- Guest: Dr. Megan McCoy
- Host: Adam Walker
- Publication Date: June 7, 2022
[00:00:00] Dr. Megan McCoy: To me, financial freedom is really this like
belief in oneself that you have a plan in place and you're going to be okay. I
think that to me, it's financial freedom.
[00:00:20] Adam Walker: Debt. We've all heard of it. Most of us have it. Debt
is an almost
unavoidable reality of life. But what happens when it starts
consuming life? The experts at Money Management International believe that
financial challenges aren't meant to be faced alone.
On this podcast, we hear stories of people whose lives have been
MMI’s role as their toughest coach and loudest cheerleader. Their stories are
unique, personal, and inspiring. So stay tuned, because we're sharing each
guest’s Long Story Short.
Dr. Megan McCoy is a professor of practice and financial planning
University and is a licensed financial therapist, researcher,
today's episode, we'll talk to Dr. McCoy about the intersection of emotion and
finances in her work with the
Dr. McCoy, welcome to the show!
[00:01:27] Dr. Megan McCoy: Just one minor thing. I'm actually a Licensed
Marriage and Family Therapist, and Certified Financial Therapist. Which is
good to say, though, because no one knows what a Financial Therapist is.
there was only a great study by my friend, Sherry, who talked about how many
people thought financial therapists were all shrinks.
And there was recently a study by Kristy Archuleta and her colleague at
University of Georgia, and we found out
70% of people who consider
themselves Financial Therapists now are actually financial professionals,
financial planners, financial counselors, and financial educators.
But, it's so new
that I think a lot of professionals and clients don't know who they are or how
they could possibly help.
So I think it's fun to kind of have a chance to kind of talk about that a little bit
[00:02:09] Adam Walker: No, yeah. Really appreciate you giving us that
clarity. I didn't even know that that was a thing. So that
's, and that's why we
have these conversations. That's fantastic. Well, listen, this is exciting and such
an important topic for us to talk about. So let's start with kinda your fly over
about who you are, your education, and how you got involved with MMI.
[00:02:29] Dr. Megan McCoy: Yes. So it was all luck, honestly. So I went
back after I was working as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist for a
while because I wanted to go to school to get more practical practitioner skills.
Right? Did not know that
's not what a doctorate degree is. So I'm in my PhD,
stuck in statistics classes, mostly sleeping my way through my time in Athens
and being like, what am I going to do next? Like this isn't for me.
about dropping out, like what's going to be my next step? And the Financial
Therapy Association came to town.
It was their second ever conference. So this is back in 2013, like it all developed
because of the Great Recession and I probably wouldn't have gone except for
they let grad students in for free. So I walked into this conference, very last
minute, still thinking about what's my next steps. And I saw a live
demonstration of financial therapy.
At that point, it was two practitioners and an actual mental health professional, a
wonderful, neat one named Dave Jetson and a financial planner named Rick
Taylor who's amazing. And they showed a demonstration of financial therapy.
And I was like, oh my gosh, like, this is what my clients need. This is what I
Like, I need this help. Like I had no idea that my emotional well
being was so
tied to my financial health until that moment in time. And it opened the flood
gate. And so I jumped into these financial literacy courses. I actually started
with capstone course in financial planning, which is not the greatest place to
start for someone who doesn't know anything about money, but it was a great
baptism by fire.
I loved it and I'm still in the midst of it over a decade later. All I want to do is
help people start talking about this connection between money
wellbeing and help people understand that there are these cognitions, these
beliefs that are holding us back from doing exactly what we want to do with
[00:04:25] Adam Walker: Wow. I love that. I mean, honestly, I'd really never
thought about, you know, I think about that that money issue certainly cost
stress. Right. But I don't think about the emotional connection of it. And I don't
think about how the effects of overall well
being, aside from like a place to live
in and things to
eat, right? But it's much deeper than that, right?
[00:04:43] Dr. Megan McCoy: So much deeper. And I'm so happy that the
Certified Financial Planning Board, the regulatory body that now controls who
can become a CFE, what education do they need? What do
they need to know
for the exam? They recently added a client psychology domain and that domain
is just like you were talking about.
Not only do we know the intersection is important, but we know we can tell our
clients, until we're blue in the face, what
they should do. But if they have these
beliefs or thoughts or past experiences around money, they're not going to be
able to implement those changes we want them to do. So, yeah.
