IMPROVE YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH MONEY
In this episode of Money Smarts, a podcast of Summit Credit Union, we talk with a certified credit union financial counselor about how to aim to thrive, instead of just survive. Learn how to start feeling empowered, excited and confident about your financial wellness.
HOST (FINANCIAL EDUCATION SPECIALIST): Welcome to Money Smarts, a podcast of Summit Credit Union, where we connect people and inspire action to create member and community wealth. As a not-for-profit financial cooperative, Summit Credit Union exists to improve our members’ lives and help them reach their dreams. Our Money Smarts podcast is just one way we engage members of the community in conversations about money that inspire you to spend smart, save more, and take action to build a richer life.
Welcome to Money Smarts. I’m Amy Crowe, financial education specialist here at Summit Credit Union and your host for our time together today. We are delighted to have Rachel Slesarik, senior lending advisor and a certified credit union financial counselor here at Summit for our discussion today.
Rachel, I wanted to share a little bit with our listeners today about your title. I know that you have worked here at Summit Credit Union empowering women for over ten years. This is because I know and have worked with you through our signature financial education program project money. You have been a coach twice totally empowering a couple named Emily and Rob. You helped them save over $14,000 and pay down $5,000 in their debt. Then a few years later, you helped . . . again with Betsy and Noah and their three kids, and you helped them save $7,000 and pay off $16,000 worth of debt.
Rachel, you’ve worked with hundreds upon hundreds of members, and I’m really interested to know a little bit more about the certification, because I feel like it offers you an opportunity to really dig into more than just opening up a savings account.
FINANCIAL COACH: Yes, thank you for having me here today, Amy. I was able to get certified about five years ago after taking classes, a study course, having two proctored exams. And my title is certified credit union financial counselor. And every year I get recertified and learn new things. And it’s really helped me to understand what motivates people to make financial improvement in their life. And I spent a lot of time studying about financial wellness and the emotions that people feel with their finances.
FINANCIAL EDUCATION SPECIALIST: So when you’re thinking about wellness, you’re thinking about financial wellness, what are the two definitions, because you have wellness, which people think of exercise, and you have financial wellness, but what’s the definition of financial wellness?
FINANCIAL COACH: When you think of wellness, think of, instead of just surviving, thriving. So for financial wellness, yes, you need to meet your current obligations, but you want to also be able to plan for the future. And then you want to be able to enjoy life. Instead of money dominating your thinking and running your life, you’re using money as a tool to help you enjoy life. What I learned in my training and what I’ve experienced in working with members is that how someone feels about money, their relationship with money, is going to affect their ability to achieve their financial goals.
FINANCIAL EDUCATION SPECIALIST: So they can’t really make behavior change until they deal with some of the emotions that they’re feeling.
FINANCIAL COACH: Exactly.
FINANCIAL EDUCATION SPECIALIST: Before this session, I was doing some research just looking for some statistics, and I saw a statistic that, this is actually from Capitol One, their Credit-Wise Survey. It said that 73% of Americans rate their finances as the number-one stress in their life. And I know it affects relationships between couples and money and families and money and all of that type of thing. So we’re thinking about this relationship perspective. I almost feel like there’s a healthy way to have a relationship with money and an unhealthy way to have a relationship with money.
FINANCIAL COACH: Yes. And think about some of the unhealthy behaviors, things like spending more than you earn or receive each month, which then means you will have no savings. You will have no emergency plan, which causes stress and anxiety, and then leads to using credit to pay for monthly expenses. Those behaviors create tremendous amount of stress, tremendous amount of anxiety, and they create a cycle where people feel stuck. They feel like they just can’t get out of that cycle.
FINANCIAL EDUCATION SPECIALIST: So what emotions have you seen in people who come into your office? You know, they’re looking for a loan, they’re completely stressed out, they can’t make their minimum payments, or they’re juggling their minimum payments, and they’re just done. They just don’t know what to do. What are you seeing in those folks? And then what advice are you giving them?
FINANCIAL COACH: Some of the emotions that people have shared with me that they’re feeling, they feel guilty about their money. They feel like they should be making better choices, but they don’t know how to make those better choices. So they are ashamed.
FINANCIAL EDUCATION SPECIALIST: Oh, that’s so interesting. They feel like they should. So they’re comparing themselves to other people, not really looking at their own current financial situation and just looking at that. It’s kind of the keeping-up-with-the-Joneses idea, right.
FINANCIAL COACH: Mm-hmm. And people hear all the time phrases like save more, spend less. So you know, there’s a general idea of what financial wellness should look like, but they don’t know how to actually apply that in their lives. So people are angry, they’re sad, they’re frustrated. They feel totally overwhelmed by the choices they have to make with their money.
