Financial Therapy: Podcast on financial therapy
Transcription by Holly Smith
It loves me, it loves me not. It hates me, it hates me not. ‘Financial Therapy’ is a podcast about one woman’s emotional relationship with money. Shameless Magazine’s Web Producer Sarah Feldbloom takes part in a session conducted by accountant and founder of Loose Change Financial Therapy, Amanda Mills. Watch out! After this one you may find yourself face to face with your own relationship with dolla bills!
Take a listen here:
For a transcription of ‘Financial Therapy’ read on: Sarah Feldbloom: Hi, I’m Sarah Feldbloom, Shameless Magazine’s Web Producer. The current issue of our print mag, on stands till the end of August, is on the theme of money, and so is this podcast. It’s the product of excerpts from a financial therapy session I participated in, that was conducted by Amanda Mills, who works as an accountant, and is the founder of Loose Change Financial Therapy. Mills has presented Loose Change workshops for social workers, teachers, psychotherapists, artists, anti-poverty activists, sex trade workers, women’s groups, and the general public, recently she’s run workshops at the Toronto Women’s Bookstore in Toronto, that’s how we found her.
One of the goals of Loose Change, as Mills articulates it, is to help clients figure out whether issues they’re experiencing around money are caused by money itself or are the product of other matters that are playing themselves out in their lives. Before I went in for my appointment Mills had me fill out several forms that asked questions about my orientation toward money. To give you an example, one form had me explain what the word enough means to me.
Now, because this podcast centers around a personal therapy session, it focuses on my specific orientation with money, which is a privileged one, having grown up in Canada in the middle class, and without being a visible minority or having a visible disability, or being affected by several other elements that can make it hard for a person to make money.
There are some parts of the session that raise questions which we don’t address in a way that’s complete. For example, at one point Mills mentions that a person should be able to earn more with an education than without; while we didn’t go into more depth about this in the session, we acknowledge that of course race, gender and disability among other issues can affect whether this is true in all situations. There are other moments where the conversational element of our session leaves discussions around other topics incomplete, just a heads up for you, our listeners.
Now, get ready, because you’re about to learn a lot more about me!
[Sound up on Financial Therapy session]
Amanda Mills: Okay, so where do you want to start with your money?
SF: Well, that’s a good question. I guess my biggest concerns about finances have been that over the past few years as I’ve really been working and out of school for the first time I’ve found it to be way more of a struggle than I expected. The kind of work that I do is creative. I do freelance writing and audio production and editing, and journalism and creative-stuff, and I do contract work as well in education and media facilitation so between those things I have been able to support myself but my income is very low.
AM: Are you willing to tell us how much? Like, how much do you think you made last year?
SF: Well okay, I think that this year I’ll make about $20,000
AM: OK, and what do you think you would like to make?
SF: That’s a great question because, um, I think that’s a question that I can’t answer realistically, because I can say what I would like to be able to afford and income towards things that I would like to be sustainable in my life, but because I’ve never been in a position where it has been that way I’m not actually sure how much it costs. I’ve actually found that I felt a huge amount of anxiety just living day-to-day because there are projects that are really important to me and I feel I can’t work on them because I always constantly have to be hustling to find new work that will pay for itself and pay for itself fairly quickly.
AM: And pay for you.
SF: And pay for me.
AM: Because you do need work that will pay for you. You don’t live here free of charge right?
SF: I don’t buy clothes very often. I rarely buy things except for equipment, which again I would rarely buy, only if I needed it. Essentially I only buy the things I really need. I have no real disposable income because I have student debt, but if there are times…
AM: Actually the main reason you have any disposable income is that your salary isn’t high enough.
AM: Its not about the student debt. And actually one of things I wondered was, if you could just visualize owning a house for a second – it’s a beautiful house and you have a $300,000 debt on that house. How is that debt going to feel?
SF: Ahh, like a huge anvil which is trepidatiously hanging from the ceiling, about to swing down and crush everything in the house.
AM: The difference between good debt and bad debt as they call good debt and bad debt is that when you buy something like an education, which is where all your debt has gone to, you know this debt was incurred in order to achieve a bigger purpose. It’s the same when you buy a house, not too many people can just put the cash down. It’s a bigger purchase than most people can do and they usually have to go into hawk to do it. And its true on any huge things, and that’s why good debt is when you decide you need an education and you are willing to go into debt to do it. Bad debt is when your lifestyle just sort of erodes – it’s a little more expensive than you can afford.
