Financial Anxiety with Amanda Clayman
In my seven years of helping people get financially healthy, a common emotion I’ve seen from clients is anxiety. We have clients avoid their first sessions with us, avoid quarterly reviews, or avoid their trainers totally, because of the anxiety their financial situation brings up in them. In fact, this episode was inspired by a long-term client of the Gym, who asked her trainer if I could do a show around financial anxiety. Despite the fact she is experiencing great success around her money, she can’t kick the anxiety it brings her.
Today I invited my friend, Amanda Clayman, Financial Therapist and Financial Wellness Advocate for Prudential, to discuss the topic of financial anxiety, including how common it is and how we can manage it in our lives. This is a really important topic for everyone and I hope it helps a lot of people out there.
What Are We Drinking?
Amanda — LaCroix with Bitters
Shannon — Black Cherry Schweppes
- There are a number of Financial Gym clients, and non-Financial Gym clients, who have reached out because they have anxiety around their financial situation.
- There is a long-term client and podcast listener, who requested a show about dealing with financial anxiety.
- Amanda went into the mental health field originally, and she had a career change to be a financial therapist around age 30. It was part of her own personal journey of coming to terms with experiencing a lot of suffering around money.
- These weren’t things that were happening to her, they were things she was creating with her own behavior.
- As she started getting more insight around those things, it became a curious awakening.
- She started to notice how other people had these very tumultuous relationships with money. She started to ask herself why financial therapy wasn’t a job.
- She explains it as one day she woke up like Neo in The Matrix and she could see lines of code behind people’s financial behavior, her own included.
- Amanda did some exploration and decided that social work was a really good fit for the kind of work she wanted to do, which was helping people address the role of money in their lives, how they think about it, and how they use it.
- It isn’t a financial planning route, she is helping people address the underlying processes so they can be more purposeful.
- Amanda went to social work school, earned her Masters, became a clinical social worker, ran a financial wellness program for a non-profit for a long time, and now she is in private practice and does a lot of teaching and speaking. She has been doing this now for 15 years.
- Everyone experiences financial anxiety in one form or another. Our anxiety takes a number of forms and has a variety of severity.
- There are things that most of us worry about when it comes to money, even if we are doing everything “right”. We worry that we have too much of it or too little of it, that we are not putting toward the things that we should, or we are not teaching our children the right things.
- There are an infinite number of things we can worry about, when it comes to money.
- Anxiety is our signal to come out of our automatic processing. Our brains are wired to be hyper efficient, in order to handle the volume of things we need to think about and decide in the course of our day.
- Our brains rely on patterns of understanding, perception, and behavior. These we can knock out with actual attention.
- The classic example is you are driving in your car or taking the subway and you don’t even notice how you got from Point A to Point B, because it is so rote.
- Anxiety is our signal to come out of automatic thinking and pay closer attention to something. It is ingenious, because the signal is really unpleasant. It is not something that feels good. It puts an effective pause into our experience, because we have an immediate motivation to stop and figure it out so we can make the feeling go away.
- When it comes to money and lots of things in our lives, it is not as simple as stopping, assessing for danger, deciding there is a threat or not, and going on with our day.
- Many times, we get caught in a pattern of being stuck in our anxiety, because the thing we are trying to solve for is more complicated. Either there is not a change that is immediately available or we have conflicting feelings about the change.
- There may not even be any danger, but we are wired to look for danger all the time. We end up feeling like we are stuck in the noise and we can’t figure out what we need to do to get that feeling to go away.
- If you are in the moment thinking, “I feel bad”, you have two options: (1) look at the feeling and potentially feel worse, or (2) don’t look at it and try to forget about it. In that moment, a lot of us choose to watch Netflix and try to forget about it and deal with it tomorrow.
- The financial trainers at the Gym see a lot of anger, rejection, and other feelings. It is hard to experience someone else’s anxiety coming at you, because you don’t know why it was tripped.
- In clinical practice, you are taught not to get caught in the trap of being a vending machine of suggestions for your patients or clients, because that can put you in the position of the person saying this is why it won’t work.
- Amanda finds that clients really want someone to tell them what to do, but because the change is complex, or they are ambivalent about it, you end up being the one who gets pushed away.
- Those feelings are real and they need to be processed, but it is tough when you are not a clinician, but you are still a helping professional.
- Amanda works with a lot of wealth managers and financial advisors who go the field because they want to help people, but in their training around the financial part, they are not given a lot of education into the client experience and where they are going to run into people’s deep feelings of inadequacy or shame.
- Whenever we try to change money we are always going to be put in touch with that layer underneath that need to be part of the behavior change solution we are looking at.
- Avoidance is a solution that can only last so long. We avoid until something happens externally that bumps up our need to look at it, or the active avoidance creates so much stress that it actually paces and outweighs the relief that we would get from avoiding it in the short term.
