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Breaking the Cycle of Money Shame

Managing finances is common but talking about it isnt. How can we break the cycle of money shame and help consumers?

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Hello. It's great to be here with you. It's been a great conference. It's been a great message. Um, I'm sure we can all agree that struggling to budget and manage our finances is common, but talking about it openly and honestly isn't, and my mission is to change that.

In 2006 on my brother Keith's 40th birthday, he called, "Tam, I'm in dire strait and I wouldn't ask unless I had to, can I borrow $7,500?" This wasn't the first time that he needed quick cash, but this time his voice frightened me. I had never heard him so beaten down and shameful, and it was his 40th birthday. So after a few basic questions that we would all ask, I agreed to loan him the money, but on a condition I wanted to meet with him and his wife to find out what was really happening with their finances and really to see if I could help.

So a few weeks later we met at a local Starbucks and I started right in with that tough love budget conversation. You should sell your house and downsize to something you can afford. You should sell some of your toys and you should certainly cut out the Disney cruises and definitely give up the $5 a day coffee. You know, all the trappings that we all do to keep up with the Joneses.

Quickly, they went into a fearsome blame game. She's the one spending all the money on shopping. He's the one buying all the toys with his hunting equipment, and I wanted them to be better than this. I was pissed. "Come on, you two, get your s**t together, you're parents. It's time to grow up."

So later that day, I called my mom. I was feeling a little vulnerable, but Keith beat me to it and he told her that I wasn't helpful. In fact, he felt... he was hurt and he felt like I ganged up on him and he felt like he didn't have anywhere to turn. And I was really surprised because I really did think I was being helpful at the time.

But it took a couple days and I realized that I did shame him with the shoulding and the tough love buck up conversation. So a couple months went by when I received another phone call, "Tam, I have bad news. Keith committed suicide last night."

I was devastated.

A couple days later I arrived at my brother's home and I went looking for answers. And I went into his office, which was the garage, and there I found a stack of unpaid overdue bills and a foreclosure notice served to him on the day that he died.

My brother left behind a 10-year-old daughter, a brilliant 18-year-old son, weeks before his high school graduation and a wife of 20 years. And how did this happen? What I learned is that my brother was caught up in our family's money shame cycle, and he was far from alone in it.

Suicide rates are at the highest they've been in history. White middle-aged men make up 70% of our suicide statistics. Financial problems, debts, bankruptcies, job loss, foreclosures and marital problems are major, major contributing factors.

What I've learned is our disordered relationship with money is not our fault. In fact, it's a product of our subconscious belief systems that are rooted in our childhoods and so deeply ingrained in us that they shape the way that we deal with money our entire adult lives. Yet so many of you are left believing that you're lazy, crazy, or stupid --- or just bad with money. And this is what I call money shame.

The intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that you're flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging. And it's based on your bank account balance, your net worth, your debts, the home you live in, the car you drive, your job titles, your status. And I believe that we all have it. Whether you earn $10,000 a year or $10 million, and it's because we give money power. I've been in the financial industry for 20 years, over 20 years, and I've helped a lot of people. And I'm gonna give you some examples of how we carry money shame that are very visible. Some you will recognize, but some are invisible.

We look good at any cost yet. We live paycheck to paycheck. We rescue our family and friends, but we juggle to handle our own finances or we avoid our finances. We downplay or hide our wealth because we fear what other people are gonna think or that they might take advantage of us. But most commonly, we have all bought into the "never enough, more is better" mindset. And we are hustling and under the pressure to keep up.

And the story that we tell ourselves is, we should earn a half a million dollars to be successful. We should know how to save, invest, budget. What's wrong with me? How come everybody else can do that? I should be proud of myself for my success. Why do I make it a bad thing?

Shoulding is judgment. Judgment is shaming. Shame is extraordinarily painful. To give you a quick understanding of the difference between, uh, guilt and shame is guilt is, Hmm, I made a mistake. Let me try to do that differently. Shame is I am the mistake. Very different, very painful.

So we live in a culture where we don't feel our feelings. What do we do? We numb. We are at the height of numbing in this in our country. If you want to empower yourself or your clients, emotional maturity is a requirement to build wealth. If you are numbing, you cannot emotionally grow. We are at the highest rates of binging on alcohol and binging on marijuana, binging on sport betting, and binging on shopping. So if you're not feeling and you're numbing, guess what grows?

Debt, depression, addiction, and divorce. So here's the good news. I know it's a lot. Stay with me. Oh my God, I'm gonna fall out. Okay? So I know you can break the grip because I did.

So not even two or three months after my brother died, the housing market crashed and I, like millions, was over invested in real estate. And I faced bankruptcy. And I just kept telling myself. I kept asking myself, how did this happen? I felt like I did all the right things. I worked hard. I saved, I invested, I gave back to my community. And most of all, I was a financial professional.

So I really was terrified and I felt deeply alone in my experience, despite the fact that at this time, 2007 and 2008, 3 million people faced foreclosure and 2 million faced bankruptcy. But I felt alone. I internalized it to believe that there was something wrong with me.

I made the mistake. I was scared, obviously. So of where my brother, what had happened just with my brother. So I went looking for answers. I went looking for help.

And everywhere I turned, I was offered a better financial plan. I didn't need a better financial plan. I was having an identity crisis. I was having a spiritual crisis. My home, my car, my business, my worth, my net worth was in tatters, it was falling apart. So here's what I had to do.

I had to deconstruct my family's money story. We all have one. And I had to understand the belief systems, the thought patterns, what I was thinking about, what I was doing. I had to uncover the shame that was carried over for my family, generations of shame around money. And I had to, ultimately, I had to forgive myself for all of my past mistakes. What I learned later, had I not done that I would've never been able to rebuild solidly, come back and build wealth.

