COVID-19 has dominated the headlines for months now. As we all adapt to our new "normal," many of us may be feeling a little extra stress recently, especially when it comes to our finances.
Marriage and Family Therapist Ed Coambs, MA, MBA, LMFTA, CSAT-C, CFP, who also specializes in financial therapy, joins us to discuss how the Coronavirus has created financial stress for us, where this stress is coming from, health steps we can take to reduce the impact of this financial stress, and more!
Want to learn more about Ed Coambs? Visit his practice website or check out this blog on financial infidelity from DebtWave Credit Counseling.
To learn more about DebtWave Credit Counseling, visit our website or connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.
To learn more about the San Diego Financial Literacy Center, visit our website or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.
Welcome to Talk Wealth to Me, a safe space podcast where we chat about anything and everything related to personal finance.
Felipe Arevalo: 0:19
The information contained in this podcast is for educational and entertainment purposes only. It does not constitute as accounting, legal, tax or other professional advice.
Chase Peckham: 0:32
Hello and welcome to another edition of talk wealth to me. You know, the family dynamic is being really tested through this pandemic that we all find ourselves in. So we decided we'd sit down and welcome back. Ed Combs, who's a family therapist, marriage counselor, through Carolina's couples counseling out of Charlotte, North Carolina, to discuss everything from financial resiliency to how to handle the stresses that are going on in this real-life movie that we're all in. So stay with us.
Katie Utterback: 1:11
how are you and what does your home life looks like right now?
Ed Coambs: 1:16
Oh, well, that's a great question. What does home life look like? Well, I don't know because I'm not there. I just was checking Facebook before I hopped on and my wife picture posted some pictures of our kitchen, we renovated it and she had the clean version. And then she had the vision. The version of three kids living in the home that are young And so there's toys and crocks and food strewn about So yeah, you know, I think, uh, yeah, life is is busy and full and, you know, also connecting with neighbors on my way out to work, which is completely different. You know, most mornings you get in the car and you head out and you don't see your neighbors. They're already on their cars and gone. And we were out. Whoa, going for walks. And so that's what
Katie Utterback: 2:02
that's true. It seems like there's been a lot more of like a barrier has kind of come down or something, and suddenly it's okay to talk about dealing with anxiety or depression or stress. So I'm just kind of curious. Can you? I heard the term financial resiliency kind of for the first time. Can you explain that to me? What? What does that mean?
Ed Coambs: 2:26
Uh oh, wow Uh oh, that's a great question. I love that word and that it's coming more into conversation and financial resiliency, at least as I think about it, is about being able to take perspective on your financial life is not necessarily having the absence of financial stress or anxiety, or even, in some cases, depression and shame as much is be able to recognize when you've fallen into those states and being able to reach out or relationship connection and to be able to talk with somebody else about I am really in this kind of place right now. And usually when we're able to reconnect with somebody and feel, heard and understood, we can move back into financial perspective and, um, engagement, which you know is that resilient. The resilient piece is moving from a place of distress into a place of security, safety, optimism. So resiliency is that bridge from distress to security.
Katie Utterback: 3:27
Okay, so in the, in this time of, I guess just uncertainty. A lot of people don't know when if they may lose their job when they they may be going back to work. We just don't really know when our sense of normalcy is going to return, and I think that that's creating 1000 different types of stress. You know, you're seeing the stress of I can't have a birthday party for my five-year-old to I had to cancel my wedding to by 92-year-old grandmother is by herself, and that's weighing on a lot of people. Can you talk to me about the financial stress that's coming out of this? Because I think a lot of people don't necessarily think that not having the money or that year of that money could go away, I don't think people realize how much that can have an impact on them.
Ed Coambs: 4:19
You know, it's something that's been hard to even get my head fully wrapped around. What does this all mean at a personal level? My wife is a dentist and has been our primary breadwinner, and so she's not working. She's not seeing patients. And so it's been a re-evaluation of where are we at financially and I can say, Fortunately, we've been on a good and healthy financial path for some time, and so there's It's a margin in our life that not everyone else has been able to get to. I think that's part of this deeper question is we know in the planning community some of those good financial planning practices of having 3 to 6 months of expenses set aside and yet we know the reality for many people is not that. But if we think about if that were the reality for many people than this event that's estimated to last between 2 to 4 months, I guess as best as, anybody knows would be able to financially weather this storm from a financial perspective pretty easily. So this is not to induce shame for saying, Well, you should have done this and you're in the bad place, But it's just recognizing like this is a reality. And so um, yeah, I don't know. I'm sorry. I lost track of your question. There would be
Katie Utterback: 5:35
No, that's okay. And I want to pick up on what you said to your wife is a dentist. And I think for a lot of us, you know, there professions and industries affected that we kind of thought were untouchable, you know, like I never ever thought about my dentist being unavailable for just a regular cleaning.
