An Attorney’s Story
When I started the financial recovery process, I had burned through most of my savings, lost many clients, left my assistant alienated. I was hardly billing, never taking time off, fronting money for clients’ expenses and generally running on auto-pilot. As a result, I teetered on the edge of malpractice – all the while working 60+ hours a week. Remarkably, I managed to accomplish this without alcohol or drugs.
I am very grateful that a fellow lawyer – then a respected acquaintance, now my most valuable mentor – saw me floundering and demanded that I shape up. Hearing about my business problems, he sent me to financial counseling.
Like most lawyers, I love understanding how things work, and I had always tried to learn how to run a law practice. I wasn’t cheap about it. I attended CLEs and tried to implement what I learned. A CPA spent hours tweaking my chart of accounts and offered tax tips: he couldn’t fathom why I wasn’t making money. A marketing guy suggested a range of ideas aimed at bringing more people in the door; I could barely do the work I had already. A therapist was more effective: she helped me say ‘no’ to certain ‘red flag’ clients I had accepted before. However, the larger problem remained.
My financial counselor saw me as a whole. She understood my combination of overlapping problems in a way none of the specialists had.
As a result of the financial counseling process, which continues, I finally understand my practice as a business in the way I always wanted to understand it. I bill regularly. I get paid for my work. I know what is likely to come in over the next month and the next year. I am putting money into savings, instead of spending all of it. I am never afraid I might miss a deadline. I still love practicing law – I never lost the love of it, though the bad times made it seem like it wasn’t going to be possible to practice happily. The misery I put myself through helps me to appreciate the great benefits of financial counseling. Had I had this information at the beginning of my practice, I could have avoided burning a lot of bridges.
A woman’s story
Terri was a professional, earning a good salary. No matter how much she made, she continued to have more debt than she was comfortable with and could not save money consistently. Terri paid most bills on time but occasionally was few days late. Terri didn’t know exactly how much she owed. She didn’t know what her monthly expenses were. Terri was committed to changing her relationship with money.
After a few sessions, in which we explored her work history, which had been variable, and discovered her resistance to tracking her current spending, it was apparent that Terri’s money issues included money fog, chronic debt and underearning.
Using the Money Autobiography to explore some of her underlying beliefs about money, we found that when she was a child, as young as 3, she began to associate money, especially paying attention to it, as dangerous. She was one of several children with a two parent, one income household. Money was tight. Just before payday when Mom would sit down to figure out how to pay the bills, she was more likely to get angry and take that anger out on the children. Effectively, Terri brought that scared 3-year-old with her every time she sat down to balance her checkbook or track her spending. Having uncovered this belief, that paying attention to money was dangerous, we established some safe structures for Terri to use when working with her money. These structures included an affirmation that she was safe, a soothing cup of tea and relaxing music. This additional structure allowed Terri to begin tracking her expenses regularly, get bills paid on time and end her dependence on credit.
Within a couple of years of counseling, we uncovered and resolved other issues. She became less impulsive and more reasoned with her money. Terri eliminated all her consumer debt. She saved enough money to buy her first home. She continued using the tools learned in counseling. She upgraded her home, sold it for a considerable profit, and bought a larger home. She joined a credit union to establish a new savings account for a specific purpose. Without her asking, the credit union informed her that she had been pre-approved for a $65,000 car loan. Grateful for the work she had done to be eligible for such bounty and mindful that she no longer made impulsive spending decisions, she graciously declined the offer.
Terri is not this client’s real name.
A couple’s story
Bob and Barb came to me with serious money conflicts. They married ten years ago; this was the second marriage for each of them. Barb had adult children from a prior marriage.
Bob was an engineer. He bought his first, and only, home when he was 23, with money he’d saved while working his way through college. He was contributing the maximum allowed to the retirement plan through his job, which the company matched, and he made the annual, maximum contributions to an individual IRA. He was an amateur photographer and saved up to buy new equipment.
Barb was a social worker. She had volunteered in various programs in support of her children while they were in school. She was the one who could be counted on to be the room mother, den mother, playground monitor. She volunteered at church, chairing a women’s group. She was the president of her local professional organization. She enjoyed buying gifts for her children, husband, and friends, and she loved to contribute to charitable causes.
By now you have discerned their very different money styles. Bob was a saver. Barb was not. They came to me because they were tired of fighting over money. Bob said, “She never sticks to the budget I make for her.” Barb’s response was, “He’s not my father. I make money, too.”
We began the counseling process in the fall. They both relaxed a bit as they learned to use the Money Minder system to plan and track income and spending. Together we developed a plan to pay off Barb’s remaining consumer debt and continue to save money toward their retirement. They became comfortable with the transparency of the process as they learned where all the money was coming from and how it was being spent.
As we planned their spending each month, they planned dates with each other; sometimes as simple as a picnic on the beach, sometimes a lavish dinner. They remembered what they liked about each other. They began to enjoy activities together, without guilt or blame, because they had planned to spend that money on those activities.
Barb became more disciplined in her spending, carefully considering whose birthdays or what special events would be coming up in any given month so money for those gifts could be included in their joint spending plan. Bob would rather not have spent that money on gifts but acknowledged that Barb’s generosity was one of the traits that most attracted him to her.
Their conflict around money steadily decreased as they came to understand how each felt about money and the benefits of the other’s money style.
To celebrate their 12th wedding anniversary, they took a two week trip to France. After they bought the airline tickets, they carefully planned how much they would spend on lodging, ground transportation, meals, souvenirs, and entertainment. They did not, however, have a particular itinerary for the trip. They wanted to some spontaneity and flexibility.
After touring the French countryside for several days, they returned to Paris for the final two days of their trip. As they reviewed their vacation spending, they realized that they had considerable money allocated to housing and food that they had not yet spent. They decided to upgrade to a five-star hotel for their final two nights in Paris and have a very lavish anniversary dinner – all without guilt. Both Bob and Barb were comfortable spending that money to treat themselves as they had planned it.
Barb and Bob were delighted to share that story with me upon their return. They saw it as an amazing testament to the work we had done together and proof that they, too, had made peace with money.
These are not the couple’s real names.