Welcome to the Financial Finesse Podcast, where we’ll be discussing tips on how to handle your money and life with skill and style. Your host Cathy Curtis, CFP® has been helping make finance accessible and intriguing for women for almost 20 years. You will get savvy actionable ideas listening to her conversations with some of the coolest and smartest women on the planet. And now, here’s your host, Cathy Curtis.
Hi. I’m Cathy Curtis, host of the Financial Finesse podcast and founder of Curtis Financial Planning in Oakland, California, an independent financial planning firm that specializes in the unique financial needs of independent women. As a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, I partner with women who take the lead in their household finances to help them secure their future while getting more enjoyment from their money today. So whether you’re single, the primary earner in your family, or simply take an interest in personal financial management, this podcast is for you.
In this episode, I interview Joy Lere, a licensed clinical psychologist and behavioral finance consultant with a practice in Napa, California. Joy previously served as an Associate Clinical Professor of Clinical Psychology at George Washington University and has held clinical and research positions at Children’s National Medical Center, Penn Medicine Princeton Health, and the Department of Defense.
One of the reasons I find Joy so fascinating is because of how she describes her clients: thoughtful, curious individuals who often know the “right” answers but find themselves repeatedly pulled into familiar, problematic patterns that hold them back from achieving their full potential. In many ways, her work goes hand in hand with the work I do as a financial advisor, since so much of our money habits and decisions are tied to the beliefs and patterns we developed at an early age that no longer serve us.
During the interview, Joy and I discuss the parallels between our psychology and money habits and why self-awareness is so critical for getting out of our own way as individuals and financial decision-makers.
Specifically, we touch on…
How setting clear boundaries for ourselves and living our lives authentically can actually improve our financial outcomes.
Why spending our time and money in line with our personal values makes us happier and more fulfilled.
And the psychological reason budgeting is so hard for so many people.
I really enjoyed my conversation with Joy, and I hope you do, too.
I am continually struck by how much what I do as a financial planner/advisor and how much what you do as a clinical psychologist intersect. For example, when I asked you who you do your best work with, you said that a crisis or distress usually brings a client into therapy. But after you get over the storm, then is the real opportunity to help somebody with their life and to help them up-level their life.
And I find this is really true with being a financial advisor as well. I call it a trigger, there’s usually a trigger that brings a client into my office. And sometimes they’re panicking over whether they’re going to be able to retire when they want or they received an inheritance and they have no idea how to invest it. There’s a lot of emotions tied around inheritance. Sometimes it’s some other issue, they don’t know how to budget. And after we do a plan and put their mind at ease about that particular crisis or trigger, then I can do the deeper work over the long term of making someone feel really comfortable around their money and help them use their money to create a life they really value.
But given that I’m not a clinical psychologist, sometimes some behaviors are hard to change. And, for example, an over-spender, or someone who has total inertia around money and delays getting me what I need to create a plan, or they don’t want to look at their budget. And if they do set a budget, then they forget about it. So I’m wondering, what tools do you use in situations like that with your clients on an ongoing basis? How do you help them?
So I think you’re so right about something, Cathy. The conversations that clients are having with me in the therapy office are very similar to the conversations they are having with you in the financial planning office, because people are coming in, and they’re talking about their lives. And money is inextricably tied up in so many important aspects of who we are, our work, really creating a legacy, our purpose, these are deep issues. And as I think about the work that I do with clients I know, I really think that there is, there’s a lot of value in understanding how your history has come to shape and inform who you are today, how you show up in the world.
I think there are a lot of things that people copy, paste and carry forward in their lives—attitudes, beliefs, roles, behaviors, tendencies and patterns that they have—that they don’t even realize have their roots back in their very earliest experiences in life. Now, what I think is wonderful and marvelous, and creates hope for everyone is: you are not your history. Now, brain science even shows that as we move through our lives, experience then shapes and modifies even the structures in our brains. So who you have been, where you have come from, that is not prescriptive of where you are going.
So one of the things that therapy is really about, so it’s understanding your history, and then it’s developing, really developing, strengthening self-awareness. So understanding who you are, learning to pay attention to what is going on inside of you, being able to begin to label your emotions, have language for that, because all of our feelings have functions, they’re providing us with information. Now, sometimes some of the things people do in response to their feelings are problematic. So then the work is okay, when you can notice something happening internally, step back and ask, okay, what is this feeling? What is this trigger telling me? And then kind of lengthening that space between the stimulus and the response, or the action or reaction to the situation, whatever it may be, so that there’s more freedom to choose in that gap.
Right, and what you’re saying can be applied to money behavior, but it’s really about any behavior that someone is finding problematic in their life, right?
Well, I think God, and what’s happening in the markets, right? I think that work is so important because we are all so different when it comes to our money. I call it money personality, that’s the term that I use. And, and our personality and experiences are based on what happened in the past, but I think there is more than one way to have a successful financial life.