- Amanda wrote a post about her origin story on her website called The $19,000 haircut.
- She had all of her bills in a gift bag that she got at some party in her 20s. She would pick up the gift bag and bring it to work with her, thinking she would have time to sort through it, but never found time and would bring the gift bag back home. Back and forth it went.
- During the period of about a decade, her credit card debt kept increasing and she had her electricity turned off at some point. Sometimes she had the money to pay her bills, sometimes she didn’t.
- It wasn’t a matter of poverty so much as a gross mismanagement of money.
- One day, her mother gave her a bad haircut, because she came over and Amanda asked her to cut her hair. Amanda freaked out and her mom said not to worry because they would just call her hairstylist to fix it.
- Amanda had written her hairstylist a check the last time she was there and the check bounced, so she couldn’t go back there. Bad hair was the final straw.
- It all came tumbling out and she confessed to her mom.
- Amanda was going to avoid that lesson as long as she could. Even though she knew there were problems, she didn’t know how to use that information to do anything differently in her life.
- Shame is an inhibitor of us learning to connect. Connection and telling the truth is the antidote to our shame.
- Anxiety can produce a tremendous amount of shame. It can produce behaviors like avoidance.
- If we look at our money situation and everything seems to be fine, that can be a source of shame.
- We end up getting stuck. It is hard to define places where you can have supportive and healing conversations.
- A lot of people are limited on who they can have a conversation with that will be productive, instead of saying you are bad or overloading you with advice.
- Amanda didn’t feel like anyone understood what was happening to her.
- All financial behavior has meaning, even choosing not to look at something is still behavior.
- People are experts on their own experience, and what happens is our needs are always competing with each other. We try to manage our feelings in the moment so we don’t feel emotionally overwhelmed by our anxiety and it ends up competing with our need to have financial security.
- Men and women feel shame about money. It is so much easier to tie shame around finances, because of the numbers. We give the numbers way to much power over our lives. They don’t define us, even though it is easy to define and quantify.
- Ada Lovelace was a person in Victorian England, daughter of Lord Byron, who is often credited with describing Charles Babbage’s analytical engine, which was the first computer, and creating the concept of a programming language.
- We can’t understand someone’s scientific developments outside of the context of who they are as a person and the time they lived in. We often look at the numbers of our lives and strip them from how those reflect our lived experience.
- A lot of exercises that help people connect their numbers to how they use their time are useful. It goes from, “I spend too much money eating out”, to “I am tired, because I have given everything I had at work” or “This is how I socialize with friends and I need that support”.
- Our social need is one of our basic survival needs and we want to be able to meet those needs safely and make sure it doesn’t create other problems. There is further thought that still validates the right to have that need and to make a life that is about need satisfaction instead of need denial.
- Women are more self aware of financial anxiety as a stand alone concept. Men tend to view it as a result of something concrete and externally “validatable”. If x circumstance changes, I will not be anxious. Amanda finds that the reason men come to her, is because that pattern never ends. It just jumps to the next thing.
- Not enough people are addressing the anxiety. They may be feeling it, but talking about money is so taboo.
- Shannon sees it a lot where people will justify a level of financial pain that is normal, because of where they live, and they will just let that pain keep going.
- We can start to think about where anxiety is just the cost of doing business, and it is a normal thing. It comes up, we respond appropriately, and move out of it so we don’t stay anxious.
- The signs of anxiety include when we find ourselves chronically anxious about money and not able to make changes, or when we are chronically anxious and make a bunch of changes and nothing internally changes, or when we see our own level of functioning being affected.
- People seek out Amanda if they are avoidant and are starting to see negative consequences in their lives, and they see the pattern having a more destructive effect.
- Others seek her out when anxiety is creating conflict in a relationship. Amanda works with a lot of couples, and this is true for couples that she personally knows in the world, and she sees the truth that our subconscious picks our partner.
- We tend to be really surprised by the person we seek to be partnered with. On some level, we look for someone who is going to be a complement to ourselves, our point of view, and our normal view of doing things.
- One person is probably going to be a planner and the other person may bring more spontaneity, more optimism, and put more value on experiencing pleasure in the here and now. This is not true for every couple, but Amanda sees this pattern in the majority of couples. It can vary across the dimensions of the relationship as well.
- Anxiety typically drives the person who is more future oriented. That anxiety can be very valuable and can help you do a lot of good things that are necessary in your financial life. But it can also be that the anxiety never allows that person to feel safe. No matter what you say to that person, they still think that something could happen.
- Something probably happened in their past that came out of the blue or there was a sense of chaos, but this person has learned that safety depends on them being constantly vigilant. This can be exhausting for their partner. The partner feels like no matter what they do, the other person sees the worst in their lives and it can be really tough on the relationship.