Ed Coambs: 5:55
Yeah, I think that that's that's right. That's a great point, is you? And you were saying earlier while Grandma's alone, I'm having to cancel my wedding and I can't have my birthday party. All of those things have financial elements to them, right? Like right? Maybe the past. I could spend 400 bucks and hop on a plane and go see Grandma if something else bad were happening. But I can't even spend. I can't even use money to solve a problem, right? So we have Maybe I have the money. I would normally use money to go see Grandma or to throw my birthday party. But I can't. And it may also be those. I don't have the money to do what I would want to do for this. Both sides of that and it's really, you know, as humans, we all get used to our environment as it's structured and come to count on that. And that's what what allows us to move through life relatively efficiently. If we had to think about every single decision that we make every day without autopilot, we would not get 90% done what we do.
Katie Utterback: 6:57
You know, that sounds exhausting. I
Ed Coambs: 7:00
And think about how exhausted you felt in these first few weeks when you've had to rethink through every single decision that you're making, and we know this on a smaller detail. Why vacations can be enjoyable and stressful is because you don't have. If you're going to a new location and you don't travel a whole lot, you're having to think through all these steps of things that you have to do that in your normal day, you wake up. You know what time you wake up. You know how you're gonna put your clothes on, where, where the clothes are in the closet, where the cereal is in the pantry, where the milk is in the fridge. Every one of those is a little micro decision that has to be made. And so now you having to rethink through so many micro-decisions. And those like, Oh, I've never thought about my dentist not being available to me.
Felipe Arevalo: 7:54
It's funny that you mention dentists because I actually originally had half of today off because my wife was gonna have an impacted tooth removed today, and it got really bad a couple weeks ago and she called in and they said, Oh, we're actually gonna call in to cancel your appointment. So forget about moving it up and because half her face was swollen and she had to go in for, like, emergency surgery. But we had to drive 25 30 minutes to the nearest dentist That could get her in, which is not a far drive. But I drove past 100 different dentist's office. I would imagine here in San Diego between here and, you know, I went It was just her dentist is just down the street and we ended up 30 minutes away because I was the only place they can get her in because everyone else was out. So we had to get an emergency surgery. That the only appointment that said we have one tomorrow morning. Otherwise, I don't know what I'd get you in if we can get you in.
Ed Coambs: 8:52
Felipe Arevalo: 8:54
Its interesting. Like the little things that we sometimes take for granted.
Chase Peckham: 8:58
I think we take everything for granted. And we're seeing now that we you know, we're seeing it in a bigger picture now that we those little things as he mentioned as and you mentioned those things that we just unconsciously do on a daily basis. And I think that this is going to be there has now changed as far as finances, you know, between couples and you Give me I would imagine. Is your wife in private practice?
Ed Coambs: 9:30
Chase Peckham: 9:31
So not only do you guys have your household, but she's got to be thinking about the actual business aspect of her. Business is, well, right, because it's twofold.
Ed Coambs: 9:42
It is two fold, and I think you know this is you know, so much of my life's work is around helping couples navigate financial conflict and responsibilities because it's a difficult subject of work through. And so my wife and I, as we're negotiating yesterday it even came up is here. I am now thrust into the breadwinner role, and I'm trying to work as much as I can to figure out you get, keep things going. And yet she still has to run her business like getting unemployment stuff figured out, figure out the federal programs and in all these myriad of taking care of the emergency patients that are calling in your note. So, yes, I went up and she said, Well, you're you're just on all the time. I can't and I asked all of these emergency patients, where do I go like, how can I? So we haven't really had to be able to slow down, and I have enough presence of mind. to realize okay. she's not mad are attacking me, even though that's my first interpretation, it's really no like she has a legitimate need to take care of her patients and her business. I want to support that. How do we negotiate through this? Because there's a commitment there that's also a financial commitment in the long run in her. How she runs this business will have an impact on when she has to staff back up in the patients and the care that they get
Chase Peckham: 11:02
because now it's threefold, right, cause you're not only talking financial stress and and business dress, but now you're trying to be a support tool for her as well, so emotionally, and be there to help her do what she needs to do.
Ed Coambs: 11:17
right. And that's that's something that you takes a lot of psychological effort for. Most of us is understanding how to be effective emotional support people for our partners. And when people are stressed or anxious, they're likely to not come from their most loving or thoughtful place. And so you know, the increase in conflict and the frequency of conflict is certainly higher. You know, somebody else I was talking with, I think yesterday we're seeing. So when one partner is just around more so we're having more interaction, and we don't have the buffers that helped break some of the emotional intensity and anxiety that builds up between us. So, yeah, there's there's a lot there, and it takes really masterful relationship skills to defuse that effectively about the partners feeling abandoned or alienated.
