Courtesy: Megan McCoy
"This Is Uncomfortable" Newsletter

This is some free financial therapy

Reema Khrais, Zoë Saunders, and Tony Wagner Mar 22, 2024
Courtesy: Megan McCoy

Megan McCoy was a self-described “hot mess” with money in the years before she became a financial therapist.

“There’s a term sometimes used called ‘money avoidant,’’’ she said. “Individuals who are either insecure about their financial literacy or they have a sense of morality tied up with money. Most times it’s one or the other, but I was blessed with both.”

McCoy had to unwind her relationship with money and work through a lot of self-sabotage to get her finances on track. The end result of that work was not only a better financial situation, she said, but a better marriage.

Now a licensed therapist and assistant professor at Kansas State University, McCoy helps others do the same. She said the real work of financial therapy isn’t just learning the nuts and bolts of personal finance, but managing the attitudes we form about money at a young age.

McCoy has appeared on “This Is Uncomfortable” before, and we had her on the show again this week to answer your questions. Check out some edited excerpts from our conversation below. You won’t find these on the pod, they’re newsletter-only, so forward to a friend if you found them helpful!

TIU: What’s something about financial therapy that might surprise people?

McCoy: I think a lot of times people are surprised that a financial therapist could have been trained originally in mental health or they could have been trained in finances originally. I think eventually financial therapy will be distinct from both of them. Right now, it’s important to remember that if you have deep-seated trauma around money, it might be better to seek out a financial therapist that does have that mental health license, as well as their financial therapy license. If you really want, like, detailed plans around investments and to understand the tax implications for all these decisions, then making sure they have that CFP [certified financial planner] mark with their financial therapy designation is really important.

TIU: And what surprised you the most when you first started doing this work? 

McCoy: I think how universal the experience of financial stress and anxiety is, and also how diverse people’s views around money are. Like, one belief that most people will agree with, but not everyone, is that money makes you happy, right? And so many people will have that belief, and don’t say it because it’s just so ingrained at such a young age to us that we don’t realize when we marry a partner who may have a very diverse belief on that. I think there’s all these micro-beliefs around money, how it should be used, what we need to demonstrate our worth to others, how it can make life easier or messier. We develop that at such a young age, an unsaid belief from our family that we just assume is universal. 

TIU: What are some of the common questions that clients come to you with? 

McCoy: A lot of it’s financial anxiety. All of us go through financial stress because of an external problem, like we change jobs, or we move. But financial anxiety is the persistent worry that you won’t have enough, or something’s gonna go wrong. That’s really common.

Another thing is financial infidelity, people lying to their partner or discovering your partner is lying to you, around money. I love the study of financial infidelity, and I always say whether it’s big, like hiding debt, or small, like “don’t tell Daddy we went shopping,” or in between, the underlying reasons for it are so important to examine.

TIU: What tips do you have for people who might be struggling with work-life balance? 

McCoy: So when it comes to work-life balance, I always want to know first: Is this pressure to achieve from you or from your work environment? And if it’s from work, it’s time to put up clear boundaries or maybe even think about if this career path or career position is the right one for you.

I think another thing that could be really helpful is finding hobbies outside of work. Like, we often talk about the wealth gap between women and men in the United States, but there’s also a hobby gap. Men are more socialized to have hobbies outside the home. So, do you have passions outside the home? Is it hobbies, or charitable stuff, or friends, or a network that you connect with?  Do you have things to do outside of work?

TIU: How would you suggest we talk about wills or inheritances with the people we love? How do we not make it feel awful and awkward, or is that just unavoidable?

McCoy: You know, honestly, it is going to be hard to broach. But hopefully once you broach it, every time you broach afterwards will get easier and easier. And that’s something you kind of self-talk to yourself. But the conversation is so important. 

This organization called The Conversation Project has little free kits that you can download with prompts or questions or things to consider. Another organization called Good to Go! has an event set-up with music to play and things like that to kind of enter into the conversation. It’s a really great resource. The conversation is more about, “While you’re so healthy, I want to know what you value. I want to know what you want the celebration of your life to look like. I want to know how you want to be laid to rest. I want to know what kind of decisions you want around your health right now. So it doesn’t have anything to do with your death, but actually has all to do with your wishes.” And I think that framing is really helpful.

TIU: It seems like so much of your advice comes down to just taking baby steps and making the experiences as positive as possible.

McCoy: Absolutely, and that the more we have these money conversations, the less it becomes taboo and the easier it becomes.

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