[00:05:17] Adam Walker: I mean, so it's interesting that you mentioned that
like so much of what we believe about ourselves affects the actions that we
take, right? And if we believe the wrong things about ourselves, we take the
wrong actions. But if we can start to believe the right things about ourselves, we
can start to take the right action.
[00:05:35] Dr. Megan McCoy: And the right things about money. You like the
reason I think financial therapy is still a rather small domain is that not only do
financial planners rather work with the numbers sometimes.
Like they rather, like, let me get the best spreadsheet for you. But mental health
professionals also don't want to go into the numbers. Like we have these beliefs
around money not being important or somehow being about greed or, or
superficiality. And so
we don't engage in those conversations either.
But what we know from great researchers like Jeffery Doom and so many more
is that money is what we project our deepest fears and dreams and hopes onto.
And so by having these conversations in both our fields,
we're able to get our
clients dreaming and hoping and uncovering their fears.
[00:06:20] Adam Walker: I love that. I mean, so it was a really in a lot of
ways, the way that someone looks at money as a microcosm of sort of who they
are, right? And in a broader sense. Wow. I never thought of that. That's kind of
So let's, let's dig in to debt for a minute because you know, that's such
a, that's such a critical topic.
How does debt impact a person's story? You know, personally, professionally,
emotionally. And how do you see debt counseling factoring into that picture?
[00:06:53] Dr. Megan McCoy: Yeah, debt means so much more. Like we were
going back to those beliefs around money and some of us believe money isn't
important, so we don't spend enough effort or energy on it.
There's others of us who equate our self
worth to our net worth. And this is
especially true around some gender dynamics in our country. That if I have
debt, that means I've failed as man or a failed as whatever identity has gotten
tied into financial success. And so debt has these burdens of not only the, the
possible stigma of, of needing support from the government, or other agencies,
or just even financial professionals who can help.
But it has this also secondary
burden of like, I somehow failed,
I'm not adulting, or not doing what I should be doing. Then that is compounded
by the fact we don't talk about money. So we think we're the only ones who are
in debt. We're the only ones who are going through this. Because no one else
sharing their own struggles and experiences around it.
[00:07:52] Adam Walker: Yeah. I mean, so to your point, right, and which is
my next question, is there's a stigma around debt. And, and what strikes me
about it is that, and maybe I'm wrong. Tell me if I'm wrong, but what strikes me
is about it is that I feel like everybody deals with debt and nobody ever talks
about it right. I mean, is that, is that right?
[00:08:13] Dr. Megan McCoy: It's so true. Like you, I remember I teach like a
racy class to my undergraduates. And there's always one slide on
how much debt Americans have and it's insane.
Like we have so much student loan debt. We have so much credit card debt. We
have so much housing debt. So much has been exasperated because of COVID
and yet no one's having conversations around money with their family, with
their friends. It's just something so taboo. My friend Ken White and I have used
this data data set a couple of times that talks about like financial communication
and almost 90% of the sample has not talked to anybody about money and over
Those are so many opportunities to say I'm in debt too, here are the resources
I've pulled in, here are the things that have helped me. Instead, we're so
ashamed, we keep it hidden, an
d we can't learn from one another.
[00:09:05] Adam Walker: Well, and then it, it, because we keep it hidden
because it's that stigma, it also causes this level of stress that's really profound
and we just carry the stress and we don't know what to do when
in fact there are
solutions, right? And we can just talk to people and, and find those solutions if
we're willing to just have the conversation. Right?
I'm curious then how, how do
you think about creating those conversations?
If, if you're, if somebody is listening that that realizes, you know, maybe they
have credit card debt or maybe they have other debt that they, that they don't
talk about. Like how do they start that conversation with somebody?
[00:09:42] Dr. Megan McCoy: Yeah. I think being vulnerable is very scary,
but it can be couched in your plan. You know, like I'm in this debt. I got
underwater and I'm figuring out a plan and I'm reaching out to everyone I trust
and respect to hear if they've ever had similar experiences so I can learn from
So here are my strategies I've come up so far. Have you had any of your own
that you could share with me? And so then it comes from such a place of debt is
not unsolvable. Like Dave Ramsey's is, has helped a lot of people. There are
some limitations in
what he suggests, but the reason he's helped so many people
is he very much projects the big stories of people overcoming massive amounts
These at the end of the day, we know if you have a plan in place, we can figure
it out. If, if, if you figure out how to make your cash outflow a little bit less, just
a little bit less, than your inflow. Over time, you will be okay.