You do not have to be a certain way to be able to live well, enjoy your money, retire successfully. You don’t have to be rich, you can have a moderate lifestyle, you could have moderate income. I think, and I know you agree because you’re a behavioral psychologist, that certain behaviors allow someone to be more successful than other behaviors. And I listened to some podcasts and read some of the things you’ve wrote. And you talk about the “no muscle.” And I really am a believer in that. Saying no, to yourself, is a really helpful thing to develop. Not so easy, though.
No, it’s not. I tell people, I think everyone would be healthier, wealthier, and a lot less stressed out if they said “no” a whole lot more often. And there are two sides of this. And saying no is setting a boundary. You know boundaries are a big buzzword right now. But to have boundaries with ourselves and with other people. And I think there are complex reasons that people are compelled to, in the moment, favor their present self and kind of indulge that person in the moment and not say “no, I’m not going to do this right now.” And there are a lot of complex reasons that people have some difficulty saying no to other people. And if you think about both of those things, financially, they can have very costly consequences.
Yes, definitely. Another behavior that you talked about—and I agree with you on it, and it relates to the no muscle—is not being afraid to live your life your own way.
Yes, not being afraid to be different.
And what I think has to happen, though, is to understand yourself really well. To figure out what you most value as you are now, not what someone told you to value when you were young. Not what, you know, the comparison thing with other people is a big issue, right? It’s hard to not compare. I think we’re kind of hardwired to compare. You let me know if you agree with that.
Absolutely. We don’t like to talk about comparison, or jealousy or envy. But those are inevitable parts of being a human. And social media only amplifies that in some ways. And I love what you’re saying, Cathy, because I absolutely agree. Like anything, your financial life—a successful plan—it’s not one-size-fits-all, in the same way that nutrition is not one size. There’s not one thing that’s going to work for everybody in every situation.
And I know you do a lot of work with women, and this idea of really getting square uncomfortable about, what do you want, and why do you want it? And I think it’s challenging when we talk about values and priorities. I love some of the work you do with your clients, even like listing out, okay, when you look at these values, what’s most important to you? And some values sound really socially acceptable, but no, just be honest and own what you really want and don’t apologize. And I think this idea of what your life should look like or is supposed to look like versus what it actually is or what you want—this is such complicated water, especially for women.
I think it is, too.
I’ve done this as a working mom. I remember thinking before I had children, I can’t fully predict what I’m going to want or what I’m going to think I want my mom/work life configuration to look like. I may have an idea based on what I know of myself right now, of what may be the best fit. But I don’t know. So I’ll see what happens when I get there. It turns out when I got there, what I wanted and what felt right was about what I predicted. Now, that’s not the case for every woman I meet.
But what happens if you think about this, whatever you choose in life, there are going to be far more people who are choosing something different. Choosing a life that looks different than yours. So you need to get really comfortable and square on: this is right, and this is best for me. And I do not have to defend my life choices to anyone.
People are going to inevitably offer their unsolicited commentary on what you do with your life, especially when you’re in a public facing role. At times that’s far more a projection about their stuff. You don’t have to take that in, and you don’t have to defend yourself. You need to live your life and, “no, no, this is what’s best for me and what’s best for my family.
Let me ask you something. So, you know, my clients come to me and I try and help them with this issue, right? I even wrote an ebook called The Happiness Spreadsheet in response to the hatred of budgeting. You know, people don’t like to write down every single penny of what they spent and take a hard look at it. It’s emotional. It sometimes creates feelings of shame. But I try so hard to tell my clients: please, I’m not judgmental. I make no judgments on how you choose to spend your money. But I think it’s still hard for people to take that hard look.
And so I thought: how can I make this more fun and more interesting? And I also know that people who really think about what they most value end up spending their money in smarter ways. So The Happiness Spreadsheet is actually building a budget after you have really thought about what you value, and what your beliefs are. It’s actually a document that is created, and I think it’s a really helpful way to look at money. It seems to resonate with women a lot. And getting them to do that work, I think, is really powerful. So that’s one tool that I’ve tried to use to help people figure out this notion that they can use their money to build a life that is aligned with who they are.
And I think there’s so many instances where values don’t align. Like in what kind of house you buy, what kind of car you drive, where you choose to go on vacation. If you really think about what you most want, where you are right now may not align.
I tell people, you can tell me all the live long day what you value. But let me look at your calendar. And let me look at your bank account. And they’re going to show me where your priorities really live. And really some of the work I do with people in therapy is helping people align your professed priorities with the life you are actually creating for yourself.
I’d love to circle back to, I think, what you brought up about budgeting and people bristling at that. I think that’s very much a natural reaction. I think sometimes people can associate budgeting with restriction. And whenever there’s any kind of restriction, often as a response to that is going to be a kind of feeling constrained. And people, humans are hardwired not to like that.
