Could financial therapy help fix your bad money habits?
5 min | 11 September 2023
The budgeting tips we use might not actually be helpful if our money issues are connected to our emotions. I spoke to a financial therapist and had a trial session to see if therapy could be a helpful way to fix some of my money issues.
Social media feels like it's overrun with people sharing money hacks to help you save and spend wisely. Though following these suggestions can be helpful, sometimes the issues we have with money run much deeper. The money tricks we pick up might be the equivalent of placing a sticking plaster over an open wound. So, what are your options if you want to be brave and get to the root of your money worries? One way is through financial therapy, which focuses on the emotional and psychological side of money.
I spoke to UK-based psychotherapist Vicky Reynal (Opens in new window) about how she uses talk therapy to help people deal with money issues. 'An unhealthy relationship with money is often an expression of parts of ourselves that other life events have influenced', Reynal explains. Many of her clients know what they need to do with their money but have emotional problems that get in the way. 'Through therapy, people can get in touch with the emotional underpinnings of their money conflicts and identify the anxieties, hopes, fears and fantasies that get linked to money but potentially belong elsewhere', she writes.
Money and emotion
Money is often discussed as an issue separate from emotion; it requires restraint, budgeting and willpower. However, Reynal explains this can be a limiting way to think about our relationship with money. 'People use money to express their feelings about their own unworthiness, inadequacy or shame. They also use it to express feelings about others, from love to envy and even anger', she tells me.
In her practice, Reynal finds that many of the money problems people come to her about are just the tip of the iceberg; they're connected to other emotions. 'No matter how many budgeting tools we are handed, we will struggle to implement sound spending behaviour because we haven’t addressed the roots of the problem.' So, how do emotional problems show up in our relationship with money?
According to Reynal, it could be that:
- Difficulty with overspending may point to a desire to fit in
- Difficulty around repeated bad investments may stem from a fear of independence
- A gambling addiction could stem from childhood traumas
My financial therapy session
To understand financial therapy, I contacted Lindsay Bryan-Podvin, financial therapist, author of The Financial Anxiety Solution and founder of Mind Money Balance, a financial coaching practice. She walked me through a taster of what financial therapy is like. Our session started with Bryan-Podvin asking me where I’d like to see myself and my relationship with money in six months. Throughout our conversation, we discussed the money habits I’d like to change and how I might cultivate good habits.
The most interesting part of our discussion was around impulsive spending. We learned that, because shopping was a bonding activity in my family, I associate it with community and socialising. 'For many people, when they're lonely, bored or having a rough day, they might actually be looking for oxytocin, which we get through social connection. In this case, shopping is used to fill that void.'
Bryan-Podvin spoke about the importance of rewriting stories we carry from childhood to adulthood. 'An example of how you might rewrite that story is by telling yourself, 'Though my mum and I bond mostly over shopping, I'm now learning to show myself love in other ways.' This might include taking care of your body, mind, and spirit by going to fitness classes, cooking nourishing food, and keeping your flat clean.'
We're socialised to associate happy occasions and achievements with gifts. In my financial therapy session, we discussed how I see shopping as a way to reward myself for completing tasks. To combat this, Bryan-Podvin suggests making an ‘endorphin list’ of activities which can give you the same satisfaction as shopping, without actually shopping. For Bryan-Podvin, it's better to think about replacing behaviours than to focus on stopping them, as this can be difficult.
Therapy might be a big commitment for some, so I asked Vicky Reynal about the small things we can do to spot and change our unhelpful money habits. ‘My philosophy is that the best way to shift your unhelpful habits with money is to become curious about what's behind them: What feelings drive them? Is loneliness driving your overspending? If so, how else might you address your loneliness?’ She goes on to say, ‘In other words, exploring and facing why we do what we do opens the door to change.’
- How to talk about money with your partner
- How to practise mindful spending
- How much could you save by kicking your bad habits?
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