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Tag Archives: Finances

Coping With Economic Uncertainty

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Financial worries can become stressful and overwhelming for many families. It’s difficult to maintain a sense of personal well-being when news about the economy seems to go up and down. Financial worries can severely strain a marriage, and children can be negatively affected. Here are some tips for families as they cope with financial stress.

Educate yourself about your financial situation.

As a couple, sit down together and look at the details of your situation. If it’s too difficult to do this alone, have a financial professional or trusted friend look at the numbers with you. Educating yourselves is the first step towards assessing the problem and looking for solutions.

 

Focus on what you can control, not on what you can’t.

Focusing on what you can’t control leaves families feeling helpless. It’s healthier to focus on what you can do. Can you save more or spend less? Can you balance your budget by making small changes in your spending or saving habits?

 

Communicate to your children in age-appropriate ways.

Children are often very sensitive to sudden financial stress, such as a parent losing a job.  When you talk to your children, be both straightforward and reassuring. Try to strike a balance between giving age-appropriate information but not overwhelming your children with unnecessary details.

 

Work together as a family on a financial plan.

When financial worries become overwhelming, family relationships can be affected by the strain. Work with each other to make a financial plan. Young children can help clip and organize coupons. Older children can organize a garage sale or save spare change that can be used as the family’s “fun money.”

 

Take joy in life’s simple things.

Make sure that you don’t focus on money matters to the exclusion of life’s pleasures. Spend time with family and friends and enjoy activities that don’t cost anything — reading books from the library, going to the park, visiting museums on free admission days, etc.

 

Consider those less fortunate than you.

Counting your blessings is one of the best ways to reduce stress and worry. Spend time volunteering for those less fortunate, and you will probably feel better about your own situation. Your family can spend a couple of hours volunteering at a homeless shelter, nursing home, or hospital.

 

Take care of your physical and emotional health.

Make sure your family is getting enough sleep, eating right, and exercising. If you notice that you or a family member worries constantly, is irritable, not sleeping well, withdrawn from friends of family, or using drugs or alcohol, it’s time to seek professional help.

Why You Should Talk About Money BEFORE You Get Married.

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The Marriage PenaltyIt’s Tax Day, which can be a very stressful time for people as we sort through our last year’s finances. Last June, we asked couples therapy expert Anthony Chambers, PhD, ABPP, Director of the Institute’s couples therapy services, for his insights on how couples should talk about money BEFORE they get married. To mark Tax Day, we’re revisiting his valuable thoughts and suggestions.

 

Money presents risks for couples, but also opportunities to co-create a shared vision.

I think it is critical for couples to discuss their finances before they get married. Money is the number one reason why couples get divorced. I am always amazed by how little communication couples have about money prior to getting married, and then once they have to make a major purchase like a house or a car they are then surprised by their partner’s credit score.

Discussing money is especially important because if you set up your finances correctly from the beginning, then a lot of arguments and problems can be avoided. Moreover, although money is a huge risk factor for divorce, it is equally true that money can be a huge protective factor when set up correctly. The transition to marriage is about moving from “I” to “we”, and money may be the single greatest manifestation of “we-ness”. One conceptualization of intimacy is that it is the couple’s ability to co-create a shared vision. In this capitalistic society, there is no vision that doesn’t involve money (i.e., buying a house, a car, saving for kids’ college, retirement, etc.).

That’s not to say that the conversation is always easy. The reason it is so hard for couples to discuss money is because money represents trust, power, control, vulnerability, and fairness. Thus, to the extent that a couple struggles with any of those issues in their relationship, it makes talking about money all the more difficult.

 

Keep it together.

The most common misstep I find couples make regarding money is the separation of money.

Marriage is about moving from independence to interdependence, which basically meanswhatever you do impacts me and whatever I do impacts you and there is no way to get around that. Couples will frequently try to maintain their independence and avoid financial arguments by trying to separate their finances. However, in a marriage there is not true separation. It is an illusion. Marriage is a group sport and just like any team, if a teammate has a bad night it impacts the other players. Thus, it becomes important to embrace the team concept in order to have success. If a person does not trust their partner with money, then that is probably a sign that they should be in couple therapy to work out the trust issues, because it will not get resolved by simply trying to separate their finances.

