Overcoming the social stigma of getting financial help

Social stigma plays a big role in whether people seek out financial coaching, counseling or education. Social stigma also plays a part in whether people feel good while getting financial help. Money Habitudes is often employed in a manner to help minimize or alleviate the perceived stigma, shame or embarrassment of seeking financial help. Typically, therapists, financial coaches and financial planners use Money Habitudes to make client interactions better without even realizing how it’s related to social stigma.

There are a number of social stigma theories, but there are common elements between them. Below, we’ll largely consider Erving Goffman’s seminal stigma structure.

Ways that Money Habitudes can help alleviate social stigma:

  1. Easiesocial stigma of financial helpr to walk in the door – A lot of financial programs implicitly speak to clients and participants about having problems. For example, if you sign up to attend a “Get out of debt” class, it sends the message to others that you’re in debt. That can be stigmatizing and hard to admit. On the other hand, using Money Habitudes often means going to a first class or session that carries less stigma: “Discover your money personality type” or “Learn about your financial influences,” etc.
  2. Less confrontation and judgement – When people seek financial help, many of those interactions take on the tone of an expert telling a novice what to do. It can be very prescriptive and come across as “You’re not handling your finances well. I know how to do it better. You need to listen to me and do what I say.” That can make people feel shame or embarrassment. Money Habitudes cards produce a money personality profile, but they do not tell people that they are good or bad, smart or stupid, when it comes to money. They also start the process from a place where people are more comfortable and will share and reveal stories, which isn’t usually true of other first interactions.
  3. Avoiding numbers – A temptation of financial counseling and coaching is to jump right into numbers. This frequently means collecting receipts and making a budget. Not that there isn’t value in this step, but it can be a difficult introduction if someone feels uncomfortable or incompetent with numbers, math, spreadsheets and the like.
  4. Sympathy and empathy – As Goffman theorizes, there are people who are “stigmatized” and then there are those who are “normals” who do not bear that stigma. A subset of “normals” are people who are “wise” and are accepted by the “stigmatized” as understanding their difficult situation. Going through the Money Habitudes process – either as a staff training exercise or as an activity with clients – helps people relate better to one another. It makes it easier to share stories and understand that everyone has strengths and challenges around money; the activity underscores that everyone has financial habits and attitudes that can be helpful or harmful.
  5. Not the only one – One of the most helpful outcomes of doing Money Habitudes in a group is that people have that “Oh, yeah, me too” moment where they relate to one another. It can be really helpful to hear that you’re not the only one facing a problem and that other people have the same issues and often have wisdom to share about overcoming it.