Thursday, August 22, 2013

Teenage Money Date Night, Part III: Judgment Free Coaching

I began “Teenage Money Date Nights” when Oliver’s brakes went out and I realized that I let her buy a 10-year old car without teaching her to immediately begin saving for repairs. Bad mom. Bad financial coach. I needed to immediately step up my efforts to teach her two of the most important things we all need to know: how to budget and how to save for predictable, but nonrecurring expenses.

Once a month we set ourselves an appointment and went to dinner at the super-cool Bows & Arrows cafe. We'd hang out afterward to have little working sessions. Being at Bows & Arrows set the stage for fun. Note to the parents out there: choosing a place that served wine was also a plus.

Date Night #1 was rough. Frankly, I wasn't too sure what I was going to teach her. I've taught tons of people, but I've never taught a teenager. I knew that lecturing wouldn’t help much; she was already getting lame “financial literacy” education at school. I knew what she really needed was what many of my clients need, someone to do the work alongside them and ask them the right questions. Ooooh, that’s what I needed to do, treat her like a client.

First task with a client: see them as a hero. I learned from Master Coach Maria Nemeth to always see the good in your clients, to know that they are on a mission in life and that it is your sole purpose to support them, to the best of your ability, on that mission. So when I decided to fashion our Teenage Money Date Nights like a client meeting, I knew I’d have to see Oliver as the hero she is. Which meant I had to set all judgments aside, even the ones about her buying ridiculously frivolous things and even the ones when she didn’t send her savings away like she said she would. It was not my job to judge; it was only my job to teach. 

It was hard; really, really hard. But luckily I listened to the little voice in my head that kept saying, “treat her like a client, treat her like a client.” That first meeting was the hardest. I think we were both nervous, didn't know what to expect and emotions were charged. By the end of the night, I could see that there were judgments hanging thick in the air, but interestingly none of them were mine. By the time Oliver had sketched her spending plan together and realized that it didn't work, she was upset and berating herself. I didn't need to; she was doing a good enough job herself.

My job became being the impartial teacher:
  • “Well, how far off is your budget?”
  • "Are there any spending categories you want to shave a bit off of?” 
  • “Is there any way to earn a bit more money?” 
  • “What would the risk be if you saved a little less for car repairs?”
  • “How close are you now?”

My job became being the truth telling cheerleader:
  • “Honey, many people's budgets are out of balance.”
  • “You're doing the next right thing by looking at it and calculating it.”
  • “If you keep doing this work, you'll get it in balance. It just takes a while.”
  • “Don't beat yourself up.”

My job became being the leader: 
  • “I think we've done enough for now. Let's work on it again next month.”
  • “I don't think we're going to come up with a final solution tonight, and that’s ok.”

I didn't push her for a workable solution. I knew it was time to walk away and come back to it before emotions got crazy out of hand. And I knew that she’d find the right solution on her own; clients eventually do. I taught her an important lesson I’ve learned, that there are few financial emergencies. Most financial issues, if dealt with consistently (and preferably in advance) have several potential solutions.

I showed up to that first meeting thinking I was going to be teaching her about money, but in the end I realized that it was just a little bit about the money. Mostly I was simply serving as a Sherpa, helping her navigate through her own ascent into the world and emotions of money.

-Stacey Powell

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