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carrick on money

One of the issues we in the personal finance business have to face up to is that telling people what to do with their money isn’t enough. As important as the message is the way it’s framed and explained. Can you do it in a way that gets people to act, rather than just nod or click to the next story online?

Vanessa Bowen has some thoughts on this. As a chartered professional accountant and money coach for women, she works with clients to change the way they relate to money. Here’s an edited version of an exchange we had by e-mail, including her own discovery that making more money doesn’t solve your money problems:

Q: Vanessa, can you tell us a bit about your background and how you came to be a money coach specializing in helping women get control of their finances?

A: Like most people, money wasn’t the topic of discussion around our dinner table. So, when I started my CPA career and began making money, overspending and racking up debt became my new norm. Luckily, I had a mentor who sat me down and taught me how to better manage my finances. As I was climbing out of debt and changing my own money habits, I began sharing my journey with other women, and I realized that we all held the same insecurities, beliefs and relationship patterns with money. I decided to focus on helping women with their finances because I’ve lived their journey and I understand that financial independence can change a woman’s life.

Q: Let’s say you’re sizing up a new client - what are the top two or three pieces of information you use to form an impression of someone as a money manager?

A: I want to know their money story – their financial struggles, mistakes they have made and continue to make and their thoughts and feelings about money. I also want to know why they are coming to me for coaching, and why now. The answers to these questions provide a good indication of whether the person is truly ready for financial change. While some people think they are, I’ve found many aren’t actually ready to shift their habits and do what is necessary to create their own financial freedom.

Q: You talk on your website about thinking in your younger years that making more money would solve your financial problems. I feel like a lot of young adults today have the same idea in talking about side hustles and high-risk investing. What’s your advice to those who think all will be well if they have more money?

A: If you can’t manage a little, you won’t be able to manage a lot. Making more money while having the same bad money habits is only going to get you into a bigger financial mess, faster. I think people often use this as an excuse to continue avoiding their finances – I know I did. I tell my clients all the time, it’s not about how much you make, it’s about what you do with what you make. Create the proper money habits before you make the money and you’ll be more likely to keep that money instead of wasting it away.

Q: What are the common themes among your clients who in the past tried and failed to get their finances under control?

A: Lack of financial education and accountability — even with the best intentions people still end up having their money in the wrong accounts or throw it away on bank fees. I think there’s a bit of a pendulum when it comes to fees and people sometimes swing towards the fee side without noticing — I had a client who was paying $75 a month in bank fees! But there’s another side that rewards you for banking. We switched her over to a no-fee PC Money Account so she could put that $75 towards her debts instead. Now she’s also earning points on all her purchases which frees up even more cash for debt payments.

Q: Let’s flip the previous question around - what are some signs of being in control of your money and on the path to financial independence?

A: Having a budget, spending smart and building your own financial security. Budgeting may seem like a chore, but people who are in control of their money take the time to do it - a half hour a week to take stock of your finances can be all that’s required. People who spend smart are always looking for ways to earn a return on their money. With interest rates at all-time lows, many are turning to bank accounts that reward them for spending. When it comes to financial security, people in control of their finances also have an emergency fund. If the last year has taught us anything, we never know what life may bring.

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