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Let's Talk About The Emotional Aspect Of Personal Finance

11/20/2015 11:48 EST | Updated 11/20/2016 05:12 EST
Pascal Broze via Getty Images
Businessman inserting a coin into a piggy bank

As a leader within the JA Canada community, I occasionally get the opportunity to escape the office and participate in conversations fueled by organizations with similar missions. As a part of Financial Literacy Month (#FLM2015), the membership of the Financial Literacy Action Group, a.k.a. FLAG, assembled a group of leaders aligned in purpose to discuss the urgency and obstacles of driving forward the agenda to improve the financial well-being of Canadians.

There were lively discussions and plenty of sharing around the room, evident of the burning passion to improve the impact we collectively make. The full details of the roundtable discussion will be published and shared in the coming months; however, while it is still fresh in my mind, I thought I would capture one barrier to success that emerged at my table and share it as a post: the emotionally-charged nature of imparting the skills to improve money management.

Consider the following idea we discussed at length:

Money is a symbol that represents a value exchange. It is a social agreement made to package a portion of the value you contribute to the world in a form that can be universally and conveniently exchanged. Therefore, if money represents value, and what we value drives behaviour, the associations we have formed can be a significant barrier to achieving healthy personal finances.

Think about how emotional it can be to ask for a raise, negotiate a starting salary, or increase the rates you charge customers. My own experience of negotiating a raise several years ago was fraught with analysis of my own self-worth. I wrestled for many days in the activity of self-justification, meticulously itemizing how I was increasing value to the business.

When engaging in conversations about improving or correcting money management behaviour in others, we must be sensitive to the personal and emotional definitions of value that are consciously and unconsciously involved. Yet most financial literacy programs avoid this altogether and focus on the more pragmatic and practical skills such as budgeting, expense tracking, investing and the like.

This is why JA Canada believes that the best way to navigate what can be a complex conversation is with expert volunteers trained to create a responsive and relevant learning experience for students.

What was reinforced to me during the roundtable discussion is that when teaching about what money is and how money works, we need to first help people see their own attachments to what money represents to them. By acknowledging and supporting people as they sort through their feelings about money, we can create confidence and safety so the more pragmatic skills and conceptual understandings can get through emotional defenses.

Our educational programs need to incorporate tools and questions to help uncover individual money stories so learners realize they are not alone. Each of us has a story, and with courage we can share it. In this way, the most dangerous emotion associated with money -- fear -- can be overcome.

Stephen Lippa

Vice-President, Education & Digital Strategy

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