Money 2010

In this era of economic anxiety, the question of how your paycheck stacks up looms larger than ever. A shameless accounting of who's making what — and how they're spending it.

Can We Keep This Recession from Killing Our Lives?

In this age of anxiety, the financial therapist has never been busier.
By Alyssa Giacobbe

Before my fiancé and I decided to buy a house together, we spent a few months hashing out our financial differences — of which there are many. While by nature and occupation a detail-oriented guy, Bob does not pay attention to his cash outflow. He can’t quite account for his debt, even after I point out his graphic-novel habit and the 83 pairs of Chuck Taylors in his closet. I, on the other hand — a seasoned micromanager — am debt-free, though I regularly lie about how much I spend on clothes, shoes, and the cat.

We were off to a great start.

It’s a well-documented fact that the primary cause of relationship drama is money (a recent survey says almost one-third of people lie to their partner about the cost of purchases or about spending habits in general). And as rampant as money worries are these days, a whole new breed of psychoanalysts is rising up in our overspent, overanxious, overanalyzed town: the financial therapist, a truly brilliant mashup.

Part shrink, part money planner, a financial therapist looks at the psychological and emotional causes and effects of our spending. Is Bob’s inability to get out of debt, for example, related to a fear of commitment? A fear of connection? A rebellion against my financial stability and — oh, fine — controlling nature? And why am I so controlling anyway? Is it really about the new dress, or something more?

“Money is heavily burdened with emotion,” says Kim Corwin, founder of New Leaf Financial Counseling in Northborough, who counsels couples and individuals on the psychological roots of things like overspending, underspending, serial borrowing, and underearning. Most financial therapists are licensed psychologists or psychotherapists, though some are social workers and life coaches. All specialize in figuring out, and then addressing, the causes of financial dysfunction. Obviously, the market is only getting bigger: Over the past year, Corwin’s business has grown by 25 percent. “These days,” she says, “who isn’t emotional about money?”

Of course, therapy’s never cheap. Corwin charges up to $200 per session, and says most clients need 10 to 15 sessions in order to change their behavior. Can’t decide whether that’s money wisely spent, or 1.5 Balenciaga handbags? Well, there’s help for that.