- On the flip side, the planner can view the other person as not being serious and not validating their need to hyper plan. Each person on either side of this argument can come with a lot of facts.
- We get stuck trying to prove that our position is correct, instead of seeing that there needs to be a balance. Either one of those, working independently, would go to an extreme that is not a stable life or a life well lived.
- Great improvement can be made in whatever stage a person, or a couple, is in. There are times where it is clearly necessary that it is a couple issue. It may live in the system of the relationship as opposed to just one individual.
- Amanda works with the person who is ready to change. Sometimes the timing isn’t right for a person.
- The level of success of overcoming anxiety varies. There is no magical trick that make it go away. Success can look different for different people.
- Sometimes it is responding differently to anxiety. Instead of reacting or squashing it down, we acknowledge it hold it and look at our options and process through it.
- We can decouple the feeling of anxiety with the actions we take. We may still grumble our way through our half hour weekly check in with money, but we know all we need to do is a half hour and once the tasks are done we can reset emotionally.
- Amanda does a lot of cognitive behavioral therapy with clients where they train themselves to stay in a functional zone and structure tasks in a way to be effective. The goal is to get out of it without feeling any differently, and not let that feeling run the show.
- There is a place for financial anxiety in our lives. Being on autopilot isn’t a success. It is having good coping mechanisms, and that can be different for everyone.
- Anxiety about her Amazon charges led Amanda to check into her feeling. It was paying attention to that cue and knocking on her brain a few times before she tuned into it.
- There have been a ton of changes in Amanda’s life recently and the autopilot she was on shifted.
- Nobody has a perfect financial spending track record. We all have a financial past. It is a waste of time beating yourself up about past mistakes. Address the period of time and when and why those mistakes happened.
- We take for granted the learning process. We do not spring into this world fully informed, functional, financial, and emotional beings. There is a learning process and a lot of us learn by making mistakes. Our developmental needs shift so much over the course of our lives. Things that are important to us at one stage shift. We can’t wish we had our 35 year-old maturity when we were 25.
- Financial health is for all ages. You are never too old and it is never too late. Every stage is different.
- The things you do in your 20s are different than what you do in your 40s. It is a point in time. There are no mistakes, just lessons. Everything you do financially is fixable.
- Sometimes you just need to be sad and not be afraid of the negative emotions, which are a vital part of the full spectrum of our human experience.
- How do we not get stuck in the negative emotions? Avoiding those emotions is not a good strategy. Our bodies are designed to go through an experiential arc when it comes to emotional processing. It is possible to get stuck, due to an underlying mood disorder, like depression, or it could be due to deferring so much processing that all of the grief that hasn’t been dealt with comes up.
- You need to address the degree of anxiety to determine when it is a normal part of life and when it is more serious.
- Sometimes it takes a financial trainer and a therapist to work through the situation to get to a good place financially and emotionally.
- We are not all required to be standalone containers. It is unrealistic and inhumane. This is why we live in communities and why we want to have a support network. Not everyone is a DIY person. There are apps available but people are still living paycheck to paycheck.
- You don’t need to do it on your own. Invest in your health and mental health.
- Our bodies and our moods are interrelated. Once we are aware of the feeling, the emotional response, our bodies can be a really good partner.
- There are times to binge watch TV and eat ice cream, but, specifically with anxiety, we can do things we know are going to meet our human needs, like exercising and talking to another person. The fundamental human needs can help reduce the noise so we can be more targeted and efficient in responding to the signal.
- You need to start working on these things, because they won’t fix themselves. There is no quick fix.
- Self awareness is the first step. As long as you are bringing it into your awareness and you are heeding those feelings that are telling you something is out of balance, you can keep yourself in a state of moving toward readiness to get there.
TAKEAWAY: My biggest takeaway is that financial anxiety is not only normal and common, it is actually a positive alert in your life. My hope is that you can channel the positivity of anxiety and let it help you make better and smarter financial decisions. If it is too overwhelming, I hope you seek out the help you need to find better coping mechanisms when it arises so it doesn’t prevent you from making smart money decisions over time.
Random Three Questions
- If you were not a financial therapist, what would you be doing?
- What is a book that changed your life?
- What food did you hate as a child, and do you still hate it?
Connect with Amanda
If you’d like to talk to my team at the Financial Gym to help you manage your finances, so you feel less anxiety around your money, I hope you’ll reach out to us at the Financial Gym. My trainers have literally seen it all, and they have definitely worked with clients who have had high levels of anxiety around money, so nothing will surprise them. The great news is that Martinis and Your Money listeners get 15% off Financial Gym services. So head over to, or send friends to, financialgym.com to get signed up today.