FINANCIAL EDUCATION SPECIALIST: So what emotions are we supposed to be feeling to have a healthy relationship? What does that look like for people?
FINANCIAL COACH: People who make that shift and start to have financial wellness in their life have used words like empowered, excited. One person recently told me this really works, and I want to save more.
FINANCIAL EDUCATION SPECIALIST: She’s a believer.
FINANCIAL COACH: Mm-hmm. People have said they now feel in control and confident. One person recently told me I feel more accomplished.
FINANCIAL EDUCATION SPECIALIST: Oh, isn’t that interesting? We can feel accomplished in so many other ways of our lives, our jobs, losing weight, all of those types of things. But do we allow ourselves the grace to feel accomplished and celebrate money wins? And when we do that, can we have a more healthy relationship with our money?
FINANCIAL COACH: And one of the things that they said in our course is hope gives energy.
FINANCIAL EDUCATION SPECIALIST: Oh, tell me more about that.
FINANCIAL COACH: Well, once people start to reach some of their financial goals, then they have hope that this is possible. They can have that healthy relationship with money. Then that gives them the energy to set and accomplish more financial goals. It’s, instead of a negative spiral, it starts to create this positive upward spiral.
FINANCIAL EDUCATION SPECIALIST: But wouldn’t it be so cool if we could measure our financial worth and our financial value, not by our spiking debt rates but by our spiking savings account balances? I mean, that would be so exciting where we can just cheer with the fact that, hey, I’ve $500 in my account that I never had before. That’s an exciting feeling for somebody who’s never been able to save before.
So what I want to do in this conversation is give people some tangible tips and tools. So when you were project money coach and you helped Emily and Rob, what did you tell them about savings and how they could have a better relationship when it comes to savings?
FINANCIAL COACH: Great question. Everyone knows that they should be saving. What happens when I meet with people when they come in, they say I want to save, I want to pay down my debt, and I want to save more. So everyone who wants financial wellness wants to save more and pay down debt. But those words are not motivating in themselves.
I always ask people to write down their top three financial goals, and everyone puts down save more money, but just having that, that’s not really a goal. Think of it as saving more money as throwing darts at a wall. What are you trying to hit? You need a target. You need a reason for saving the money. So your financial goal has to have an emotional component attached to it. I want to save X amount of money by this time, because then I will feel more secure.
FINANCIAL EDUCATION SPECIALIST: So what you’ve really done there is you’re not only creating a financial goal, you’re setting a smart goal. If I’m getting ahead of myself, please let me know, but it’s the idea of, you know, how long is it going to take you to do this? How much money do you actually need? Is it realistic? Is it attainable? Is it measurable?
But then you’re also saying, you’re adding one. How is it going to make me feel when I get this accomplished, whether it’s an increase in savings or a decrease of debt or even budgeting? How is this going to make me feel? Will it be less fights with my spouse, less fights with my kids, less fights with myself?
Like you said, shame, guilt, vulnerability, all of these things are internal, what I’m interpreting you saying is internal conflicts with ourself about going back, again, what you said is what I should be doing with my money, because there’s so much advice out there, which is what I love about Summit, because we have financial coaches, that when we have a money question, people can come and talk to us. We can talk them through their entire situation, give them tips, tools, and advice, offer them options and solutions, but ultimately, don’t you think it’s up to them to take those ideas and implement it themselves?
FINANCIAL COACH: Of course, because every person is going to have a different emotion that’s going to be connected with their goal. So once they identify why they need to have the savings, why they need to pay off the debt, that’s what’s going to motivate them. So it’s very personalized. It’s very, you know, each person has a different reason for what they want to accomplish, even though they might, in the long run, they’re all accomplishing the same thing. Everyone wants to have an emergency fund. Everyone wants to have some fun money saved up. But the reasons behind it are different for each person.
FINANCIAL EDUCATION SPECIALIST: Well, I think saving for an emergency is boring.
FINANCIAL COACH: Good point, unless it’s going to make you feel more secure, more empowered, and then you also have to identify what’s your emergency? Everybody thinks of an emergency as a different thing. It could be a flat tire. It could be loss of a job. So every person gets to decide for themselves what their emergency is. What is their emotional trigger? Why do they need that money saved?