Like my debt when I had it, I had about $30,000 and it was all consumer debt because I was spending about $500 every month that I didn’t have. That’s bad debt. You have no bad debt. And you have no bad debt on twenty grand a year in 2012,and that’s an impossible amount of money to live on in Toronto, so one can assume you are not spending frivolously. And, the idea is that you are going to hopefully be having more choice and more affluence than you would have without the education, so that there should be a chunk of extra money you can make from that education, that will pay off that loan.
SF: Mhmm, part of this is also that I move around quite a bit. I found that is actually really important for me, its really stabilizing for me to move out of one environment and take time to be in another space and that really helps give me perspective. It also inspires me, but it really helps to give me perspective and helps me value my life more and be more present.
SF: Yeah, right after I graduated, when I completed my undergrad degree I moved first to rural Quebec then I moved to Newfoundland. And then when I came back after just under a year I had saved enough to support myself in the move but it turned out not to be enough money, and I was really, really living close to the bone. And that was probably my scariest experience with money, running out of money, and luckily the people around me were really happy to help me at the time. Like my roommate said “No problem, just pay this month’s rent next month, that’s totally ok.” Yeah, and I just had a little bit of support, just enough support to get through until I able to start getting paid for work again.
AM: And actually that’s one of the things in life I teach about all the time. You can have six to eight months of income in the bank or you can have a very good community of friends who will do that. They are both useful, and people tend to underplay the non-financially elements. I talk a lot about non-financial assets in my work, for example if you want a beautiful garden and your neighbor across the street has one, you can look at. It depends what you wanted out of the garden. Did you want to get your feet in the clay or do you just want to look at? If you just want to look at, well the neighbor’s done all the work, put in all the money, and its right outside your window and there it is for you.
So, those community things are important experiences to have because in fact I think we get more security from that than from cash. I’m really lucky in that in my tax practice I work with almost strictly artists. So artists are people who constantly choose other things over money and seem to have happy lives even though they’re not affluent. So there’s a constant reminder in my work that it’s not about the money. So, I actually really believe that we often get career and making money mixed up and I don’t think they have to be the same thing. I think we have a responsibility as adults to handle ourselves financially and give ourselves what we want financially, that’s one responsibility, and another is to have a meaningful career. And the two don’t have to go together, they can be adjuncts to each other. But I think if we expect the career to always yield all the money we want we can end up hating the career or expect things out of our career that it can’t give.
I know our culture puts them together but I work with a lot of artists who you know – one guy makes all his money from graphic design and his passion is music. And if you ask him what he does he is a musician. And I agree, he is a musician, he hates graphic design. It just happens to pay him eighty grand. So, it’s a bit of a drag in this life that we can’t just do what we want. Like, there was a book ‘Do What You Like and The Money Will Follow.’ It’s not my experience that that’s true, not at all. But “do you want you like and figure it out,” that’s a motto that works well. And I think one of the things that happens to people that sacrifice their entire career for money – cuz I see the career as more what do you want to give to the world? Why are you here? What are you here for? What are your attributes? Like, what can you give? That’s what I see a career as being.
Moneymaking is something else, it may blend with that career but it may not. We work with maybe three hundred visual artists here and I would say maybe twenty of them live by the sale of their paintings. Does that mean they’re less of an artist? No. In fact the famous ones are not in the twenty, the famous ones are doing something else so can experiment with their work because they don’t have to rely on making money at it. The person in the corporate world is often working on a model where step one is work, and step two is that you’re trying to secure your existence from your work so that step three, you can do what you want. Now, since we cannot secure our existence, it can’t be done! A meteorite could fall on us right now, you cannot secure your existence. Money is an element of security but it’s not security. So since they never actually build enough security to feel safe, they never get to do what they want. So, it’s a very soulless model, and its one that most people are caught up in. The artist usually doesn’t have that model. They have “do what you want” first, and second, “figure it out.” There’s no security in there, but it’s also not a model based on something unreal, which is that security is something that you can actually guarantee because you can’t.
AM: So with you and your quest for security…, I was going to ask you, do you have any savings right now?
SF: Umm, ok, technically yes, but because of the kind of work that I do it’s a matter of often doing, you know, whatever I can, making whatever money is available to me, taking whatever contracts I can and building up a bunch of money, and then there’s a dry spell and then I live off of that money. So I don’t know whether I can genuinely call it savings but yes, I do have money in the bank.
AM: Yes, I do call it savings. Ok, can I ask how much?
SF: Yes, right now I have about four thousand dollars.
AM: Ok, and do you know what it costs you to live in a month?