Chase Peckham: 12:07
So let's go there for a second. The stress is how can a couple when we are in such a unique situation like, for instance, you know you put too many mice in a small, confined space. Eventually, those mice are gonna start to go at each other just because they can't handle it. We're in this unique situation where it's kind of like that right now. Obviously, everybody's homes are different, and there's a different amount of kids and or not kids. How can couples in this situation try to smooth this situation out? How can they commune? Obviously, communications important. But how do they go about communicating in something that is so unique? Because it seems to be the opposite that our real lives right? A lot of couples might have issues when they don't discuss these kinds of things, and they are apart from work, and they see each other very limited amount of time as they're getting kids to soccer and school and all these different things. Now we're in the complete opposite, and we're sitting where we're all together all the time. How do we go about, as I asked earlier, smooth this whole situation out and communicate efficiently.
Ed Coambs: 13:26
You know, that's a really big question, right? And it's kind of one of those things that I'll equate to, If you're already struggling in your relationship and now you have this extra in crisis, that's come on, like moving through it is gonna be really difficult, right? You wanna have the health all along so that when crisis comes up, you can move through it more easily. But if you're not in that place, then what do I do, which is I think, what you're saying, correct, right? And so one of the ideas I like to work with all my couples. When I'm talking with this, we all have what's called an attachment style, and what that means is we have. There's a way that we think about our relationship with ourself and with our intimate partner. And there's four attachment styles. One is a secure attachment where I generally feel comfortable being with myself, and I don't really feel comfortable and safe trusting that somebody else will understand me emotionally. Relational e. That's the ideal. We know that about 50% of the population has that attachment style. Then there's the emotionally avoidant, insecure attachment style, which is I'm gonna do me and you Do you They're gonna keep distance. They don't want to lean on the other person for emotional support. The next one is the anxious, insecure attachment style, which is I'm not really comfortable being with myself. I'm gonna be overly focused on you. I'm gonna focus on what's going on with you. What can I do to make you happy? I'm never really sure that it made you happy, but I'm gonna keep trying, and I'm just gonna be spinning my wheels, right? And then the fourth type is it is what we call disorganized, and they go back and forth between this anxious and of wood and style. So now what do I do if I'm home with my partner? One is recognized. Your partner has a way of seeing themselves and seeing you. It's driven by more than just the current circumstances. It's driven by their whole history, lived up to this point and especially their early childhood experiences. So in the short run, what we've got to realise is, if our partner is more on the avoidant side or we are more on the avoidant side or more on the anxious side, that's probably not gonna change in the short run. But we can work within, realize that they're asking for space, give them space, be ableto back off and say, You know what this person is saying? I really don't want to talk about things right now. I need some space. Let him back off, takes in space. If you're able to be in the other side of the partner's asking, asking, asking, you know that they're they're having a lot of anxiety right now and they're needing someone to meet them and join with him. Say, Well, I see you're really concerned about you know paying the bills this month. They're not being will go back to work, right? I had a situation where I was working on a couple. The husband's still working, But the wife is not, and she's home by herself all day and he comes home. She was like I just can't handle being at home and he's I don't know what to do with it, like I don't I don't I don't feel bad about that. It's, you know, um, I'm working. You should be grateful was kind of his attitude. I said, Well, let's look at this. It wasn't intended to see the face reaction to that, but it's like I'm working hard. I have had a period time where I was out of work and I was fine. So he's having a hard time bringing empathy into what was going on for her. And part of my point was she wants to be in a relationship with people and her ability get relational needs met has been cut off, so it's not. It is about not going to work, but beneath it it's about not having a relationship connection, and she's not able to articulate that at that point that I'm feeling lonely. It just comes off as complaining and whining. So if you can look beneath the complaining whining and see there's a need for relationship connection than that will help smooth things out. Typically,
Katie Utterback: 17:37
I wanted to ask you to I was reading an article the other day and it was talking about that, That that feeling that you may feel right now maybe grief. And I know, um, for me personally when I am struggling, one thing that I like to do to pull myself out of it and unhealthy thing to do is shopping, and I've been seeing a lot of people talk about online shopping. So I'm just wondering, Is there something that we can do that's maybe healthier and is gonna protect our finances more than and turning to online shopping or whatever we can order do online?
