I started financial counseling during the foreclosure crisis in 2008. A decade ago many of my clients felt isolated by their financial struggles. It was challenging for adults who struggled with their finance to find professional assistance, and the area of personal finance appeared to be an exclusive world.
Today, I hear more people speaking publicly about financial literacy, or financial empowerment. Society now acknowledges that financial literacy is one critical aspect of a “life skills toolkit” that can have a positive impact on individuals and families.
When I speak to clients, I like them to know that they are not their credit score, it is a snapshot of their finances at a moment in time. If they understand the rules of the game then they can change their financial future and reach their personal goals.
This might sound surprising for some, but often your financial situation cannot be separated from your sense of self-worth. Clients who make financial decisions under duress, or because they are in financial competition with a wealthier lifestyle might have ongoing credit card debt, instead of a balanced budget.
If you come from a background of trauma, or poverty where fear of homelessness, starvation, or transportation was an ongoing issue in your family of origin, the world of finance might look foreign and unfriendly. You may need additional assistance and support to find your way through to a behavior change. You may not know where to begin, or who to ask. Sometimes clients have reached out to ask for assistance, and received an unsupportive response, which is especially painful when a client is trying to change ingrained behavior.
Folks who come from a financially literate background may not be aware how frightening financial literacy is for others. It can be a humiliating experience for people to come to a financial counseling session. When a client makes a credit counseling appointment they are engaging their personal courage. They want to hear some good news as well as encouragement.
Clients feel exposed and fear a demeaning atmosphere where the “expert” might speak condescendingly with them about their financial struggles. Often clients cry out of fear and frustration, and they verbally tell me that they are afraid. How a financial educator speaks to a client can impact whether the client takes a step forward or backward.
Many clients who make the journey into my office might be the first person in their family who knows that something or some financial pattern is wrong. They may not know why, but they know that they want to change the “habitual family” spending pattern and live a different life. I have witnessed several financial client milestones that look like miracles.
Most folks will not equate financial illiteracy with other medical conditions like alcoholism, drug addiction, or abuse, but some of the outcomes that result from financial illiteracy can be similar, and just as devastating as other social addictions.
Financial illiteracy can also be viewed as shameful so folks don’t talk about it until they’re in crisis. The shame creates a deafening silence. Shame can also contribute to a client’s sense of financial paralysis, or prevent them from reaching out and asking for help. The root of this shame is the client’s fear that they deserve their financial fate, or perhaps that they are worthless. This is absolutely not the case. Everyone has a chance to take charge of their financial situation.
Walking through financial literacy to financial empowerment is a sign that the client is prepared to take on some personal barriers, so that they can step forward into a brighter future. It takes courage, effort and ongoing diligence and determination to walk a different path. The steps taken towards financial literacy demonstrate brazen courage. This is the biggest take away, that a step towards financial literacy is the mental equivalent overcoming an addiction because it’s life changing.
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