And I can speak
personally, because part of the reason I needed financial therapy so much as I
got into a massive amount of stude
nt loans, because I wanted to go to school for
ever. I almost attempted, and I was almost succeeded, but I got into a lot of
student loan debt and I had this coping strategy of just saying it was such a big
I was never going to get over it. So why
should I care? Why should I try?
then I got a plan in place and it was a really long plan of like 10 years of paying
it back and 10 years in your 20 seems like an eternity. Almost an hour is like,
not that long, but when I finally got through it, I was
like, that really didn't take
You know, I could, I got, if I can pay off six figures in student loans debt,
anybody can overcome any kind of debt as long as there's a plan, as long as you
trust the time is on your side.
[00:11:29] Adam Walker: Yeah, and, and, and in thinking about that, right?
Like we're, we're, again, coming back to this concept of conversations, I feel
like what prohibits people is this concept of, if you talk to a friend and say, I've
got this blank debt, you know, whatever
that is that I'm dealing with, I feel like
we're, we're, we're assuming the friend is going to look at like we have three
heads and be horrified.
But in reality, the statistics show that very likely the
friend is going to look at us and go, you too? And then it, and then it's an
opportunity for the friendship to go deeper. But it's also an opportunity to share
learning and resources and opportunities to help one another.
[00:12:06] Dr. Megan McCoy: Right. Right. I mean, if your friend somehow
managed to never get debt then I promise you their parents, or their siblings, or
another friend, someone close in their life has experienced it. It's touched too
many people's lives to not be a universal experience at this point.
[00:12:23] Adam Walker: Yeah, that's right. That's right. So, looking at the
other side of the coin, recognizing that most everybody's dealing with this, what
does freedom from debt look like from your perspective?
[00:12:34] Dr. Megan McCoy: Yeah. You know, one thing I, I talk a lot in my
nerdy lessons is the difference between financial stress and financial anxiety. So
oftentimes financial stress, what it means is that there's something clearly
stressing you out.
There is an external factor that is causing you stress. You don't have enough.
You don't, you want more. You have your needs not getting met. What happens
over time is that we're not meant for sustained stress and after a while, the stress
becomes anxiety. Anxiety, no longer has an external factor. It's no longer
pointed at one thing
. It becomes this ambiguous shape within us that we worry
about finances and it becomes almost like bleeding into other aspects of our life.
The financial anxiety is harder to conquer because you don't have to fix one
number on a spreadsheet. Now you have
to have a sense of okayness, a sense of
I'm going to be okay.
And I think financial freedom does not mean well, does not mean a number in
the bank account. I know very, very wealthy people who still have all this
financial anxiety looming upon them. I also know people who are just barely
making it by who are not worried about their future. They know they have a
plan in place.
So to me, financial freedom is really this like belief in oneself that you have a
plan in place and you're going to be okay. I think
that to me is financial
[00:14:01] Adam Walker: I mean, I love, I love that. Because if we have a
plan, you can look at it. You can see the end goal. You can see where you're at
in the plan.
You can see, oh, let's see how far you can look back an
d see how far you've
come with the plan. And it gives you that peace of mind. Right? Cause that's
really what we're looking for is that, is that, that comfort, that, that stability, that
peace of mind. And that's what that plan gives you.
[00:14:25] Dr. Megan McCoy: There are two, at least two, there's probably
more, but two great books I've read on behavioral change recently. Called, one's
called Tiny Habits. One's called Atomic Habits. Both of these books, underlying
it, is that we cannot eat off the who
le thing right away and we shouldn't either.
Because like, let's take my six figures in student loans.
Right. I paid it off recently and it felt so great that first day. And then the next
I was like, oh, that was pretty cool. And then like a week later, I found
myself not thinking about it at all. But if you create a plan with all these little
tiny goals, tiny accomplishments, where, like you said, you could track over
time, this progress
you were making, you get to have all these mini celebrations
and you, what we know, is that mini celebrations create more long lasting
happiness than one giant excitement. That plan is key.
[00:15:17] Adam Walker: Well, I mean, and I love, I love that you mentioned
Atomic Habits because it's one of my very favorite books in the world. And, and
honestly, like that's where that concept of the way that you view yourself affects
the actions that you take. Like that's where that came from for me, because in a,
in a different realm, like, so, so not talking about financial, but for me, exercise,
I never really considered myself to be very physically fit.