FINANCIAL EDUCATION SPECIALIST: It’s almost like you have to have multiple savings goals. You can’t just have one savings goal, because it’s not covering all of the emotions that you just talked about. So you talked about entertainment, you know, the YOLO and the FOMO. You don’t want to miss out. You have a fear of missing out, so I have to go out with my friends. I have to spend this money. I can’t tell them, no, I don’t want to spend this money, because they’ll think I don’t want to spend time with them, or they won’t invite me again. So I go and spend $50 at the local restaurant when I know I shouldn’t. And then I beat myself up.
So what about people with lower incomes, when they really don’t have a lot to save? Can they still feel the emotional high that people, who maybe have higher incomes and more disposable income, can?
FINANCIAL COACH: I experienced that with working with a member several years back. She had a very tight budget. And we worked really hard to try to find a way for her to create an emergency savings, because she felt very afraid. She was a single mom, and she was very fearful that she had no backup plan. And so at first, in her budget, all we could find was $5 a paycheck for her to save. So at first, she said it’s not worth it. Why save that small amount? And I said when you save, when you pay yourself first, you start to empower yourself. You start to become important. Your goal, your emotional need starts to become something of value. And so I said you need to do that. You need to save that $5.
After a while, she had an emergency come up. I think it was a dental bill. Something came up. And she had enough in that savings to pay cash to cover that bill. And she sat in my office and she wept, because it was the first time, in as long as she could remember, that she had the power to pay for something without using credit.
FINANCIAL EDUCATION SPECIALIST: I kind of want to cry right now.
FINANCIAL COACH: Yeah.
FINANCIAL EDUCATION SPECIALIST: That’s like so beautiful, and it all started with $5.
FINANCIAL COACH: Right, and that, once she saw the value, then that gave her the motivation to find a little bit more, to increase that, so is huge to give yourself the value to pay yourself something in savings.
FINANCIAL EDUCATION SPECIALIST: I loved what you said, Rachel, when you said you become important, because, as women, we put everybody else first. And although we spend on ourselves, I think we have certain expectations that we look a certain way, we do a certain thing, we take care of people, we provide. Sometimes we can’t always do that. In fact, when you think about the gender pay gap, we’re at some $.80 on the dollar. Black women are at like $.60 on the dollar. Latinas are at like $.50-some on the dollar.
So we’re working with less income, which compiles all of the emotions that you’re talking to. It’s the expectation, it’s the shame, it’s the guilt, the I can’t provide because I have less than other people. So I loved the fact that you said, when you don’t have that backup plan, it leads to stress and anxiety. But you have to put yourself first in terms of that you become important.
I think people hear the term, pay yourself first, and they don’t actually know how to do it. They hear it, but what are two or three tangible basic steps? What do you actually have to do to pay yourself first?
FINANCIAL COACH: Well, you just mentioned a few minutes ago, spend on yourself, and I like to help people think of savings as spending.
FINANCIAL EDUCATION SPECIALIST: Ooh, that’s interesting. Tell me more.
FINANCIAL COACH: Yeah. So at Summit Credit Union we like to use savings buckets, multiple savings accounts. You can give them names. Let’s just use an example. Let’s say emergency savings, a giving savings, so giving might be for some kind of holiday, some kind of, presents that you want to give your loved ones, and let’s say a little vacation savings. Let’s just use those three as an example. If you set up recurring transfers of an amount based on your spending plan that you’ve already gone over with your coach, think of that as spending on yourself.
FINANCIAL EDUCATION SPECIALIST: In the future.
FINANCIAL COACH: Exactly. It’s future spending on yourself.
FINANCIAL EDUCATION SPECIALIST: And you just said that when you were talking about financial wellness too. You have to be confident, and you have to feel like you are in control of your money to be able to make those confident decisions in the future. So when you’re saving in these buckets, as you were talking about, for specific things in the future, no matter how far in the future, it could be three days from now, that’s going to empower you. That’s going to change your relationship with money. So when you talk about automatic savings, is it super easy for someone to do that? Like how, do they just call the credit union, or can they do it themselves?
FINANCIAL COACH: You can definitely do it yourself. It’s incredibly easy. As a matter of fact, I usually try to encourage my members that I work with to set them up themselves, because when you have an automatic transfer set up, you can change those amounts that you transfer. You can increase those amounts as you start to create more financial wellness in your life. So it’s just online, just a few clicks.
FINANCIAL EDUCATION SPECIALIST: So I love what you were talking about when it comes to savings, everything from how savings can empower you, especially when you’re stuck. It can provide peace of mind. You can dramatically change your relationship with money from an unhealthy one to a healthy one, specifically with savings.