So I like even sometimes reframing it, not as budgeting, or a spending plan, either. Our language is so powerful, and even doing something like that can be useful for people. Like the work that Sarah Newcomb has done with behavioral science at Morningstar. And she wrote this tremendous book Loaded. I highly recommend.
Okay. I don’t know that book. Thank you.
One of the things she talks about is when developing a more tactical plan, as you think about your spending, understanding that when you go to buy that cup of coffee, what is the real need behind the purchase? When you are buying clothes, what is the need? What is the desire? And then thinking about, okay, these are my needs. I need to continue to have these needs met. Now, are there other ways that I can still have those needs met, that I’m still going to feel satisfied, but are not creating financial problems for me now or in the future?
So this is so true. Okay. I’m going to use myself as an example of a couple of things you just said. One is that we hate to be restricted. And when someone tells you you’ve got to cut back on buying something, all of a sudden, you’re in a panic. Oh my gosh, I’m never going to be able to do that again. It’s probably kind of like someone telling an alcoholic they can’t drink anymore. I’m sure it’s the same kind of panic feeling, right?
I’ll use myself as an example. Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve loved clothes. And it’s really hard for me—except, not so hard now, because of the pandemic, I have to tell you. I’m not buying anything because where the heck can you go? But before that, I am so motivated to look good and have, not trendy, but chic clothes. And I have to admit I’ve probably spent more money on clothes than I should over my life. And I’ve tried many times to cut it down because I feel like I shouldn’t be doing that. And I’m married and my husband’s very frugal, and you know, there’s lots of reasons. But every time I try and shut it down, it creates the opposite reaction. I want to go out more and shop more than I did before. It, like, totally backfires on me. What is that about?
It goes back to, as soon as something is unavailable, our mind becomes a little bit more preoccupied. And I think sometimes that has to do with a sense of control. And, you know, that happens with financial behaviors, like I said, that happens with food. It’s how the brain just responds to that constriction. And certainly, there are certain personalities who struggle with that even more. You told me, “I’m not going to.” Well, you’re just saying that, then it’s going to fire me up and give me an idea. And now I need to show you that I’m going to do this.
Yeah. You know, in my case, it hasn’t become destructive, probably because I love personal finance since I was in my teens. And so I’ve been able to balance it out. But for other people, those kinds of habits can be destructive. And those are the kinds of things that as a financial advisor, when you see that happening, there’s a different skill set for dealing with that.
Now you do some work with advisors, right? Can you talk about that a little bit? Are you helping advisors work with their clients in those ways?
Yes. So I have some advisors in my therapy practice, okay. We believe that everyone needs to really be in a good solid place personally before you can do your best professional work. So I do behavioral finance consulting. And I’m just so excited about the direction things are going in the industry, because I think more and more people are beginning to understand that finance isn’t about economics or economic theory.
And especially for planners and working with clients, you need to be creating an experience. This is not just about numbers and spreadsheets, it’s about people’s lives. It’s about death and retirement and changes and identity conflicts with couples. It’s about really messy things that a lot of education doesn’t prepare advisors for. You are not trained in psychology. So it’s exciting for me to be able to step into this world and offer a perspective from my discipline, that advisors more and more are wanting. And recognizing this is essential to begin to integrate into my practice to really have the business that I want in the future.
I know certain types of advisors, for example, the fiduciary, RIA-type advisors. Most of them are doing financial planning work in addition to the investment work, and the skill sets you need for financial planning are completely different than what you need for investment management. And you are dealing with people’s emotions, feelings, so many important things. And so you are dealing with their past money life, their money, personalities, or money history, and it is a different skill set. So I’m personally really happy to know the industry is going in that direction.
We have people like, I know Daniel Crosby is really involved in the RIA world and helping us to do this kind of work with our clients. And I just think it’s so important. And I’m so glad that I met you on Twitter. We were having a little tweet chat about couples and money as I recall. So in your practice, you work with, it sounds like, a lot of young professionals, right? And mostly couples, women. And how often is money the key motivator in someone coming to see you?
So very rarely is someone coming into therapy because they are financially anxious. I tell people, there are some people who do specific financial therapy, and that’s not what I do. That’s not what I market myself as. I’m helping people with their lives. But an important part of sorting out our lives and really experiencing success is attending to that pillar of financial wellness. When we think about wellness, we need to be thinking about what that means physically, what that means psychologically, what that means spiritually. And all of these pillars have a knock-on effect on the other. So to neglect one and not talk about one is, you’re missing something really important.
And you wrote that generally, money comes up no matter what. I mean, no matter what people come in for, at some point, money’s going to come up.