SF: Yep, generally it costs I’d say, no more than twelve hundred dollars. That would be my maximum .
AM: How much is your rent?!
SF: Generally it’s about five hundred and fifty a month, including utilities but not including personal utilities.
AM: Right like phone and stuff?
AM: Ok, twelve hundred a month is very, very, very low to live on. That’s amazing. Cause I think the poverty line is not double that but it’s a good, you know, fourty percent over that.
SF: You mentioned before that I had written something about it being unfair the way that money is doled out. And I think part of that is also me thinking, um, the way that I use money, I think is really productive, and so the idea of other people making more money than me and me seeing the way that people spend money, which is often on products that support unethical labour practices and are environmentally unsustainable, and often contribute to people having mental and emotional health issues, like, increasing that dependency on television or media that separates people from themselves, and I think ‘if I had that money I would be spend it on community projects!’ And so, I should be paid more because I would invest it in the lives of the people around me. I wouldn’t hold onto that money. (laughs)
AM: I agree, I think you should be paid more. What I don’t agree with is, it’s not doled, there is no doling. It’s all about ‘go for it’ like you talked about that men get more money than women, and they do get more money wage wise than we do, women, totally, but it isn’t because people choose to pay men more. Although there is an element of trusting men more as authorities and leaders and those things but men typically ask for raises, and women don’t!
So again it’s not a doling thing. Like, when I’m working with, uh, I do a lot of workshops with women and money, I really think one of the biggest differences between men and women is that women deflect praise and men deflect blame. Cuz right there, you deflect praise, praise usually comes with dollar figures eventually attached. So there’s like a million little reasons why women in the workforce really get paid much worse than men. And it’s right as soon as women enter a field the income for that field usually decreases rapidly. Like lawyers I think are paid like 60% of what they were twenty years ago because there are so many women in the field now. So again it is not a doling, it’s about going after what you want and I would love to see you have enough money to do all that stuff but nobody gonna give it to you you got to find it! (laughs)
SF: Do you think that there’s a certain amount of money that it’s dangerous to have in debt even if it is good debt? Like is there a certain, if you’re a person like me who right now is earning twenty thousand dollars a year…ummm.
AM: You see, to me the debt is your big issue. Your earning is your big issue.
AM: And I don’t want you to compromise what you choose to do with your time at all. But you might end up having to compromising a little bit if you want to make a little more. And it doesn’t mean you’re compromising right down the line, not at all. It’s just you’re taking your responsibility to yourself to have the money you need to do what you want. Take that back on yourself. There’s no doling, It’s about me going out to get what I want. And under earning is one of the biggest issues I face in my practice.
Do you ask for more money? Like, because another thing that came up was that you had two moments of feeling enough. ‘Enough’ is such a cool thing, it’s almost like transcendent to me. And one moment was being in love and one moment was getting paid for freelance practice. (laughs)
Actually, it was really neat, I was doing a lecture for the Periodical Writers Association in Guelph and I was really amazed that they share income information and the reason they do is they don’t, like, they’ve been whittled, they’re not getting, well actually I don’t think it’s down but I don’t think it’s gone up at all maybe in twenty years, the per word rate for periodical writers. They wanted to make sure that they kept some solidity with pricing, they don’t want to be competing with each other. I was really, it was quite an amazing group, and I’d never seen a group like them where they shared income information. And people were not only sharing their per-hour rate but what they were making a year…
SF: A question for you. Are there…I mean so if, you were, I don’t know if you do this or not, but if you were to give me homework and say ‘Sarah based on what we have talked about, these are things you need to consider or take steps toward.’ I am curious to know what things I might be able to do to move in that direction.
AM: Ok, well I think my biggest thing with you is first of all to remember how good with money you are. You’re very good. For people to come out with only student loan debt and no consumer debt after university is very unusual. It’s usually both, and you had none. And I think partly you have none because you hate that so much that you can’t handle having any debt. So I’d urge you to play with debt a little bit. Try not to be quite so phobic of it. Like, maybe um, borrow five bucks from a friend (laughs) see how it feels, pay it back. But keep it small, right? But just play with it. So you want to play with debt.
I think you want to try and figure out a way to bring in at least another five grand a year even if it isn’t, I don’t want you to do anything that’s not in line with your values, but I don’t want this money to necessarily be the ‘best’ creative project in the world. Like, I’ve got writer clients who might edit a dumb little journal and they make maybe $6,000-$8,000 to $10,000 a year on that and that allows them to do much more interesting other projects because they’ve got this little, kind of, basic amount coming in. I would encourage you to think about where could you bring in an extra five grand. But I’d like it eventually to be more than five.