And then what I was, I was listening to Atomic Habits and I decided you know
what, I'm going to start viewing
myself as an athlete. Like that's my persona, I'm
going to take that persona. I am an athlete.
What does an athlete do today? An
athlete exercises. So that I've been exercising more consistently than any other
time in my entire life because of that one change in how I view myself.
And so from a financial perspective, right? If, if people can view themselves
differently, then they can begin to make different decisions. So I'm curious with
kind of framing that up for you. Like, what are some personas financially that
you would suggest people take on to consider themselves that way?
[00:16:19] Dr. Megan McCoy: Yeah. You know, I can help it resonate about
how I used to call myself like bad at money. Right? And I think I've met a lot of
people like this. Some of
us think we're bad at money because we're wasteful.
Some of us think we're bad at money because we just don't know the tricks of
the trade or all these different reasons.
But if you could reframe yourself as someone who is competent with money,
like. I am
someone who knows money is important to reach my needs. It's not
that money is going to make me happy. It's that money is going to give me the
opportunity to reach the goals I want in life that will make me happy and I have
the skills to get there.
I think that is an amazing shift into thinking about this persona of like, of
confidence of, of like we talked about that belief in yourself, the belief in the
plan belief in your future will be wearing. You know, not to get nerdy. I don't
want to lose any of your listeners by talking about theory, because I remember
again, sleeping through my doctoral programs, but so much,
I think, of our problem in Atomic Habits touches this, too. Is that early Econ
theories, early theories we use to describe people's persona
l finance always had
a very big focus on self control. Like people aren't doing the right thing.
Because they don't have enough self control.
And I think that's BS. I don't think
that's true at all.
I don't think it's self
control, I think maybe you're coping or you're, you're
having different priorities, or you're in pain, or you need some more scaffolding.
I don't think it's self
control and if we just keep on battering ourselves that we're
not doing the right thing financially, because we don't have self
just going to end up black and blue from our beatings.
Not actually better around our finances.
We can make, finances have enough
defaults nowadays that we, we can make things easy around finances that it
doesn't have to be about self
control. It could be so many things automated, so
much about daydreaming about future goals and so you're no longer making
sacrifices just to being self self
control. You're making sacrifices for that future
trip to Europe, or paying off that car, or getting your dream home and your
partner. That's a lot easier to work with, then you need to have more self
[00:18:27] Adam Walker: I love that. I love that perspective. That's so great.
And I agree because when you, when you focus. I need more self-control, that's
not a good way to get more self
control. It doesn't work that way. That's a
terrible, terrible methodology.
[00:18:38] Dr. Megan McCoy: You have to go shopping to make yourself feel
better for a beating yourself up.
[00:18:42] Adam Walker: Yeah. Yeah. It's it's it's crazy. Well, well, Megan,
this has been amazing. So two last questions. The first though, before we get too
deep into it if our listeners want to hear more from you, are there places online
they can find you and connect?
18:56] Dr. Megan McCoy: LinkedIn is my favorite. I am a little bit what
they call a geriatric millennials. So I'm not great about all social media, but I am
good with my LinkedIn. So please join me there. And if anybody's nerdy and
likes to read, I have what's called a Google Scholar profile where he can see all
my articles I've written on the intersection of financial health and wellbeing.
That's a fun one. And you can always email me. My email is
[00:19:22] Adam Walker: Wow. That's fantastic. So last question. Are there
any final thoughts from anything we've discussed so far that you'd like to share
with our listeners?
[00:19:29] Dr. Megan McCoy: I just love that part of your underlying message
was to get support. If you find that your
money is getting in the way of your
emotional wellbeing, or if your emotional wellbeing it's getting in the way of
your financial behaviors, reach out to support. I mean, every financial
professional I talked to through my K State program just wants to be
an accountant to their clients. They want to be that listening ear. They want to
be supportive. They want to be caring and they can really be a wonderful
resource for you.
[00:19:59] Adam Walker: Wow. That's fantastic advice. I so appreciate it
thank you for joining us on the show today.
[00:20:04] Dr. Megan McCoy: Thank you so much, Adam.
[00:20:09] Adam Walker: Thanks for listening to this episode of Long Story
Short, brought to you by Money Management International.
To learn more about how MMI helps people from all walks of life get unstuck
and out of the vicious cycle of debt through personalized solutions that inspire
hope, visit moneymanagement.org.
This episode was produced by Edgewise Media. Scriptwriting and production
by Clara Jennings, editing by Brandon Ellis, and show hosting by me, Adam
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