 

Make your finances marriage-friendly.

  1. First, couples need to think about money as “our money”. That is, there is one lump sum of money that has to take care of their needs and the needs of their kid(s), if they have any. It doesn’t matter who makes more or who makes less because it is about making sure everyone’s needs are met. Second, there needs to be “transparency”. That is, both members of the couple need to know how much money there is and where it is being invested. Some of the worst cases of infidelity I’ve ever treated were financial, not sexual. Secrets and money is never a good idea!
  1. I recommend couples use technology to help actualize the guideline of transparency. Websites like www.mint.com are great ways to track your finances. Towards that end, I recommend that couples track their finances at least once a week to make sure they are on budget.
  1. Paychecks should be automatically deposited into a joint account. It is OK to have individual accounts, but I recommend that couples have their paychecks automatically deposited into a joint bank account and transferred to the individual account in order to promote transparency. Couples should prioritize their budget by making sure that their collective needs are met (i.e., bills, savings, groceries, etc). Then, if there is money left over, the couples who choose to have individual accounts can transfer some money to their respective individual accounts. Keep in mind that those individual accounts should be checking accounts with low balances as they are for monthly discretionary spending in order to help manage the fact that some couples have different spending priorities. The individual accounts are NOT safety accounts to stash money away “just in case”. Setting up your joint account is a nice way for couples to feel like an “us” and can be something nice to help couples “feel” the transition to marriage, especially if they were cohabitating before marriage.
  1. If a member of the couple wants to help out a family member, make sure that the needs of their new nuclear family is taken care of first before helping out friends and extended family.
  1. Check your credit score before getting married. If one or both members of the couple have a low credit score, that is OK because at least you know the number and you can work together to increase the score(s). Moreover, knowing the credit score is important for delineating the shared vision, because a low credit score may mean delaying certain aspects of that vision, such as purchasing a home.

 

Dr. Chambers’ passion, clinical, teaching, and scholarly interests all focus on strengthening the relationships of couples from all walks of life. He is the Director of the Couples Therapy Program, the Director of the Postdoctoral Fellowship Program in Couple and Family Psychology/Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT), and a Staff Licensed Clinical Psychologist at The Family Institute at Northwestern University. He is also an Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Psychology, and a member of the Teaching Faculty in the MFT Graduate Program at Northwestern University. Dr. Chambers is also one of only 117 Psychologists nationwide Board Certified in treating couples (ABPP-CFP).

To read Dr. Chambers’ full bio, or to make an appointment, visit our website.

 

The Family Institute offers affordable family, couples and individual counseling at our Evanston, downtown Chicago, Lagrange Park and Northbrook locations. Visit our website to learn more.

Couples & Spending: Opposites attract

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money troubleWith Tax Day almost upon us, we’re looking at the ways in which finances can impact our relationships and mental health. Today we look at the balancing act often required when couples deal with one another’s spending habits.

Opposites tend to attract when it comes to spending styles.1

Spendthrifts — who report spending more than they’d ideally like — often marry tightwads — who report spending less than they’d ideally like. What starts out, during the dating stage, as the appeal of differences, can during married life become a recipe for conflict. An American Express survey found that 61% of couples say discussions about finances lead to arguments, and 50% say the financial habits of their partner drive them crazy.2

Whether you and your partner’s spending styles are more or less similar, one factor contributing to marital happiness is operating as a financial partnership while retaining some measure of financial autonomy. It’s a balancing act: honoring we without abandoning me. Certain approaches to money management seem to help strike this balance:

  • Let the best money manager handle the funds. If one of you has a particular knack for balancing the books and managing the bills, let that person do the job, with the other remembering to express gratitude for work well done.
  • Pick your battles. Keep in mind that at times both spouses want to enjoy a sense of influence over spending decisions. This requires flexibility: outcomes shouldn’t always have to go your way.
  • Know that there’s value both in spending and in saving. Reasonable spending ought to bring pleasure and fun into your relationship life, and into the life of the spending partner. Reasonable saving ought to promote the security that comes from having a rainy day fund, and confidence that assets will be available when needed in the future.
  • Treat your money as our money. Regardless of differences in earning power, start out with all income going into one pot. If it makes sense to maintain separate checking or savings accounts, feed those accounts from that one pot. Among other benefits, this assures that both partners know where money is coming from and going to.
  • Share financial decision-making equally. Regardless of differences in earning power, agree that no spouse has more “voting power” than the other when it comes to spending. (Have a conversation about whether you experience equal voting power around spending decisions. We’re going to address this point further in next month’s tip.)
  • Create a pre-approved spending agreement. Select a dollar amount that can be spent without requiring a spouse’s approval, and without having to explain or defend that spending decision later on. It’s a way partners can retain a sense of financial independence within the partnership — balancing we and me.

1 Scott, R., D. Small, E. Finkel. “Fatal (Fiscal) Attraction: Spendthrifts and Tightwads in Marriage.” Journal of Marketing Research.(January 22, 2010).
2 Huddleston, C. “The Truth About Marriage and Money.” Kiplinger. (April 19, 2011).

 

This post comes from The Family Institute’s Tip of the Month Series. To receive these insights in your inbox, please visit our website.

Visit our website to learn how our couples therapy services can help strengthen your relationship.

Ask A TFI Clinician: Young Adults and the Economy with David Hauser, PhD

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As we gear up for graduation parties, sending our kids off to college, and celebrating new jobs and opportunities, TFI Talks is addressing some of the main issues facing the group who deals with these issues the most: young adults.

One of the most talked about issues for young and emerging adults is the financial burdens many of them face in today’s economy. Things like student debt, the housing market and unemployment impact this huge demographic in specific ways—financially and psychologically.

Today David Hauser, PhD, staff therapist at The Family Institute provides his insights into how these issues impact young adults psychologically, and offers advice as to how to deal with them.


 

2008 still impacts 2014.

The financial collapse of 2008 remains the most imposing systemic constraint in 2014 that I see in my work with young adults.  In the post 2008 economy, college graduates with quality degrees are having a harder time than ever finding long-term sustainable jobs, they carry more college loan debt than any previous generation, and have inherited the most challenging housing market in decades.   As the New York Times Magazine recently stated, “these days, a degree is merely the expensive price of admission. In 1970 only one in 10 Americans had a bachelor’s degree, and nearly all could expect a comfortable career. Today, about a third of young adults will earn a four-year-degree, and many of them — more than a third, by many estimates — are unlikely to find lifelong secure employment sufficient to pay down their college loan debt and place them on track to earn more than their parents.”

 

The impact isn’t only financial.

These economic constraints and circumstances can bring about a great deal of frustration, confusion, self-doubt, and even self-blame which places a tremendous amount of emotional and psychological hardship on young adults today. These global economic changes ask young adults to adapt to change at a rapid pace and tolerate great uncertainty with a job marketplace that is so rapidly evolving.  These economic conditions and difficult job market increase the risk of depression, general anxiety, relational stress, and vocational stagnation.

I tell clients young and old, anxiety by its very nature is struggling to tolerate uncertainty.  Emerging adults are being asked to tolerate more economic uncertainty than any American generation since the 1930s.

 

It’s harder to launch.

Due to economic hardship, one out of every five people in their 20s or 30s are living with their parents, and 60% of young adults rely on some form of financial support from their parents.  This makes it very hard on young people to establish independence and begin building their own lives and families; also potentially preventing them from beginning to separate from their own family of origin.