Money making is the hourly rate, that’s the big trick. And it’s often an exercise I’ll do with clients to try to help them figure out their hourly rate is because often you can get an amazing job that sounds amazing at the corporate level where you are making a lot per hour but when you really look at what they want out of you it doesn’t work out to a lot per hour because you have to put so much money into that job. Like, you might have to have a car, a whole new wardrobe, a therapist, a drinking problem. Like, all kinds of things can come up with a job that is a bad fit or with a job that seems to pay well and in fact doesn’t. Teaching is a job that, the average teacher makes maybe over fourty dollars an hour, probably, maybe up to fifty, and they actually really make about five bucks an hour if you look at all the hours that go into it, and the supplies they buy for the kids and the extra time they put into the parent teacher meetings and all that stuff. It’s an amazing job that’s more of an avocation than a vocation.
So you want to try and find a way to make a lot per hour by doing something that’s not unethical, not something that will soul destroy you in any way. Like you don’t want it to damage the kind of writing that you are compelled to do as a person, right?.So, ya, the challenge there is the hourly rate. So you want to find something that has a good hourly rate and if it’s paying $100 an hour there is almost your monthly in a week. So that’s the fun thing about money, is to try to find something where hourly rate is great. So that’s another piece; so one piece is trying to find another five grand that will fit into your life and another piece is trying to find a form of work that pays extremely well an hour.
SF: Any advice about that? Any suggestions?
AM: Well, I would just do some reading and talking to people. Like technical writing used to pay very well, court reporting for a while paid very well. I’ve got musicians who want to become piano tuners. So, you know, it depends, and you want something that there’s a demand. Because the problem with art is, until you create the demand, there is no demand. You have to create the demand yourself. It’s a lot of work. A lot of money recovery books talk about tracking, so knowing exactly what’s coming in and exactly what’s going out. So when I tracked mine I had like five categories for food. I had food I treated other people to, lattes was its own category because I’m terrible with them, um… junk food was a category, health food was a category. I have clients whose shoes are five categories, shoes I wish I didn’t buy, shoes, you know… So if those two things I think that could be useful.
I think, um, there’s something from your past too that money can hatch money. You need to find out that money can’t really just hatch things. So, I would suggest thinking about taking an investment course, just so you know how that side of money works a little bit. The best course I know of is Ellen Roseman’s course, she’s a writer for Toronto Star and she does one at U of T every year in the fall, it’s brilliant and I really do think if you could figure out a way to just ship a one hundred dollars a month out of your life somewhere where you’d never think about it again and you only think about it in a real, capital E emergency. Because the slush fund is handling you between big work projects but I don’t think you feel a sense of emergency when you go into it. Like dire, this would be dire. What you’re trying to do is build layered cushions so that the worry about just surviving the moment starts to subside a little bit. Because the more worried you are the less…it’s like standing on your tip toes, you’re not that balanced and if you are grounded and calm you are, and you make better choices.
[Sound up on extro]
SF: I’m Shameless Magazine’s Web Producer, Sarah Feldbloom. The podcast you’ve been listening to is the product of excerpts from a two hour financial therapy session between myself and Amanda Mills, accountant and founder of Loose Change Financial Therapy.
Now, after hearing what you just did, you may be wondering what we discussed in the other hour and fourty-five minutes of the session. It was really personal. We talked about my mother and father, who they are, and what I may have learned from them about money. Mills asked some bold questions, for instance, whether I’m fixated on the idea of having money, and whether I believe money is evil, and that all people who have a lot of it are evil as well. The answer is no, but the conversation was complex, and I didn’t sound articulate trying to figure out exactly what I thought. My words got a bit messy, as I sorted through the eternal dilemma about what ingredients and how much of each go into the recipe for a good life. During the session I didn’t always feel like what I was being challenged about was right or fair, but going back and listening to the two of us talk, being confronted about my ideas was actually very helpful. Being asked to explain myself created an opportunity to think hard about what part of my relationship with money is made up of the stories I tell myself about the world, and what parts of those stories could be improved.
One amazing, encouraging thing was to hear Mills say that I am great with managing money. After struggling with bringing in enough of it, it was nice to feel a sense of validation about one element of my relationship with the stuff, and to get a clear sense of how to begin to improve my financial situation.
If you’re interested in learning more about financial therapy, you can find Amanda Mills and Loose Change at loosechange.ca
Thanks so much for listening. Talk to you again soon!