Money is complicated and emotional. Managing your finances is often the last thing on everyone’s to-do list. It’s easier to make an appointment to get a root canal than it is to call a bank and refinance your student loans. At least with the root canal you don’t have to review a bunch of paperwork you don’t understand. And unless you have a lot of money, it’s really hard to find someone to help you manage it — there’s always a dentist willing to help you with that root canal.
So when a PR person emailed me about Capital One’s new money coaching sessions, I perked up. I might write and edit personal finance articles for a living, but I still struggle to manage my own. I’ve written extensively about retirement accounts, yet I still have four or so completely unmanaged 401(k)s from past jobs just sitting there. I definitely have too much money lingering in savings that I should be investing. And now that I have a little bundle of joy at home, I’m more worried than ever about how to get the most out of each paycheck. After all, the cost of college is crazy, but even preschool isn’t cheap.
So on a random Tuesday in January, Capital One money coach Ayla Newhouse came to Refinery29 to talk to me about my finances. The PR person asked that I book a conference room so Ayla and I could have some privacy. I figured it was because we’d be talking about how much I have in my bank account. Oh no. We needed a quiet space away from prying eyes because things got deep and personal. And we got to the root of some my money anxieties, which — no real surprise — have nothing to do with the number in my bank account. I might have teared up at some point. And while I’m an overworked, overtired new mom, I wasn’t being overly emotional. Ayla really pushed me to open up, in the best way.
Maybe the most surprising part of the whole experience is that most of the money coaching takes place using pen, paper, and specially designed stickers. And there’s very little technical financial jargon involved. In fact, Ayla isn’t there to push Capital One product — and she doesn’t have a financial background. She’s actually a designer and life coach, and she was on the team responsible for creating Capital One’s money coaching sessions. Which explains why it felt more like therapy than an afternoon with a financial advisor.
After asking me a series of questions about how I feel about money, Ayla handed me a worksheet so I could make a travel plan. The sheet of paper was split into two columns, side A (“today”) and side B (“future”). The page is further broken down into three rows, “Be,” “Do,” and “Have.” Ayla asked me to fill out every box in the “Today” column (I used words like “cranky” and “juggling”) and then think about where I want to be in the “Future” column (here I was more hopeful with words like “calmer” and “energetic”). At the end, there’s a box with the statement: “My goal is to:” — my response: “Not to be so hard on myself.”
I know what you’re thinking — what does this have to do with money? But as I mentioned at the beginning, your personal finances are emotional and not having control of them causes a lot of stress. Being financially confident can free you up to deal with the other stressors in your life, and make smart money decisions that can help make your day-to-day better.
After I filled out my travel plan, Ayla handed me a workbook called, “Map Your Money” and a sheet of stickers where I could get even more personal and talk about everything from my salary and savings account balance to my relationships and long-term goals. We chatted about each thing I wrote down — my exercise habits and my husband’s student loan repayments — and then took the stickers off the sheet and placed them in the workbook in a constellation pattern where I was at the center and my relationships, finances, and skills orbited around me.
We paused at that point and realized we’d blown through our 90-minute session. I had so many more questions for Ayla — way more than we could tackle in the few minutes we had to wrap up. But my work was far from done: Ayla handed me a to-do list and made me write down some immediate goals I could accomplish, complete with due dates. She promised to send me an email on Friday to make sure I had taken care of them. If she lived in New York, we could have followed-up with an in-person session. Don’t think I wasn’t a little bummed that she was heading back to her home in D.C. later that day.
I went back to work, but I was exhausted from our meeting. I had opened up about so many big issues in my life, and I felt a little raw. That evening, back home with my husband, I tried to explain the experience and what I had learned. He was confused that I didn’t end up leaving with a plan on how to handle those untended 401(k)s or advice on investing our savings. But I did have a to-do list that included having our cleaning lady come more frequently and finding time to write more. And I felt good about that.
Three months later, I still haven’t dealt with those retirement accounts. And if you look at my byline, you’ll see this is one of the first stories I’ve written in a while. I’ll admit, I’m still not even consistent with when and how often the cleaning lady comes. Life is busy and managing my finances is still last on my list. But that’s not Ayla’s fault — or an issue with the Capital One coaching sessions. In fact, sitting down to write this and looking over those notes from that day just reminds me of how certain problems, financial or otherwise, never go away unless you address them head on. And having someone there to help you look at it with a fresh perspective is invaluable. So isn’t it nice that Capital One offers the coaching sessions for free?
Capital One is currently offering coaching sessions at select Capital One locations in Austin, Boston, Denver, L.A., Richmond, and San Francisco. Click here to find out how you can sign up for a session (you don’t need to be a customer to take advantage of the program).