As a family therapist, one of the primary developmental hurdles I discuss with young adults is the importance of “launching” away from one’s own family of origin and starting their own community and beginning to start their own family.  With the necessary reliance on parents for young adults today, launching into adulthood is a lot more complicated and in many cases delayed, making it hard for young people to begin living their own independent life without dependence on others.

 

Be willing to explore.

As with any struggle, economic or otherwise, those who withstand and survive will come out stronger on the other side the hardship.  It’s just harder to make your way now than it was in the older and simpler economy.  As young adult researcher and Clark University psychologist Jeffery Jensen Arnett stated, “those most actively involved in the struggle are most likely to eventually find their way, even at moments you feel lost.”

To survive this struggle requires a willingness to face the gravity and robust nature of this problem (not hiding from the problem even though it might feel overwhelming) and begin chipping away at it with exploration, short-term goal setting, and identifying and settling on your long-term goals and needs.  This is often where psychotherapy can be most helpful at this age.

 

Context. Context. Context. 

It is not helpful to blame yourself or beat yourself up about the particular economic circumstance and challenging job market you are walking into.  It is critical to properly contextualize that getting a good job, in a professional field that is in sync with your needs and goals is far harder than it used to be.  But with innovation and change, as we are seeing in the job marketplace today, also comes opportunity.  Thus it is important to not get bogged down in self-blame (when larger circumstances out of your control are the challenge) or overwhelmed, as these will make it harder for you to cease opportunities that might present themselves and help you chip away at the long-term problem presented to you.

DON’T: Hide your head in the sand because this is a complicated problem

DON’T: Default to self-criticism, self-blame

DO: Contextualize that this is a generational challenge, noting there are global economic circumstances at play, well beyond your control

DO: Think critically about what you want to do for a career, even if it is a struggle to achieve them.

DO: Stay with the struggle!  There is value in the struggle.  Those who ruminate with a problem, yet stay with it despite the discomfort of the problem, will eventually work through the problem.

The plan is the important part.  Setting goals, and working toward them will give you a greater sense of control over your life, even in the face of large and systemically entrenched problems.

 


 

 

David Hauser, PhD, is a staff therapist at The Family Institute specializing in working with families, couples and individuals. He holds a Master’s of Science degree in Marital and Family Therapy from Northwestern University and received his PhD in Counseling Psychology from Arizona State University.

 

Read Dr. Hauser’s first bio here, and check out his other posts on TFI Talks.

Learn more about The Family Institute on our website.

Ask a TFI Expert: Dealing with Job Loss and Unemployment with Lesley Seeger, LCSW

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In today’s economy, more and more families and individuals are dealing with issues of job loss and unemployment. Today Lesley Seeger, LCSW, provides some insights and tips on how to deal with the stress.

 

Why me and not the person in the cube next to me?

Job loss and unemployment can have a profound effect on a person’s psychological state. Losing a job and dealing with prolonged unemployment can impact self-esteem—thoughts like “what did I do wrong?” or “am I not good enough?” can affect someone’s confidence in his/her ability and can also bring about feelings of sadness, anger or shame.

 

Its you against a beast.

It’s a loss when we lose a job, and it’s a process, but the economic factors that make job loss and unemployment realities for so many aren’t controllable. When an individual loses a job, he/she may enter into a crisis state. However, as unemployment drags on, then depression can set in. Trying to get back into the workforce in today’s economy can take a toll on self-esteem—even with individuals who have otherwise healthy self-confidence.

 

The stress reverberates.

In addition to its effect on individuals, the strain of job loss and unemployment can impact entire families. The financial stress of unemployment is one thing—but unemployment also can impact families on the emotional level. If you’re feeling angry or scared about your situation, you may become short with your wife or husband, or you may become isolated and withdrawn and not able to be with your family at all.

There is also a shift when a parent is out of a job—Mom or Dad may be home when she/he used to be gone all day—which can create confusion or fear with younger children. Use the opportunity as a teaching moment for your kids and talk to them about what’s going on while also reassuring them things will be okay.

 

Be on the lookout for more serious issues.

