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Psychologist | Speaker | Media Expert | Workplace Consultant | Researcher

Special on managing your finances: speak openly with your partner about financial matters – and teach your children the value of a dollar, advises organizational and media consultant, Dr. Joti Samra

(by Rattan Mall, The Asian Journal)


South Asian husbands and wives need to talk openly about their finances with each other, advises clinical psychologist Dr. Joti Samra, who is past president of the BC Psychological Association.


Samra told Asian Journal: “Finances and sex are the two most common areas of conflict between partners and there’s a lot of shame and stigma around speaking about finances.


“Often people have a lot of difficulty even being able to speak very openly with their partner about money issues. I have a private practice and I see couples that may be together for five, 10, 15 or 20 years who can’t sit down and have effective, calm discussions about finances.”


Samra is co-hosting a brand new series – Million Dollar Neighbourhood – on Corus Entertainment’s OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network (Canada) which premieres this Sunday, January 22 at 5 p.m. PT (and re-airs at 8 p.m. PT) about an unprecedented social experiment set in Aldergrove, B.C., in which 100 families have only 10 weeks to raise their collective net worth by $1 million.


She told me: “Finances are an important topic that couples should be speaking about no matter what,” adding that it didn’t matter even if a wife was a homemaker.


Samra noted: “I often get that from women. They’ll say ‘well, he’s in charge of that, he brings home the money, I am at home.’ So they feel they don’t have a right to be able to ask these questions.


“But what I’ll say to couples is you need to have some level of discussion and I think it’s actually really important for a family unit to have both partners involved in important decisions about finances.”


Samra said: “When there are financial issues that are unresolved, they can impact our psychological health as well as our physical health.


“Because this can affect so many different parts of our life – our happiness level, the quality of our relationship with our partner – it often is a source of a lot of conflict between couples.”


Samra also pointed out: “Being stuck in a cycle where you repeatedly fight about the bills and over your partner’s spending (or saving) habits often gets nowhere. It is much more productive to focus discussions on understanding each other’s underlying money values. Try to understand how you each view money.”


Some questions you should ask yourselves:
* What do each of you want money to help you attain and achieve?
* What are the emotional associations each of you have?
* How have each of you been impacted by your respective family’s views on money?
* Was money spoken about openly or was there shame associated with talking about money?


“Taking a non-judgmental, empathic approach to understanding your partner’s money values can be a highly effective strategy to working to solve financial-related conflicts.


Samra noted: “The Indo-Canadian community continues to have strong patriarchal beliefs and unfortunately often women are not involved in financial decisions with the same equality – so there are a lot of barriers there.”


And when you look at the typical scenario of the woman living with the husband’s side of the family, often there’s this kind of power differential where the woman may feel they don’t have the right to ask questions, where important decisions may be made by the husband who’s often also the main breadwinner.


She added: “Unfortunately, that doesn’t create equality between partners when they are approaching decisions that way. It doesn’t allow them to have their own independence.”


The other issue is the interference that often comes from extended families when it comes to financial decisions and that creates a lot of conflict for couples – situations where the husband and wife want to make a decision about a family trip, for example, and then there is criticism from parents or in-laws.


She added: “This interference can create conflict between the husband and wife in their own decisions and it does not give them the autonomy to decide on how to use their money.”


Another issue in our community is differences in values on what the money should be used for, and some of this comes from some of the beliefs that people have when they are immigrants and resources are restricted.


So they may not value ‘fun experiences’ and instead put money towards saving for weddings for the kids. Or there may be enough money for their kids, but they may not be able to spend money on what they might view as being non-essential things.


Some other tips from Samra for couples:


* Appreciate that you and your partner may have different ‘money personalities.’ Embrace these differences, and build off each others’ strengths. Identify your respective approaches to money. Who is a “saver”? A “spender”? Who has strengths with respect to establishing and managing a family budget? Then draw off these strengths! The “saver” can be a good person to help generate creative strategies when your family is under financial stress.  The “spender” can be the one who can help ensure that fun is scheduled into your family life!


* Dedicate regular, scheduled times to discuss money with your partner. Ensure that you and your partner make time for dedicated conversations about money. Use this time to revisit and revise individual and family goals, including your individual and collective short and long-term dreams. Review investments, household budgets, outstanding bills and debts, and establish agreed-upon budgets for special occasions and holidays.


Samra also highlighted the need to involve children in discussions about money.


She said: “Often why adults struggle with managing finances is that no one talked to them when they were kids. So one of the things for individuals to realize is that it’s important to teach these principles to your children – teach them the value of the dollar.”


Samra added: “The other thing I see is where families think they are doing the right thing by giving their children things – buying them a car, giving them this, giving them that.


“Then what happens is that you have these kids who may be teens or even young adults who’ve never learned the value of the dollar because it’s just been handed to them. And I think that’s a big mistake that a lot of individuals in our community also make.