Yes. So I can tell you I’ve worked internationally, with bright, intellectually curious, very accomplished people, and they’re having conversations with me behind closed doors that they aren’t having with anyone else. I tell people, I have the best job in the world. I absolutely love what I do. And it struck me as I progressed in my career that time and time again, regardless of what someone’s presenting concern is—which is kind of shrink speak for “what is the symptom that is bugging you enough to say, maybe I need to talk to someone?” So maybe you’re feeling anxious, you’re feeling depressed, you’re struggling to fall asleep. Maybe you are starting to struggle and have conflict in your relationship.
Regardless of what that presenting concern is, over time, as I got to know people’s stories, this idea of the topic of money comes up in some way, shape, or form. Because it’s something we have to have a relationship with every day of our lives. It’s like food. We don’t get to opt out. We don’t get to unsubscribe from it. And the thing with money is, either you learn to manage it, or it manages you. And when we think about even emotional health, there can be a complex interplay between, like I said before, the emotional health and the money piece in someone’s life.
You know, I find it to be such a shame that money is such a topic that creates such powerful emotions, and usually a lot—well, not all the time, but a lot of the time—negative emotions. And this is what I attribute it to partially. I’d love to know your opinion. So we all grow up, go through school, go through college, and none of us, unless we’re interested in personal finance, like me, learn anything about the practical sides of money.
And it’s complicated, because Congress and the IRS create policy around money and create products with all kinds of complicated rules—like Roth IRAs, health savings accounts, 529 plans, 401k plans—and if you go on the IRS website and read about Roth IRAs, it’s three pages long. Didn’t you know what all the rules are? And how is anyone supposed to know about that stuff if they’ve gone through their whole life never taking a class or, you know, being forced to learn about it really? I think that’s what creates a lot of the anxiety around money, is that people aren’t educated. And they don’t understand. And then they get to be adults, and they get so busy with their own lives and building careers in other areas that they don’t have the time to delve into it.
Yes, there’s a real paucity of financial literacy across the country. And when someone doesn’t have that scaffolding early on, if money isn’t talked about, or talked about in the home you are raised in, then you enter the marketplace, you enter your negotiations, you sit down the first time you’re faced with the opportunity for a 401k match, and you’re like, I don’t even know what this is. I think in high school, it would be far more practical to be having classes on basic financial literacy than it is about trigonometry. I know I need the Pythagorean Theorem. But if I can understand a little bit about investing, that’s going to be far more practical in my life.
Well, maybe engineer types would disagree with you, but…
The engineer would probably push back against that.
But I agree with you, I think we agree on a lot of things. So I’m so happy that we connected and were able to have this conversation, and I hope that you and I stay connected in the future. I know that we will. I wanted to just ask you a couple personal things. I read through your bio, and I’m amazed at how many places you have lived in your life. Fascinating. You’ve moved around a lot.
I know your husband’s in the military, or was, and that’s one of the reasons, right? And have you enjoyed it?
Absolutely. There are lots of challenges that come with being a military family, but I knew what I was signing up for when I walked down the aisle. So I went in with eyes wide open. And as someone who likes predictability and a sense of control in my life, sometimes it’s difficult, really. The government gets to decide where I live as well.
That would be hard.
And sometimes plans change at the last minute. So there’s a lack of predictability because of it. You know, I’ve gotten to live and work some incredible places. I spent several years in the UK, lots of time in DC. I’ve been in Princeton. I was raised in the Midwest, and now I’m here in this horrible place outside Napa, California. I feel so honored and privileged to have had many of the experiences I’ve been afforded because of how I’ve gotten to see the world. And I think our world opens up. And our ability to connect with people deepens when we form real relationships with people who have very different lived experiences than we do. So that’s something I’m so grateful for.
That’s wonderful. And do you see most of your clients via video? Have you always done that? Or did you do personal face-to-face?
So, right now I have a telemedicine practice, and my consulting practice is all online. I’ve done work as a staff psychologist and consultant for the Department of Defense. I did some of that here while we’ve been in California. I worked with a group practice, a lot of private practices while I was in Arlington. I worked with Penn Medicine, Princeton Health up in Princeton for a while. I worked in inpatient and residential treatment settings while I was in the UK. So I’ve had the honor and privilege of working with lots of people in lots of different settings.
Fantastic. So if someone wanted to get a hold of you, can you tell us how that would happen?
Absolutely. So there are a few places you can find me. So my website is my name: joylere.com. I also love writing, words are like oxygen for me. So I also put some of my thoughts on Substack. I have a newsletter for them: Freud and Finance (joylere.substack.com). I also hang out on Twitter and Instagram. My handles are the same, @joylerepsyd. So it’s my name and my degree. And also I’m on LinkedIn @joylerepsyd.
Excellent. Thank you so much for your time, Joy. I really enjoyed our conversation.
You, too. Thank you for sharing your mic with me Cathy.