While a certain amount of stress and/or sadness is expected when dealing with job loss and unemployment, be aware of the warning signs that there may be a more serious mental health issue going on. If you and/or your loved one(s) are experiencing any of the following, contact a professional:

  • Decrease in self-care (less sleep or significantly more sleep; significant weight gain/loss; lack of personal hygiene)
  • Uncharacteristically withdrawn or on-edge behavior
  • Loss of interest in activities one normally finds enjoyable
  • Loss of motivation or a sense of giving up

 

Combat the psychological strain.

While dealing with job loss and unemployment can be difficult, there are ways to ease the stress:

  1. Structure Your Day: It helps to maintain a similar schedule you had in the working world and to still be present in your life and relationships.
  2. Garner Support: Setting up networking and/or informational meetings takes courage. If you’re not feeling courageous, talk to someone you trust who will support you and remind you of your credentials, qualifications and skills and ‘coach’ you back out there.
  3. Reflect, Breathe, Chat: Take time to reflect and check the facts and remember that some things are out of your control. It’s important to take a step back from the situation, breathe, and reach out to your support people.
  4. Have Compassion for Yourself: It’s hard to be unemployed—there’s financial and emotional stress. Remember to have compassion for yourself as you deal with these issues.
  5. Do Something Different: In addition to the tasks you need to do—job hunting, networking, etc.—take the opportunity of being off work to be creative with your time: See a movie in the middle of a weekday; go to a museum. It’s important to find ways to balance the stress with some fun and normalcy.

Lesley Seeger, LCSW, is a staff therapist at The Family Institute at Northwestern University. She sees clients at the Chicago location and is a member of the Mindfulness and Behavior Therapies Program.

To read Lesley’s full bio or make an appointment, visit our website.

Ask A TFI Couples Expert: Money & Marriage with Anthony Chambers, PhD, ABPP

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As we gear up for our Thursday Circle of Knowledge Event, Gay & Married: Welcome to the Family, we’re thinking about the issues that couples face before they actually tie the knot.

Today’s tips come from expert TFI staff clinician Anthony Chambers, PhD, ABPP. Dr. Chambers is director of the Couples Therapy at the Institute, and has completed training and is an approved provider in two of the most comprehensive and well respected divorce-prevention/marriage enhancing programs in the world: PREP (Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program) and PREPARE/ENRICH.

Today, Dr. Chambers provides insights on one of the most common issues couples face (and how to talk about it before getting married): money.

 

Money presents risks for couples, but also opportunities to co-create a shared vision.

I think it is critical for couples to discuss their finances before they get married. Money is the number one reason why couples get divorced. I am always amazed by how little communication couples have about money prior to getting married, and then once they have to make a major purchase like a house or a car they are then surprised by their partner’s credit score.

Discussing money is especially important because if you set up your finances correctly from the beginning, then a lot of arguments and problems can be avoided. Moreover, although money is a huge risk factor for divorce, it is equally true that money can be a huge protective factor when set up correctly. The transition to marriage is about moving from “I” to “we”, and money may be the single greatest manifestation of “we-ness”. One conceptualization of intimacy is that it is the couple’s ability to co-create a shared vision. In this capitalistic society, there is no vision that doesn’t involve money (i.e., buying a house, a car, saving for kids’ college, retirement, etc.).

That’s not to say that the conversation is always easy. The reason it is so hard for couples to discuss money is because money represents trust, power, control, vulnerability, and fairness. Thus, to the extent that a couple struggles with any of those issues in their relationship, it makes talking about money all the more difficult.

 

Keep it together.

The most common misstep I find couples make regarding money is the separation of money.

Marriage is about moving from independence to interdependence, which basically means whatever you do impacts me and whatever I do impacts you and there is no way to get around that. Couples will frequently try to maintain their independence and avoid financial arguments by trying to separate their finances. However, in a marriage there is not true separation. It is an illusion. Marriage is a group sport and just like any team, if a teammate has a bad night it impacts the other players. Thus, it becomes important to embrace the team concept in order to have success. If a person does not trust their partner with money, then that is probably a sign that they should be in couple therapy to work out the trust issues, because it will not get resolved by simply trying to separate their finances.

