Becoming a good steward of money involves more than just learning how to balance a checkbook, create a budget, or build credit yet many of the conversations on how to improve financial well-being focus only on the mechanics of the behavior itself rather than the variables that influence that behavior. The pressure to demonstrate financial literacy by pointing out the perceived lack of literacy in others is at an all time high with the rise in popularity of social media ‘finfluencers’ which can be a double-edged sword.
On the one hand, the recipients of critique from these individuals may wrestle with guilt and shame for their circumstances with little inspiration or understanding of how to escape them. This makes them prime targets for scams, expensive courses, or mentoring preying on their desperation and guilt, putting them deeper in the hole financially. On the other hand, the finfluencer has set such a standard for the audience they critique under the guise of education that should a financial mishap occur for them personally the potential for a returning critique can push them to stretch the limits of ethics and honesty about their circumstances–creating a vicious cycle that leverages fear guilt and shame on both sides of the financial education equation. Being an empathetic financial educator is important not only for your audience’s maximum absorption of your message but also for your own mental well-being. Here are 4 tips to increase both financial empathy and self-awareness.
Come As You Are
The truth is that even those with the education and resources are still figuring things out daily. Personal finance and the associated tools and strategies are constantly changing. For some, the leveraging of debt is a fast pass to building wealth, while for others debt can create financial stress and anxiety if not managed appropriately. There are conflicting schools of thought on who should use debt and how and it’s important to recognize that personal finance is personal and will look different from person to person. Creating and holding space for yourself and others that allow for unique learning experiences and mistakes to occur is crucial to keeping morale high and engaging a community. Being honest about where you started and how you progressed through adversity is the real financial flex.
Understanding The Math
On the other side of our feelings is the math and it’s important to create S.M.A.R.T goals that outline both short and long-term financial outcomes. Understanding the math involved in how much your income and expenses are will help shine a light on both your positive and negative money behaviors, increasing your self-awareness and revealing how close you are to achieving your goals.
Understanding the math doesn’t only improve your financial positioning but allows you to demonstrate an actionable approach to money management for anyone paying attention. By demonstrating that something is possible and the steps you took to accomplish it, you not only increase your self-awareness but the level of empathy you can demonstrate to others who are in a situation similar to yours or one you’ve previously been in.
Empathy Doesn’t Equal Complacency
In a TEDx, Dr. Michael Thomas declares that “empathy doesn’t equal complacency.” He shares that learning to care about the stories beneath the numbers is how he’s come to create a better rapport with his clients and has learned to create solutions that yield better results.
Some may struggle with separating having empathy and entertaining excuses but it’s an important skill to develop especially if you are a product or service-based business that transacts financially. Empathy can be established by putting yourself in a position to understand the thoughts, feelings, and circumstances of another person financially. If you can understand where they are or even the obstacles they have overcome you can help to create solutions that build on their victories rather than undermine them.
Tell Your Story
Sometimes the key to understanding your money story is to tell it. Reflecting on the experiences you’ve had that shape the way you look at money can give you insight into why you may do the things you do financially. Are you an aggressive saver or a nervous spender? Do you avoid using credit cards or do you leverage real estate? By telling our stories we are forced to inspect the circumstances that have influenced our outcomes and our personal money psychology. Diving into this aspect of self-awareness can be beneficial in the establishment of systems that eliminate poor habits and establish positive ones.
Demonstrating financial empathy and self-awareness are skills that can be developed and benefit all who are involved. By developing these skills you can decrease shame and guilt and have more open conversations that focus on solutions instead of placing blame.