May 8, 2024

Ask Michele Anything: Building Momentum From a Standstill

The first question most people ask me when they hear what I do for a living is: “What’s financial therapy?”

In a nutshell, financial therapy helps you address the feelings you have about money. Just like there are strategies for managing your finances, there are therapeutic strategies for managing how you feel about them. I help with both.

From Trauma to Triumph

I’m also a trauma survivor with a past history of debt, both imposed and self-inflicted. At one point, I was on the brink of homelessness, unable to afford baby food for my daughter without assistance. So I know just how scary and humiliating financial ruts can get.

Today, I’m a licensed therapist with over three decades of experience in psychology, trauma recovery, mindfulness, and career development, helping countless people improve their financial mental health.

I’m here to help you do the same, to walk a path you’re proud and excited to be on. And I’m positive you can.

Spotting the Cycle

Let’s start with a case study, directly inspired by questions from you, the EarnIn community:

“It’s so hard to save when you need that money to survive. Food, clothes, health, transportation… Everything is so expensive, it’s really depressing. How do I know where to start? How do I overcome this cycle of always feeling like I don’t have enough?”

This question reminds me of a client I’ll call Sarah. Sarah was a single mother working two jobs, constantly overwhelmed by financial stress. She’d sit on the couch across from me looking down, fiddling with her cuticles, and wringing her hands. She said she’d been gaining weight in spite of eating less because she was barely able to afford food, let alone healthy food. She was tired, unable to concentrate, constantly worried about how she was going to provide for her children.

While I always keep a professional boundary with my clients, I couldn’t help but feel the pangs of my own past as I watched her. But like me, she had options. The first task was regaining her hope to give her the energy needed to move forward. Sharing my own story was a start, but she needed her own reasons to believe a better future was possible too.

Reframe Your Focus

To get Sarah moving forward, we developed this three-pronged plan:

1. Manage the cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone that increases alertness and provides energy (we all get a hit of it every morning). But when it’s too high it creates a feeling of generalized anxiety. There can be muscle weakness, weight gain, mood swings, lack of motivation, fatigue, high blood pressure, headaches, gastrointestinal issues... In other words: the bad stress. I taught Sarah some mindfulness exercises to get her started. The 4-4-8 breathing technique is a great place to begin. Simply breathe in for 4 seconds, hold that breath for 4 seconds, exhale for 8 seconds, and repeat, counting in your head for each. Focusing on your breath helps ground your senses and tell your body that you’re safe.

2. Short-term strategy. With some stress coping mechanisms in place, the next step was to take care of any pressing issues to give Sarah some breathing room. This involved taking a close look at her monthly cash flow and assessing her budget to help her stay on track. This is where same-day pay, played a big role. By giving Sarah access to her income as she worked, she could start paying her bills on time and stop paying late fees and overdraft fees. This flexibility immediately created a sense of relief, her cortisol levels lowered (she even started to lose weight), enabling her to move forward with a plan.

3. Address the fundamentals. As anyone who’s faced down financial strife knows, the answer ultimately lies in less money out, more money in, or both. And at a certain point, you can’t save your way forward; you need more money in. Financial literacy is not an overnight fix, so as we talked through smart money habits, ways to cut costs, and investments to consider, we also focused on a firm solution to the income problem. In Sarah’s case, despite being in debt and barely staying solvent, she had two jobs. This, I assured her, was cause for hope in itself. She had a stable starting point, which also helped clarify our next move: working toward a raise.

A lot of so-called financial gurus will tell their audiences not to spend a penny beyond what they absolutely need. Good advice for the dollars and cents, but doesn’t make much sense for the psychology of financial momentum. In this case, Sarah told me she often felt “frumpy” around her “higher ups” as she called them. That negative self-image quickly gets translated into body language and, often, performance, so I knew that needed to change if we were going to target a raise.

Dress the Part

I encouraged Sarah to go grab a new work outfit. She didn’t get paid for another week and a half, but with EWA she was able to access $25 of her pay and hit a thrift store for clothes that made her feel more professional with enough left over for a pair of power pumps and matching nail polish. I mention this small touches, because it’s often the little things that go the furthest.

Dressed for the promotion she wanted — and more importantly, feeling like she deserved it — Sarah got a decent pay bump and came to our next meeting beaming, looking me straight in the eye like never before. Within six months she was able to quit her second job, freeing herself up to perform better at work, spend more time with her kids, and lead a more peaceful life with hope for more to come. This is the kind of momentum all of us are capable of with a bit of direction, some genuine hope, and the right tools on our side.

Stay tuned to the EarnIn blog and Instagram for more financial mental health guidance to come.

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EarnIn is a financial technology company not a bank. Subject to your available earnings, Daily Max and Pay Period Max. EarnIn does not charge interest on Cash Outs. EarnIn does not charge hidden fees for use of its services. Restrictions and/or third party fees may apply. EarnIn services may not be available in all states. For more info visit earnin.com/TOS.

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