Does Money Stress You Out? Our Conversation With a Financial Therapist

I feel so fortunate to be the mom of a happy, healthy 22-month-old boy. But like for most new moms, the newborn stage was tough. Aside from the new task of learning how to feed him, get him to sleep, and having this new tiny person dominate my life, I was also dealing with something else: fear and anxiety around money. 

This wasn’t something I expected. 

I’m a CPA, a Certified Financial Education Instructor, and I’ve been working and writing in the money space for many years. My husband and I had saved diligently through pregnancy. I felt fully financially prepared to welcome a new baby—until he showed up. 

Nights at 2am were spent thinking about how my career was going to take a nosedive. An unexpected bill sent me into a tailspin of, “we’re so unorganized” (which wasn’t true). And I felt guilty about not contributing financially during my unpaid maternity leave. 

It was around this time that I heard a podcast with financial advisor and Prudential’s Financial Wellness Advocate Amanda Clayman, and I began to wonder if maybe some of my problems weren’t really about money after all.

Money stress isn’t a new concept. A 2019 survey done by the American Psychology Association found that 60 percent of respondents felt stressed about their money. But that hight percentage might explain why financial therapy is a growing field. According to the Financial Therapy Association, financial therapy is “a process informed by both therapeutic and financial competencies that helps people think, feel, and behave differently with money.”

I had the opportunity to speak with Clayman about how money can impact the relationship between new parents, and she gave advice regarding common issues and how to start resolving them. 

 

Money and new parents

Feel like you’re the only new parent that is stressed out by money? The odds are you aren’t alone. Clayman shared that there are some common themes she sees when new parents land in her office for help:

  • They can’t do the things that they used to do. A new baby brings chaos and exhaustion. Simple things that they used to be able to do aren’t getting done, leading to friction. 
  • There’s no money strategy. Some couples put off creating a real strategy around how they are going to handle money in their relationship. That gets tricky when you have a new baby to care for (and pay for). 
  • It brings to surface entrenched structural issues. One person will likely feel like their carrying a bulk of the financial load while the other may be taking on financial risk by disrupting their career

 

 

Is it bad cash management or something more?

Why aren’t money problems just about money? According to Clayman, “Money problems are often feeling problems that are masquerading as thinking problems. Money points us toward opportunities to grow in our lives. We have the opportunity to not just get our money in order but to also work better in our lives and our relationships.”

Humans crave a sense of safety and stability—those feelings intensify when you have a new baby to care for. This new situation can leave us feeling very vulnerable about a lot of things, but we project that onto our money. 

So, how do you know that something is more of an emotional problem, rather than just a tactical problem?

Clayman explains that you might be facing a more emotional problem if you try to fix what you think is wrong and things still don’t feel right. For example, you and your partner decide that you want to save more and you take all the steps to do that. But once you’ve done the tactical steps, you still feel that same worry around saving. You might be experiencing an emotional problem that needs to be dealt with rather than something you can solve with a spreadsheet. 

 

Is there a right way to manage family money?

Together or separate—is there a right way to handle combining or not combining money with a partner? Clayman sees couples managing their money in one of three ways:

  • One pot: everything is combined and you share a joint account 
  • Two pots: everything is kept separate
  • Three pots: you have both a joint account and separate accounts

She stresses that there isn’t one perfect way for people to share money. Each system has pros and cons, and it’s important to consider all three options, rather than pick one reflexively because you’re worried the other systems will be too difficult. 

She does have two points of caution for couples that keep everything separate. First, sometimes when people choose to keep their money separate, it can be because they are afraid that combining money will lead to conflict that they don’t know how to resolve in a healthy way. 

The second is that it’s important to look for structural inequalities in the situation. Is one partner being stuck with too much financial burden or risk? Risk often comes when someone downshifts their career in order to care for their family.  If something were to happen with the relationship, they would be in a potentially difficult financial situation. 

 

 

How do you begin to address financial issues?

Clayman’s first piece of advice is to reframe the stress and anxiety around the conversation. As a new parent, you’re going to be sensitive to risk, and you’ll want to be careful with how you view what is wrong. Remember that feeling stress about money doesn’t actually mean that there is a problem. Try to look at this as a learning experience where you get a chance to figure out what’s working, what’s not, and make adjustments.

Know that most likely, your initial assumptions about what will need to be changed in a financial situation are wrong. Many of us have money scripts around cutting things from our budget that seem wasteful. But what we fail to realize is that some of these things might be for self-care or convenience now that you’re a new parent. Uber or Lyft rides to get somewhere quicker because your short on time, or grocery delivery because it’s tough to get a baby to the store, can look wasteful, but may be necessary to keep your life running smoothly.

And as a last piece of advice, Clayman says that it’s important to acknowledge the person who has the role of procurement in the home. That person is usually buying food or new clothes for the baby, and it can often look like they do a disproportionate amount of spending. And often, the person who is more anxious with money will offload the task of procurement to their partner. 

In that situation, what Clayman usually then sees is the partner who actually does the shopping feeling both underappreciated for the amount of work they do and criticized for the money that they spend. That’s not a healthy situation, and it’s important to acknowledge that the person who is buying things for the family has an important and necessary role in keeping the household running. 

Emotions around money are complex, and they can get even more complex when a new baby enters the picture. But negative feelings and stress don’t have to be your reality forever. 

 

Read More: I’m a Working Mom Because We Need the Money—And I Know I’m Not Alone

 

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