Is financial stress seasonal? When do you feel people are the most sensitive to financial stress?
JB: Absolutely! For the most part people tend to stress over taxes, especially individuals who are business owners. Not only do you have a responsibility to your employees, but also to yourself and your family. It can be difficult for anyone to gather all of the required documents… from K1s to W2s to 1099s, it can get overwhelming really quickly.
AB: [sweats, as a new small business owner]
All jokes aside- I totally get that. Taxes and legal documents can feel so overwhelming, and are pretty far out of the average person’s wheelhouse. From the human nature perspective, things can feel scary when we don’t understand them, because that lack of understanding breeds a feeling of helplessness, fear, or even lack of control. How can I be in control of my finances if I don’t understand them?
What do you find is the biggest stressor people face when it comes to his/her finances?
JB: The sheer number of financial priorities. From lower wage earners to those who bring in seven figures a year, it seems like everyone’s dollars are being pulled in a million different directions. It’s almost as if financial commitments grow at the same rate or even faster than income. It can be daunting and feel like someone might not be able to get ahead.
AB: I work specifically with a lot of mothers, and I see this play out in the mental load that mothers carry. The same way a mother’s attention or energy or mental space can be pulled in 10 different directions, when this happens in finances it makes sense that feelings of stress would compound. How can you send your kids to the best school if you aren’t sure you can afford it? How can you get them supportive therapies, or enroll them in extracurriculars, or plan family vacations if money is tight? Finances seem to bleed in to all areas of family and individual functioning.
What do you find is most effective in helping clients sort through their financial commitments and goals?
JB: We try and take it step by step. We start by having clients list goals that are immediate, followed by short-term goals, intermediate goals, and then looking at long-term goals and priorities. In the vast majority of cases people have way more goals than resources. So we help clients navigate figuring out what really matters. Is this a ‘want to have,’ ‘nice to have,’ or ‘need to have?’ Moving through those filters gets us to the point where we can put numbers on paper, and that’s where the CFP comes in to play.
AB: I love getting to work with clients through this step. Finances are a huge stress point for so many couples. Helping couples not only explore financial habits, but also navigate financial conversations can be so powerful. Often times when people have behaviors that seem foreign to us, it can feel threatening, out of control, or even disrespectful. For example, “how could my husband spend money on a new vehicle when the kids need braces?” The wife might interpret that behavior as the husband being selfish, while really, the husband was trying to contribute more to the family landscape by purchasing a vehicle more suited to running carpool or family vacations. Giving couples tools to navigate sensitive conversations is one of my favorite aspects of couples’ work.
Is there a specific situation where you see couples/families/business partners have the most conflict?
JB: It’s amazing how two people with strikingly similar values can have such differing financial behaviors. Spenders vs savers, immediate vs delayed gratification, it often just boils down to a lack of effective communication. We work with couples all of the time who have never actually sat down and jointly defined financial goals. This specific type of planning is what moves couples or families from financial conflict to financial habits that align with the shared financial goals.
AB: It’s so funny you say that, because it’s 100% true in the mental health world as well. So much of what we bring in to a marriage comes from our own family of origin. But when you are in premarital counseling or dating, there aren’t many conversations about your parents’ money habits that come up organically. It’s like a lot of conflict we see in the counseling world- sensitive conversations that don’t come up until there is a problem, and then there are big feelings involved which make the conversations more difficult to navigate.
What is the biggest misconception you see when talking with people about their money and financial picture?
JB: Everyone thinks they are the single biggest disaster when it comes to finances. We speak with people all the time who are embarrassed or overwhelmed by all the moving parts that make up their financial picture. The guilt or shame or fear of judgment- people just kick the can down the road and avoid sorting through it all because it feels safer to just “ostrich” and stick their head in the sand than unpack or sort through it all.
AB: Well said. It’s similar to what I tell people during an initial consultation for counseling, “nothing you say will shock me.” I have heard and held space for people’s deepest and darkest secrets or experiences. I feel like you guys as CFPs have a similar role- you have seen the wildest and most complex financial situations.
JB: Absolutely, but that’s part of the joy in our work. It’s not just about numbers, it’s about connecting with people and helping each person or family feel confident in their financial future.