I call this process a money detox, and I use this approach. I've used it with thousands of people. So how do you start? Because it's really about you. Before you can help your client, you've gotta take a deeper look at yourself. You'll have tremendous amounts of empathy and compassion for your client. But you have to look first. So what did you see? What did your parents, what did you learn? What do you tell yourself every day about money? Where do you carry shame? Your credit score, your debts, your inheritance? You will be amazed at the impact of that, of your story and how you're carrying that through and over. I'll share with you a story.

Um, a therapist referred me a client, a couple, and that's because therapists aren't trained in money. This couple were the Joneses. They had the right income, they had the right savings, the right investments, the right house, the right kids, the right neighborhood, the whole thing. But they could not talk about money without fighting. And it was really deteriorating their marriage. And they were, hadn't been married that long, maybe 10 years, but it was really impacting their marriage.So when they came to me, how they were handling money was this. He would do the monthly finances, he would become very upset and frustrated. He would come into the kitchen, he would blame her for overspending on groceries, the kids, whatever. She grabbed on Amazon and she would retaliate with, well, you're buying all the toys, you know. So we dug, dug right into their money story. And here's what we learned.

She was the youngest of four kids and she struggled in school. She felt very inadequate just around learning, uh, but very inadequate about math. She wasn't good at math. And her parents, her family, you know, they did the, those things where they, they kind of tease and they do it, you know, because they think it's funny. But they would say to her, well, you know, you're not good in math. You're gonna have to marry for money. And she really internalized it. So what she did was she just avoided money. She didn't deal with it. She didn't want to, you know, have anything to do with it. It overwhelmed her. So when she got married, she defaulted, defaulted to her husband. But overall there was a real inadequacy there.

He was the oldest, he was the top end of his class at West Point. His dad was a very successful businessman and he taught him everything that he knew about money. So my client, uh, felt a lot of pressure, you know, to measure up to his father. But he had a lot of shame about the way he was managing money. And he felt that if his father knew that he didn't have a handle on his finances, he would be extremely disapproving.

So you see, they both felt inadequate in different ways and they brought that in from their childhood. That was, and they didn't understand that it had nothing to do with their current circumstances. So it wasn't until understanding that we could actually have, you know, sit down and develop a lifestyle plan that worked for both of them. And miraculously she got very involved in their finances when he was able to approach it a little differently.

So lemme go back and just share with you, I asked them to bring me their money, you know, show me their finances. So he showed up with this spreadsheet and it was very high level and very detailed, and she'd showed up with nothing. And the minute he opened that spreadsheet, she went into panic and overwhelm and wanted to leave the room, and he got angry. So that's, that is what was going on. And it wasn't until that understanding that we could move forward and his level of shame diminished when she took an active role. It also allowed him to change career paths. And I wanna really say this to you guys because I know you can relate. He was under enormous pressure to keep up with their lifestyle. You know, she was a stay-at-home mom. They had small children and he needed to make $400,000 a year. And it was killing him. He's a young guy in his forties. He wanted to take a step back and go into consulting, and he couldn't because they couldn't get along. You know? So that's where they, that's the direction that they went in.

So it is really important for you guys to understand what's driving your finances. When you understand that you can ask questions, you can develop better apps, you can do more self-inquiry. When you do self-inquiry, you'll, you're, you'd be able to have more empathy for your clients. And when you ask deeper questions, you're gonna be amazed at what you learn.

And to give you one more example, one more story. I had a financial advisor refer me a client, and the financial advisor was, uh, afraid that her client was gonna run outta money. And so when we started working together, she started sharing her story. My client had received a $20 million inheritance from her father eight years prior to us meeting. She had $2 million left. She was spending $100,000 a month.

Mm-hmm. My goal was to get her down to $20K a month. So she didn't run outta money, okay? We immediately dove into the money story. And what I learned, what she shared was that she never felt loved and respected by her father. She never felt successful. She felt like the black sheep. She didn't feel loved. She was buying love for her entire adult life. She overspent buying love. Nobody asked her a question, her siblings, you should not be giving money to your children. You should stop spending on all that stuff. Dad would be rolling over in his grave at your irresponsibility. Her wealth managers and her financial advisors never asked her what was wrong, never said, what is going on? How do you feel? So it took us time.

We worked together for over a year, and I wanna help you really help you understand this. People can't change that much. So it's these, in order to change your behavior and your belief systems and build wealth, it's not a quick fix. And we want a quick fix. It's a slow wake up.

It took us over a year for me to show up in compassion and empathy and understanding for her to get her to talk, to do something different, to fail to try again. And we got down to $22,000 a month. It was extraordinary. But she was looking for love everywhere. Her community, her children, the women at Neiman Marcus, the salespeople, she went in there to feel loved, spending $10 to $15,000 a month. So you see, we all want to be met with curiosity, not judgment.

We want empathy, not power over, and we want compassion, not shame. So why are you here at this extraordinary time in history? The wealthier getting wealthier, the middle classes dwindling, and the lowest earners are on the rise. What impact do you wanna make? How do you wanna help and serve your clients? And when do you wanna break out of your own money shame, because we all have it?

This imagine a financial industry where we can talk openly and honestly about money.Imagine a financial industry without shame.This is the missing piece.

Looking back at the Starbucks meeting with my brother, he didn't need a budget or my judgment. He needed a breakthrough from his suffering, and he needed my compassion. He needed to understand that his mistakes were common and that they didn't define him.

Change is difficult, but in my family, it was fatal. So I did the work, I did my own money detox, and it allows me to have extraordinary compassion and empathy for my clients, and they are thriving financially.

I challenge you to be part of this change. Thank you.

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