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10 things a financial therapist wants you to know


A young woman on her couch with headphones on, staring at her computer while holding a credit card in her hand

One day we’re penny pinching. The next, we’re splurging. Between loans, credit cards, utility bills and brunch, it’s a wonder we’re not all in therapy – Financial Therapy. This emerging field combines psychology and financial advice to help us form a healthy relationship with money.

Dr. Maggie Baker is a psychologist and financial therapist. She has been studying the subject since the early 2000s, when the tech-bubble burst and she experienced a financial fall of her own.

“I went through a depression for about a year, because I felt responsible and awful for losing all that money,” she said.

She realized there was something missing in her chosen field. Psychology didn’t address money issues head on. She decided to help change that. Now a member of the Financial Therapists Association, Dr. Baker has written the book Crazy About Money, to help people understand their own relationships with money.

Here are the 10 things she recommends:

1.  Define Your Money Personality

There are several money personalities. The first step is to acknowledge which one you are:

The Spender gets a lot of pleasure out of spending money

The Hoarder is afraid of losing money, they prefer to keep it under the mattress.

The Amasser gains satisfaction from a hefty portfolio statement every month.

The High Roller takes big risks and loves it.

The Avoider doesn’t even want to look at his account.

The Money Monk thinks money is morally wrong and doesn’t want to have any direct contact with it.

2.  Beware of your financial baggage

Money personalities are often influenced by beliefs learned early on in childhood. These can be passed on from your parents or created by your perceived position in society. Some of the most common beliefs are that “Money is bad” or that “If I grew up poor, I will always be poor.” Some others may be positive, like how if your parents paid you a small fee for housework may lead to you being more willing to work hard for money. Think back to your own up-bringing and try to remember your first memory of money.  What is that? Do you recognize how that may have influenced your current relationship to it?

3.  Take a Deep Look at Your Spending

Begin by taking a deep breath and downloading all your bank statements. Where is your money going? Can you trace a pattern? Maybe you’re dining out more frequently than you realize, or you may find a subscription you forgot to cancel. Simply looking at where your money is being spent can be stressful in itself. So, give yourself some time to go through it. Try to make very small changes at first.

4.  Stop Comparing the Size of Your Wallet

Money is a symbol of status. In this day and age, it’s easy to get caught up in “keeping up with the Joneses”. You’re not only measuring yourself against your neighbors, but also to your friends on social media. Where are they traveling to? What are they eating? Where are they shopping? But trying to constantly one-up your perceived competition does nothing for your real financial nourishment.

5.  Take A Break from Money

Thinking about money all the time can stress you out. If you’re struggling with financial stress, take a break. Go for a walk, hit the gym, meditate. These physical and mental activities can help you gain perspective. It allows you to take a step back and see the root cause, so you can find a way forward. You have to surrender yourself to where you are. Even if it’s not where you want to be. Then you can take small steps to move forward.

6.  Put your money where your values are

Sometimes we don’t even notice that our spending contradicts our values. That’s because our attitudes toward money can be unconscious. Make a list of your top 5 values. Then write down every and all the money you spend for a month. Compare the two lists and see what you come up with.

7.  Have the courage to say “I can’t afford this”

Honest transparency about personal finances is often considered a taboo subject. We are afraid to admit that we’re going through financial difficulties, because of how our peers will judge us. But when we have the courage to say that we can’t afford an expensive dinner or a pricey getaway with our group, we may discover that we’re not alone.

8.  Find Your Positive Financial Role Models

Reach out to people that you admire for their financial security, and their seeming ease with handling money. You can learn from them. One of the things that makes someone good with money is vigilance and self-discipline.

9.  Know When To Loan

When you loan money to friends or family, consider it a gift. Because you most likely won’t get it back. If you’re truly thinking of loaning money, however, write out a formal contract with scheduled loan payments and charge interest. And of course, only loan if it doesn’t jeopardize your own basic needs.

10.  Don’t give up

Changing your money habits and learning to cope with financial stress is easier for some than for others. But everyone is capable of taking control of their finances. The biggest step is to make a commitment to change. If you’re feeling depressed or stressed with regard to your finances, meeting with a financial therapist can be a good solution. It all starts with recognizing where you are in your financial journey, and committing to taking charge of it.


This article is intended to promote awareness and is for educational purposes only. 

Vitality is the provider of the John Hancock Vitality Program in connection with policies issued by John Hancock. 

Insurance products are issued by John Hancock Life Insurance Company (U.S.A.), Boston, MA 02210 (not licensed in New York) and John Hancock Life Insurance Company of New York, Valhalla, NY 10595.