“They feel like they are doing the right thing by making life easy for their child, but unfortunately, what they are doing is not teaching them about things like the value of a dollar, how to budget, how to actually feel rewarded. All of us, if we are able to work for what we have, we put a different value on that.”


HERE are other helpful tips from Samra on managing your finances:


1. Think about money as being a means to end. Articulate your financial goals and dreams, and establish specific and actionable goals.
In and of itself, money means nothing. This may sound like an obvious statement, but regularly remind yourself that money is just a means to an end. Identify what that end is for you. What are your short and long-term financial goals? What short and long-term dreams do you have? Be specific about what you want to achieve, and write those things down. Research demonstrates that when we write our dreams down, we are much more likely to follow through on achieving them. Then establish specific and actionable goals.  For example, saying you “want to save more” is a general and non-actionable goal. Saying you “want to save an extra $100 per month” is a specific and clear goal. Then identify what actions you will take to ensure this happens. The more specific you are, the more likely you are to be successful.


2. Identify the emotion states that surround money for you.
Money is an emotionally charged topic! Many of us have a number of strong emotions that surround money and finances – this can include fear (e.g., about having enough to survive), guilt or shame (e.g., if you have made poor financial decisions in the past), anger (e.g., at partner’s spending habits) or low self-esteem / confidence (if you lack strong skills in managing finances). The emotional reactions we have surrounding money often come from our family of origin, can be strongly ingrained, and can interfere with our ability to take next steps with respect to improving our financial health. Pay attention to the emotions (and associated thoughts) that come up for you. Try to identify the source of those emotions, and work to problem-solve those causes.


3. Confront your financial challenges head on.
When we are faced with worry or stress about anything in our life – including finances – we have a strongly ingrained natural tendency to want to avoid and procrastinate on addressing those issues. Although avoidance helps us in the short-term, avoidance is an unhelpful long-term strategy in that our worry and anxiety grows over time. Pay attention to times that your urge to avoid surfaces, and be proactive in taking steps to expose yourself to things and situations that increase anxiety (e.g., opening bills, doing taxes, making an appointment with a financial advisor).


4. Manage your stress!
Financial difficulties are, not uncommonly, a tangible result of other stressors in our life, including relationship stressors. Identify the source of stressors in your life and work to proactively target and problem-solve those stressors, as doing so can have an overall significant positive impact on your financial health.


5. Never shop as a way to improve your mood.
Many people, particularly women, have a tendency to want to shop when mood is low, sad, depressed, anxious, or even angry. Although this can lead to a temporary lift in mood, often our decision-making is poor when we are experiencing negative emotions, and we often make decisions we later regret. Work to regulate other negative emotions and avoid impulse-shopping.  Seek treatment for underlying mood issues if these have been unaddressed.


6. Identify your financial “needs” and differentiate those from your financial “wants.”
Most people are guilty of spending money on unnecessary things that they don’t need. Impulse-shopping, shopping when mood is low, and a desire to “keep up with the Jones’” are all contributing factors. Be honest with yourself about your financial needs (the “must-have’s”) and separate those out from your financial wants (the unnecessary, “nice-to-have’s”). If you are in a challenging financial situation, be mindful of how much is being expended on the wants, and actively work to reducing those expenses.


7. Channel your emotional energy into the things you can change, and work toward acceptance of the things you cannot.
No matter how hard we wish, will, or think it: we simply cannot change the past financial decisions we have made. Take a stance of radical acceptance of past decisions, mistakes and failures. Then focus your energy on what you can control moving forward. All too often we get caught in ruminating about the past, and this does nothing other than increase our stress and worry, and interferes with our ability to put energy into changing our future.


8. Find a financial workout partner!
When it comes to our physical health, we have workout partners for a reason: they help us stay accountable, on track with our program, and motivate us when our urge is to avoid or procrastinate. Finding a financial workout partner can serve the same goal! Find a friend, family member, or neighbour that can serve as a buddy. Remember – almost everyone struggles with some aspect of their financial health, and all of us can benefit from having the support of someone who is also trying to make changes in their financial life.


9. Remember: changing your financial behaviours is process and a journey, and slow and steady wins the race.
Once you make up your mind to tackle your financial situation head-on, it can be tempting to try to make immediate drastic changes. Remind yourself that there is no rush to the finish line, and that the best thing you can do is establish realistic and specific goals that are sustainable over time. From a psychological perspective, you are much more likely to succeed if you establish goals that you can stick to for the long haul.


MILLION DOLLAR NEIGHBOURHOOD series premieres Sunday, January 22 at 8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PT and repeats at 11 p.m. ET / 8 p.m. PT on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN). In the face of crushing debt, massive credit card bills, rocketing housing costs and out-of-control spending, the families step out of their comfort zones to tackle their financial problems together. The one-hour series is co-hosted by Dr. Samra and financial expert Bruce Sellery, who help the Aldergove neighbours address their personal problems with tough love and uncompromising directness.

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