Interview with a Financial Therapist Lindsay Bryan-Podvin
Financial literacy goes beyond the nuts and bolts of finances. Learn more about how your emotions can impact your money.
The first few weeks of spring have passed, and the changing of the seasons often prompts people to think about their finances. In part, because of the looming tax filing deadline. But also, because April is National Financial Literacy Month, and many organizations make a point of creating and sharing finance literacy content.
From clearing up FICO® Score myths to paying off debt, myFICO covers various money topics all year round. But for Financial Literacy Month, we are going beyond the numbers-driven financial topics and reaching out to people like Lindsay Bryan-Podvin to learn more about how mental health and emotion can impact your credit.
Bryan-Podvin is a Certified Financial Therapist and financial coach, the author of The Financial Anxiety Solution and founder of Mind Money Balance. She helps clients understand the important connection between financial literacy and psychology, and she answered several questions for us about that intersection.
What could cause someone to struggle with their credit regardless of their income?
There's a myth that once someone earns more money, they won't worry about money. As a financial therapist, I can say that that statement has barely a grain of truth.
Yes, having more money generally will help a person's financial stress. Still, it's not true that having or earning more money will automatically make a person calmly and competently engage with their finances.
There are many reasons why a person with financial means might struggle to engage with their money: financial trauma, imposter syndrome, mental illness, being overwhelmed, internalized beliefs that having money makes them bad, or worry that they'll “mess it up.” I could go on!
Can you share a specific example?
If a person who earns good money suffers from anxiety, their anxiety might cause them to worry a lot about money. Their financial anxiety manifests as thoughts that they won't know how to increase their credit score.
Their worries might sound like, “there's no way I'll be able to raise my credit score,” or “I've tried learning about credit scores in the past, but it was way too overwhelming!” Those anxieties might lead them to engage in procrastination or avoidance.
While avoidance is a great short-term coping skill, it's not a good long-term solution. E.g., not looking at one's credit report is good for the person's short-term emotions because it makes them anxious. However, long term, they might miss opportunities to amend an error or take proactive steps to improve their FICO® Scores.
What's one way this person might start to overcome their financial anxiety?
For the anxious person, sometimes it's best to jump into what therapists call “behavioral activation.” Behavioral activation is where you act on something, even if it feels a little uncomfortable, to help shift some anxious thoughts.
For example, for the person experiencing anxiety around checking their FICO® Score, the first “behavioral activation” step might be to check their FICO Score. Once they check their FICO Score, even if it is lower than where they want it to be, they can start taking action based on data instead of their anxious thoughts.
From there, their anxious thoughts might dial down to something like, “even though my score isn't where I want it to be, I can better understand what's impacting my score.” This can help to create a positive feedback loop: they take small steps to understand what impacts their score and feeling empowered can help reduce anxiety.
Do you have any advice for people who want to change how they think about or manage money, but don't know where to start?
If you want to change but aren't sure where to start, ask yourself a few questions:
- “Which habit would be easiest for me to change?”
- “Which habit would reap the quickest rewards?”
- “Which habit would feel best if I started implementing it?”
Answering those questions can help you decide which task they can take toward creating financial habit change.
Shifting to financial literacy in general: there's often a focus on teaching people about how different accounts or systems work, but do you think anything is missing from that approach?
Yes! Financial literacy is great, but it's not enough to elicit behavior change.
Think: most of us know we shouldn't read on our phones in bed because it negatively affects our sleep, but we do it anyway! Financial literacy is a lot like that: it's knowledge, but until we understand why that financial literacy impacts us, it's just info.
Along with financial literacy, we should be teaching why we feel the way we do about money, ensuring folks understand what goals they should focus on first based on their lifestyle and values, and normalizing mistakes.
Finally, what would you like to see financial media cover more in-depth?
The intersection between money and emotions is starting to get more coverage, but I still see most of the coverage skew toward the negative. As in, “if you have bad thoughts about money, you'll be bad with money.”
The flip side of that is true and should be highlighted! As in, “It's normal to have some uncomfortable feelings about money, and working on having a healthier relationship with money can improve not just your financial life but your emotional life, too.”
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