 

Make your finances marriage-friendly.

  1. First, couples need to think about money as “our money”. That is, there is one lump sum of money that has to take care of their needs and the needs of their kid(s), if they have any. It doesn’t matter who makes more or who makes less because it is about making sure everyone’s needs are met. Second, there needs to be “transparency”. That is, both members of the couple need to know how much money there is and where it is being invested. Some of the worst cases of infidelity I’ve ever treated were financial, not sexual. Secrets and money is never a good idea!
  1. I recommend couples use technology to help actualize the guideline of transparency. Websites like www.mint.com are great ways to track your finances. Towards that end, I recommend that couples track their finances at least once a week to make sure they are on budget.
  1. Paychecks should be automatically deposited into a joint account. It is OK to have individual accounts, but I recommend that couples have their paychecks automatically deposited into a joint bank account and transferred to the individual account in order to promote transparency. Couples should prioritize their budget by making sure that their collective needs are met (i.e., bills, savings, groceries, etc). Then, if there is money left over, the couples who choose to have individual accounts can transfer some money to their respective individual accounts. Keep in mind that those individual accounts should be checking accounts with low balances as they are for monthly discretionary spending in order to help manage the fact that some couples have different spending priorities. The individual accounts are NOT safety accounts to stash money away “just in case”. Setting up your joint account is a nice way for couples to feel like an “us” and can be something nice to help couples “feel” the transition to marriage, especially if they were cohabitating before marriage.
  1. If a member of the couple wants to help out a family member, make sure that the needs of their new nuclear family is taken care of first before helping out friends and extended family.
  1. Check your credit score before getting married. If one or both members of the couple have a low credit score, that is OK because at least you know the number and you can work together to increase the score(s). Moreover, knowing the credit score is important for delineating the shared vision, because a low credit score may mean delaying certain aspects of that vision, such as purchasing a home.

 

Dr. Chambers’ passion, clinical, teaching, and scholarly interests all focus on strengthening the relationships of couples from all walks of life. He is the Director of the Couples Therapy Program, the Director of the Postdoctoral Fellowship Program in Couple and Family Psychology/Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT), and a Staff Licensed Clinical Psychologist at The Family Institute at Northwestern University. He is also an Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Psychology, and a member of the Teaching Faculty in the MFT Graduate Program at Northwestern University. Dr. Chambers is also one of only 117 Psychologists nationwide Board Certified in treating couples (ABPP-CFP).

To read Dr. Chambers’ full bio, or to make an appointment, visit our website.

 

The Family Institute offers affordable family, couples and individual counseling at our Evanston, downtown Chicago, Lagrange Park and Northbrook locations. Visit our website to learn more.

The Challenge of Prosperity: How are affluence and distress related in adolescents?

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Clinical Science Insight from The Family Institute

As part of The Family Institute’s mission, we are committed to using clinical science to improve the effectiveness of our interventions. Clinical Science Insights, a quarterly publication series, distills our research expertise in a way that is relevant to both clinical practice and everyday life.

As we think about financial issues this month, we’re featuring a Clinical Science Insight from Family Institute licensed clinical psychologist and Vice President for Programs and Academic Affairs, Cheryl Rampage, PhD. This white paper discusses issues of affluence in families, and how they can be risk factors for adolescents.

Says Dr. Rampage:

“Current research shows that affluence is a risk factor in adolescent development–not just having money, but how having money can distort values, parenting practices, and interpersonal relationships (Levine, 2006).”

The white paper discusses the specific risks involved, as well as ways and methods for mitigating those risks. Read this Clinical Science Insight in its entirety at our website, and peruse our other white papers.

 

The Family Institute offers affordable family, couples and individual counseling at our Evanston, downtown Chicago, Lagrange Park and Northbrook locations. Visit our website to learn more.

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