I Talked To A Financial Psychologist To Get Through My $$$ Hang-Ups

Illustrated by Chloe Serouss.
I’ve written about personal finance for the past decade. I can talk about the pitfalls of credit cards, savvy ways to save money, and how to recognize and fight against the gender wage gap. I’ve worked with some of the best experts in the business, sitting down and having one-on-one conversations about investing, finance, and how to best write about their insights. I often informally counsel my friends on how to manage their money, and I'm proud to be the go-to source for acquaintances to ask about how to find an accountant, how to deal with freelancer taxes, and how to begin researching investment options.
But there’s a flip side I don't talk about with anyone. I would rather talk about how many people I’ve slept with than how much money I spend in a week. When I was working a stressful job a few years ago, even the mail carrier would know when I was having a particularly tough week by the number of packages from JCrew.com and Bloomingdales.com he would drop on my desk. On some mornings, I've sometimes swiped my credit card for $15 worth of iced coffee before I even reach work. And then there’s my invoicing habit: As a freelance writer, it’s up to me to invoice after assignments, and there have definitely been times when I’ve left money on the table simply because I lose track of when, how much, and whom I needed to invoice.
I see this. I recognize this. And I hate these habits. I know a disorganized, all-over-the-place bank account makes me stressed out. I also know I want to buy a home in the near future, and I’m so worried that my haphazard spending and saving will make it impossible to ever get my down payment together.
In short, I need help. But I don’t need a financial education — I know what I’m doing wrong. Which was why I was so intrigued to hear about financial therapy.

Financial therapy is a relatively new field that combines the nuts-and-bolts “this is what you should do with your cash” advice you would receive from a financial advisor with the "this is how you can reframe your emotions” redirecting you’d expect from a particularly hands-on cognitive-behavioral therapist.
“A financial therapist is an expert who specializes in helping people navigate the complex interplay between money, emotions, and relationships — they help people think, feel, and behave with money as a way to improve overall well-being,” explains Megan Ford, a social worker and president of the Financial Therapy Association. “It’s not just about the numbers — money involves our beliefs and our values.”
This was the first time someone explained my money issues in a way that made sense. I knew deep down that money was rooted in my emotional life, but I’d never had someone explain it so clearly. Add that to growing up in a family that didn’t talk about money, plus a freelance career that made my salary swing wildly from year to year, and you have me: confused, freaked out, and aiming to exert the little control I have over cash by doing self-destructive things like holding onto invoices for months on end and spending an unexpected cash windfall on a spur-of-the-moment shopping spree.
And while financial therapy often functions like real therapy, complete with weekly sessions, after speaking to just a few financial therapists, I learned some helpful tricks to help separate my emotions from my money — and hopefully stay on track to reach the financial goals I really care about.

More from Work & Money

R29 Original Series