So now let’s talk about how you can change an unhealthy relationship with the debt that you have into a healthy relationship with the debt that you have. And I’m sure everyone’s thinking I don’t want to have a healthy relationship with my debt. I want it gone. Well, most of us are going to have mortgage payments. These are 30-year term loans. We’re going to have car payments. Most of us will have had student loan payments or are currently with student loan payments.
But it’s that retail credit card debt, because we haven’t had that savings account to be able to pull from our assets to help us in these situations, when we want something in the future, and when an emergency comes up, that I think that’s the debt that really stresses us out is that credit card debt or the personal loan debt that we have. So what are your tips, Rachel, to help people kind of really hone in and change that relationship that they have with their debt?
FINANCIAL COACH: So there are a few steps that I can share that are important for people to start to get their debt paid off. First of all, know what your debts are. What are your minimum payments? What are your interest rates? How much do you actually owe? Then let’s look at ways where we can refinance or consolidate that debt. And whatever debt is left, the next step would be to create a snowball payoff plan. The snowball does work. It is an effective way to reduce debts.
FINANCIAL EDUCATION SPECIALIST: So if somebody is trying to do this on their own, and they just get frustrated, what’s the benefit of coming in to talk to one of our financial coaches? Because I’m sure people have tried to pay off their credit card debt by themselves at home, and they start saying to themselves, I am never going to pay this off. I have tried. It just doesn’t work. How do we get them out of that mindset?
FINANCIAL COACH: When I work with members, I like to be able to share with them experiences of other members who have been in their situation and have been successful. It’s very motivating to hear that someone else has accomplished this. It can be done. I think of one member I worked with that, when she came to me, she had quite a bit of credit card debt, and that credit card debt was related to her divorce. So she felt like every time she paid that bill, she was picking open that wound. It was very emotional for her to pay those credit card bills.
So I said, that’s your first goal. Let’s consolidate these. Let’s reduce the amount of payments you’re making each month. And let’s create a snowball to help you improve your credit and get your debts paid off more quickly.
FINANCIAL EDUCATION SPECIALIST: So it sounds like if somebody has got multiple things going on, they should be looking at their interest rates first. And then they should be looking to see what high interest rates they have, and if they can possibly refinance those or consolidate them into a lower interest rate.
FINANCIAL COACH: Yes. So I would recommend that you go to summitcreditunion.com, and under the heading, Money Smarts, go to the worksheets. My favorite tools that I like to work with are the budget worksheet, the spending worksheet, which tracks your daily expenses, and those are really two of the most powerful tools.
First, you have to know what you have. So when working with this member, a big part of what we had to find out was how much was she earning, because, surprisingly, people sometimes don’t know how much money they’re bringing in. And then how much was she actually spending? And what was she doing with the difference? So sometimes there’s a reality gap between what people think they are spending and what they are actually spending.
One of my favorite examples of that is one time I was working with a professional couple. They both had very, you know, intense jobs, and so they ate out a lot, nearly every night for dinner. And they had this credit card debt that kept increasing. And they were like, you know, we don’t understand why we have this credit debt when we make good money, and we can’t seem to be getting out of it. What’s happening?
And I said, well, let’s find out what you’re spending your money on. So I said, what would you estimate you’re spending on food each month? And they estimated about $700 a month. And I said, great, well, let’s track what your month is going to look like. They came back to me a month later after tracking, and guess what they had spent?
FINANCIAL EDUCATION SPECIALIST: $1,200?
FINANCIAL COACH: Yes. You guessed it.
FINANCIAL EDUCATION SPECIALIST: That’s an extra $500 more than they weren’t even paying attention to.
FINANCIAL COACH: Exactly. They had this gap of $500 that they didn’t realize they were spending. Well, why was their credit card debt increasing?
FINANCIAL EDUCATION SPECIALIST: Because they were putting it on their credit card, yeah, for points or something like that.
FINANCIAL COACH: Exactly.
FINANCIAL EDUCATION SPECIALIST: Which works, when you are playing the game correctly, but when you’re not tracking your expenses, you’re not paying off the credit card or the rewards card often enough, you have the escalating debt cycle. I feel like that’s so interesting because they just were blissfully unaware.
FINANCIAL COACH: Yeah, and that’s a dramatic example. That’s my favorite example, because it’s pretty dramatic. But everyone, including myself, when I did these worksheets, everyone has a gap between what they think they’re spending and what they actually are spending.
So when I worked with this member recently and we did those worksheets, and she realized where her gaps were, she was able to make some adjustments, and then that’s what created that savings. And that’s what created, you know, the energy and the hope that, hey, now I can start reaching my goal. I can get my first apartment. And also her realizing what she was earning helped give her the courage to ask her boss for that raise. So you have to know both. You have to know what’s coming in, and you have to know what’s going out.
