use your money story to improve your well-beingDo you, or your clients find the whole topic of finances a bit overwhelming? Does putting away money for savings or reining in expenses feel rather difficult?

If yes, you are not alone. Nearly half of all Americans are having difficulties covering their monthly expenses, making it difficult for them to build up an emergency savings fund, retirement fund or any kind of financial security (Gabler, 2016).

Half (56%) have less than $10K in retirement savings and over half (63%) do not have $500 to cover an unexpected expense (Kirkham, 2016; Wong, 2016).

Major Stressor

Compounding matters, money and/or financial concerns are a major stressor in people’s lives that take a toll on both mental and overall health. Most commonly reported stress symptoms were: feeling irritable/angry (37%), being nervous/anxious (35%), having a lack of interest/motivation (34%), feeling fatigued (32%), feeling overwhelmed (32%) and being depressed/sad (32%).

Stress, in turn, has led to unhealthy behaviors such as lying awake at night (42%), or eating too much/eating unhealthy foods (33%)(APA, 2015).

So what’s the solution to your or your clients’ money problems?

Explore Your History

Money experts will advise creating and strictly following a budget. However, this method tends to work only for the short-term, or for those who are extremely disciplined.

Another approach that you could take is to uncover your money story, as per the Financial Social Work model (Wolfsohn, 2016; Wolfsohn & Michaeli, 2014).  The process of exploring your money history will enable you to improve your relationship with your money.

Your money story includes your thoughts, beliefs and attitudes about money, many of which are unconscious and were developed while you were growing up.

Consider asking yourself:

  • What money beliefs, thoughts and attitudes did you learn from your primary caregivers? Some of these may have been directly, or indirectly, via their actions.
  • What money messages did you absorb from your other relatives, mentors and friends?
  • How would you describe your current vs. your childhood financial circumstances? What’s different? What’s the same?
  • Which of your childhood money lessons do you feel impact you and/or your actions today?
  • Which money beliefs do you find appropriate and relevant?
  • Which money messages would you like to adjust to better fit the person you are as an adult, and the goals you would like to achieve?

Taking the time to uncover your money story is a key component of the Financial Social Work approach to improving your relationship with your money.

A stronger relationship with your money, in turn, boosts your ability to establish healthy money habits leading to greater financial well-being.

Lastly, conduct a financial check-up to see which specific area(s) needs boosting (emergency savings, retirement savings etc.) and help you decide what healthy money habit(s) you are ready to start practicing to improve your financial and overall well-being.




American Psychological Association (APA).  (2015, February 4). Stress in america: Paying with our health. Retrieved from

Gabler, N. (2016, May). The Secret shame of middle-class Americans. The Atlantic. Retrieved from

Kirkham, E. (2016, March 14). 1 in 3 Americans has $0 saved for retirement. GoBankingRates. Retrieved from

Wolfsohn, R. (2016). Financial Social Work Certification. Retrieved from

Wolfsohn, R., & Michaeli, D. (2014, February). Financial social work. Encyclopedia of Social Work.

Wong, K. (2016, January 8). Most Americans lack reserve cash to cover $500 emergency: Survey. NBC News. Retrieved from



Dorlee Michaeli, MBA, LMSW, is a social worker consultant. For the Center for Financial Social Work, she helps educate social workers and their clients on how to establish healthier money habits to improve their financial circumstances. For the University at Buffalo School of Social Work, she provides coaching on how to employ social media to enhance social work practice, and teaches how to use social media to advance your career. You can find her at www.SocialWork.Career, or twitter or instagram.