By Karin Mizgala, BA Psyc, MBA, CFP®
Prescriptive advice is the staple of magazines and blogs. It’s often presented in easy to read lists with catchy headlines like: How to…. 3 ways to… 7 habits of…. We’ve all seen the format, we even use it here on this blog. It’s a popular style because it gets right to the point with actionable steps to make changes in everything from your health, your parenting, and of course your finances.
So why aren’t we all healthy, wealthy, fantastic parents? Well, some people are. But many others find that somewhere between information and action, something disconnects. It’s that space between that motivates Vancouver psychologist turned financial advisor, Tracy Theemes, to explore the psychology of money, especially as it pertains to women.
Over and over, Theemes sees women taking a backseat in their financial lives and making decisions based on advice rather than education, or worse still, not being involved in financial decisions at all. Real empowerment, she says, comes when you take full responsibility for your life.
There is a lingering cultural assumption that men are better with money, which is simply not true, says Theemes, but men and women are wired differently, physiologically, biologically, linguistically, emotionally… which means that they approach finances differently. Referring to research by business professor Dr. Joan Meyers-Levy, Theemes says women are more likely to look at a decision from more angles, using more sources and considering more possible outcomes than men do, which can make women appear less confident in their choices, even when they are not. “We need to shed light on the differences,” she says, “so we can have informed discussions.”
What fascinates Theemes is the subtle resistance to financial empowerment that many women don’t even realize they have. “I speak to women,” she says, “that tell me they don’t have issues around money. But at the same time, they stay in unhappy marriages, or they hesitate to take their career to the next level, or they put off approaching a bank for a business loan.” Issues around money aren’t always about debt, they can be subconsciously about staying small and less powerful.
But staying small and less powerful is not something Theemes wants women to do. Educating women about money is a big part of what she does at Sophia Financial Group – Raymond James, which she founded in 2008 with like-minded financial advisor Kamal Basra. Both women do pro-bono work in their community to educate women about finance. They also developed Sophia Wealth Academy, a full day, educational fundraising event, aimed at helping women move their financial lives forward (proceeds go to Dress for Success, a non-profit organization dedicated to “women’s self-sufficiency”).
This month marks the ninth session of Wealth Academy, and sparked by research Theemes has been reading in the field of behavioural epigenetics, there will be a larger focus on the psychological barriers to wealth.
Put very simply, behavioural epigenetics studies the effects of life events, circumstances and trauma on our genes, and suggests that these genetic alterations affect our personality and habits. In an article in the May 2013 Issue of Discover Magazine, writer Dan Hurley writes, “Like silt deposited on the cogs of a finely tuned machine after the seawater of a tsunami recedes, our experiences, and those of our forebears, are never gone, even if they have been forgotten. They become a part of us, a molecular residue holding fast to our genetic scaffolding.”
This suggestion that the life experiences of our ancestors could affect who we are today, intrigues Theemes. “Women’s history is not a story of empowerment,” she says, “it’s not a legacy we want to leave unchallenged.”
It’s fitting then, that this new session of Wealth Academy will be held on October 18th, 2014 which is the 85th anniversary of women being declared “persons” under the law in Canada.
There is a triad for change that is the same for men and women: Clear out the negative, plant the seeds of the positive, and deepen the change through mindful repetition.
The problem, as Theemes sees it, is that most of the financial advice, the prescriptive advice referred to earlier, addresses the planting of positive seeds, but skips the clearing out of the negative. “It’s like making soup in a poorly cleaned pot,” she says, “as you heat up the new soup, the old soup starts floating up in bits and pieces, spoiling the fresh soup.”
“What we will be working on at this session of Wealth Academy will be quite different than what we have done in the past,” says Theemes, “we will be very focused on clearing out the negative. I want to help women recognize the beliefs that hold them back. It will be different for everyone. Everyone will be cracking their own personal code.”
For those outside the Vancouver area, unable to attend Sophia Wealth Academy, Theemes suggests taking the time to inventory your habits and feelings, good and bad, around money. When you clear a space to look at your current money mind, you can see the beliefs that may have gone unchallenged for years. Challenge them one by one and take charge of your financial future.
If you would like more great advice from Tracy Theemes, her book, The Financially Empowered Woman – everything you really want to know about your money, is available to purchase here.