FINANCIAL EDUCATION SPECIALIST: Well, and as woman, it’s really powerful, because most women really don’t know how to negotiate nor ask for a raise, because we don’t know our value in the marketplace. And that can be a simple phone call to a friend, a family member, doing some research online, making some phone calls. And you can find out what the range is potentially of what you’re making. And it doesn’t hurt to ask when you are in that type of situation.
So I really applaud her for looking for a different stream of income, not just settling on the fact that this is what I have and this is how I’m going to divide it up. I think you really created for her the steamroll, because you gave her the tools to be able to do that. And what I see too, and correct me if I’m wrong, when people are in an unhealthy relationship with their debt, they’re probably in an unhealthy relationship with their savings, which we talked about before.
And so if you start creating a healthy relationship with your debt, debt consolidation, potentially refinances, really identifying, from what it sounds like to me with that couple, what is actually going on their credit cards, because do you find that people fill out the budget worksheet, but they really don’t pay attention to what’s on their credit cards, like what they’re putting on their credit cards every single month?
FINANCIAL COACH: Definitely. Sometimes it’s hard for people to be honest with what they’re actually spending. It’s easy for people to know how much their rent is, their cell phone bill. Those are fixed expenses that are the same each month. The place where people get trapped is those, the expenses that aren’t fixed.
FINANCIAL EDUCATION SPECIALIST: So let’s talk about this as we kind of end our time together today, you’ve been so eye opening when it comes to the emotions behind money. We talked about savings, we talked a little bit about debt, but what are the top three things that you think people should do to improve their relationship with money?
FINANCIAL COACH: First of all, be honest about the situation you’re currently in. Take a look at your financial habits. Where are you spending your money? What are you doing right now that you view, you perceive as unhealthy, that is bothering you? Then identify what, how you want to feel about money. What is that healthy relationship with money look like for you?
FINANCIAL EDUCATION SPECIALIST: I want to be in control of my money, Rachel.
FINANCIAL COACH: There you go, control.
FINANCIAL EDUCATION SPECIALIST: I want to feel happy when I spend money, not sad.
FINANCIAL COACH: Perfect. So you know, oftentimes people have the same kind of feelings, but it’s different for everybody. So control, empowered, happy, whatever, relieved, identify what you want that healthy relationship to look like. And then that means you’re going to start saving. You’re going to start paying down debt. And then the third recommendation I have is create an action plan. Write it down. What steps are you going to take to reach your financial goals?
FINANCIAL EDUCATION SPECIALIST: Well, Rachel, it sounds like we have a ton of resources on the website at summitcreditunion.com. I know that we have several on-demand videos that actually teach people how to use the tools that you’ve just talked about today. Rachel, is there anything else that you would like to share with folks about changing that unhealthy relationship with money to a healthy one?
FINANCIAL COACH: My recommendation is don’t wait. Get started, because even if it’s $5, even if it’s one credit card bill, any changes you make are going to empower you to add to that and to make more changes. So reach out. Reach out to a Summit employee that offers financial coaching, and let us help you get set up with the tools and the goals. Let us brainstorm. You know, a lot of our coaching that I do with members is brainstorming ideas. And we gather all of these ideas until one of them hits. And that’s the one that motivates that person.
FINANCIAL EDUCATION SPECIALIST: Because hope is energy.
FINANCIAL COACH: Mm-hmm, exactly. So don’t wait to start making those financial changes. Start today.
FINANCIAL EDUCATION SPECIALIST: Rachel, thank you so much for your time. I absolutely love talking with you. Every single time I hear these amazing stories of personal financial habit change. Thank you for being a project money coach in the past. Those of you who want to follow along with the financial coaches on our project money page of our website, it’s summitcreditunion.com. Every year we have four participants competing in that program. You can get tips, tools, and advice from then.
Again, Rachel did say that we have a budget worksheet out on our website to help you as well. We have many, many other tips and tools. We have more episodes of the Money Smarts podcast, and we have on-demand webinars that will teach you how to use some of our tools as well. Rachel, thank you so much for your time today. I have truly enjoyed talking with you.
FINANCIAL COACH: Thanks for having me, Amy. I really enjoyed it.
FINANCIAL EDUCATION SPECIALIST: Join us next time for our Money Smarts podcast to get more tips, tools, and advice on how you can own your money. Discover more Money Smarts at summitcreditunion.com. Like us on our Facebook page. Tweet us or pin something from our Pinterest boards. That’s all for today. Thanks for listening, and remember, it’s your money. Own it.