4 Financial Therapists on How to Plan for a Less Anxious 2021

Photo to accompany story about financial therapists.
We want to help you make more informed decisions. Some links on this page — clearly marked — may take you to a partner website and may result in us earning a referral commission. For more information, see How We Make Money.

It’s been a busy year for financial therapists.

Between the normal stress of money management and a global pandemic that put millions out of work, a majority of Americans have felt anxious about their money. Financial therapists, who commonly have certified financial planner (CFP) and social worker certifications, have seen the damage firsthand.

We asked four financial therapists what their biggest takeaways from 2020 were, and how you can adjust your money mindset going into 2021. 

1. Stop Thinking ‘After COVID’ 

Quit using the pandemic as an excuse for giving up on your goals, says Carrie Rattle, a financial therapist in New York and founder of Behavioral Cents.   

Rattle

“There’s no more ‘after COVID.’ Like, ‘I’m going to start saving more after COVID’, or ‘I’m going to start exercising again after COVID’,” Rattle says. “There’s no more of that because COVID could be here for a while.”

While it’s important to recognize what 2020 taught us, Rattle says it’s time to move forward. 

“Let’s look at 2021 as much as possible as a predictable year and get on track, business as usual,” Rattle says. 

This means returning your focus to things beyond just surviving in the pandemic. 

Consider these question, Rattle says: “What are those goals that are going to help keep you sane? How much will it cost to keep you sane and address this trauma?” 

Rattle recommends focusing on financial goals that really make you happy. Instead of saying “I want to build more savings,” get specific: “I want to save $3,000 for a vacation for when we can travel again” or “I want to max out my Roth IRA.” 

2. Become More Aware of Your Money

Analyze exactly what’s going in and out of your accounts, advises Sarah Asebedo, president of the Financial Therapy Association.

“Recognize and increase your awareness about where you have pent-up spending energy and do your best to plan ahead for that in 2021,” Asebedo says.  

One way to do this might be to plan to actually spend more. 

Asebedo

“Don’t under-budget for the things you want to accomplish,” says Asebedo. “Right now people have a great deal of pent-up spending energy, particularly on things like travel. So be realistic about these 2021 spending goals while making sure you set aside money for your future self via emergency and retirement savings.”

And don’t forget the importance of having cash on hand, something 2020 isn’t likely to let us forget anytime soon. If you haven’t built an emergency fund, consider making that a goal for 2021.

“One of the biggest takeaways from 2020 from my perspective is to make sure you have adequate cash on hand via an emergency fund to account for unforeseen financial disruptions,” says Asebedo. “If you are fortunate to have a job with a little extra cash flow, make sure you are taking steps to set some of it aside. 2020 reminded us all how important that is.” 

3. Separate Net Worth From Self-Worth

Separate your net worth from your self-worth, says Lindsay Bryan-Podvin, a financial therapist and the founder of MindMoneyBalance in Michigan.

Bryan-Podvin

“A takeaway from 2020 heading into 2021 is just how important it is to separate our net worth, or our income, from our self-worth. And how important it is to not say ‘I’m a good person because I earn a good income,’ or ‘I am worthwhile because I have so much money in savings,’” says Bryan-Podvin. 

Try to reorder your thinking about who you are outside of your job and your money. Don’t forget other areas of your life are just as valuable. 

“It’s so important to identify with other aspects of who we are outside of just what we have financially, and so that’s the other piece that I’m encouraging my clients to work on in 2021. Just separating who they are and how they see themselves from what their income is,” says Bryan-Podvin.

4. Take Your Goals Off The Sideline

Take your goals off the shelf, says Jennifer Dunkle, a financial and couples therapist at New Awareness in Colorado.

“Focus on trying to recuperate. The pandemic has really sidelined a lot of goals that people have had, and they want to get back to feeling like their financial lives are on a more secure footing. This year certainly hasn’t felt really secure for most people,” says Dunkle.

Dunkle

One quick way to do this is to take stock of your financial situation. Think about what exactly is going on in your finances and how you can take control — and make it a habit. Maybe that’s a weekly look at your checking account and then a monthly review of credit card and savings account statements, and your investments. 

“I’ve had clients who just really weren’t very in touch with their true financial situation, and they’re kind of amazed when they actually start to look at it. It really helps them feel more in control of their money, if they’re really trying to keep in touch with what’s coming in what’s going. Instead of their money controlling them, to be in charge,” says Dunkle.