Ed Coambs: 18:16
Wow, what a great question. And it's so important. I think, you know, grief is definitely significant reality. And it's not a topic that we talk about easily in our culture and understand. And the type of grief that I think most of us are experiencing is what we call ambiguous loss compared to define loss and define loss. It's Grandma's dead. I know she's not coming back, okay, and we can go through that loss. But what we're talking about here is ambiguous. Loss is I don't know how long life is gonna be this way, and I don't know how much this is gonna cost me financially. And so there's a lot of uncertainty built into that. And so when we turn to online shopping, we're trying to re establish a sense of control. We can go online and we can go to Amazon prime or whatever our favorite website is, and we're now back in. We're in the virtual environment where we have some control. We're controlling what we're seeing. We're seeing how fast we can go through it. We know what brings us pleasure. We're looking for that. We find it were hit by and then it's some of those positive endorphins of back in control. I'm gonna have something coming that makes me happy is happening and so really be able to acknowledge that process is real and it's serving a profound psychological need is gonna be a huge step forward. So instead of beating yourself up and saying, Man, I'm online shopping again, trying to cope being will say, Wow, I'm online shopping it. I must really need something relational e either from myself or from somebody else. I'm feeling uncertain This is beyond a practical need right now. So being it wouldn't work on having a positive internal dialogue being forgiving towards yourself, right? This is that part of self empathy. Really.
Katie Utterback: 20:13
Sure. So is No, I was just gonna ask I I've seen some people talk about this. I'm just wondering I could get some insight from you as well. This the guilt of those of us who are still working e mean, I sometimes struggle because I feel like I should be spending my money trying to support every local business that I can. But then sometimes I am thinking a wait. What about my family? I need to make sure that they're okay, too. So I think even in that, like, there's that those guilt and those feelings off. I'm okay right now, but I don't know if I'm going to be. And I feel guilty because I'm okay. And other people are not.
Ed Coambs: 20:57
Yeah, this This is a huge phenomenon that I'm very interested in better understanding, but I think you know, we borrowing the term survivor's guilt. You know, in the military, we know that Survivor's guilt is a very real phenomenon about what does it mean to be still alive while other people have died, right? And that obviously I think most would say, is more intense than this situation we're talking about. But it has a similarizationsUh, and I think it's based in the reality that we're social beings. We have social consciousness, and so it's what it's kind of this unmarited benefit. I didn't choose to be in this job that allows me to make this money well, as much as that person did Choose that one. And so it does generate that feeling of guilt. I think that guilt can be hard to sit with but is probably healthy to maintain having show up. We don't want to get rid of being able to have the feeling of guilt because it brings us into that question in state of mind of was appropriate for me to do! And those questions are hard to sit with, but they allow us to move towards action. But it's I'm feeling some guilt about still working. Should I be? What should I do? Should I spend some money with the local business provider or hold some of my money back to support myself or my family and be able to reflect on that process. In this state, I think, is an important and healthy adaptive process. Well, what we wanna watch for is when it shifts into shame, which is negative self-evaluation. I am bad for having this money, and I'm being I'm negatively evaluated myself for having this money. Like somehow, it's not okay for me to have this money and that shame piece is much more destructive and that can also be tied to the overspending, right? It's shame can lead us to go and spend a bunch of money at the local businesses and then not have money to pay our rent because I feel so bad for these other people that I'm no longer thinking about my own needs. Where's I think guilt allows you to stay in a more realistic appraisal of balancing your needs with other people's needs, which is what we're all doing all the time COVID or not?
Katie Utterback: 23:25
Yeah, that's true, right? We're always trying to think about how much are we giving to charities, and for some of us, it's a bigger part of our budget than others. and you're right. Moving forward. What are some ways that people can try to limit the impact of financial stress during this uncertainty?
Ed Coambs: 23:44
Well, I think it's gonna tie into this earlier word that you used a financial resiliency. Well, this may be really challenging for a lot of folks, but I think maintaining financial transparency is gonna be a really important piece. Going forward is it could be hard to step on the financial scale, right? And to really get clear on what is my What are my monthly expenses? How is my money for me now? But a lot of people are gonna tend towards one and stick their head in the sand because it's going in the short run, leave them to avoid some very uncomfortable feelings like shame. But being able to look at it and hopefully in relationship with somebody else that's supportive. Well, I do see things with your eyes wide open and hopefully, make more effective decisions, and I think really more than the We often talked a lot about budgeting and cash flow, as I would encourage people to look at their balance sheet, their list of what they own and what they owe. And being able to see that and be in contact with that and to say, How fast is this going down for me? A. Because that's what we're gonna need to be rebuilding when we get back to whatever normal will be in the future is, in the long run, our balance sheet. What we own versus what we owe is going to support us.
Chase Peckham: 25:10
It seems to me that the word control plays a big part in all of this. That so much of what is happening is out of our control. And yet human instinct, for the most part, is to want to have control our environment. And we can't do that. So isn't what Katie asked earlier? As far as I feel bad, but you need to take care of yourself isn't so much of it. Just saying, and maybe mentally it'll help you a bit of just saying I I'm only going to control what I can control, and what I can control right now is my family and I can't control what happens to others. Even though we you know, being empathetic and sympathetic, we want to. But can we do that in different ways? whether it be by doing a zoom with some friend or trying to help out with a couple of dollars here and there can can, doing little micro things that you can control help with that overall situation.
Ed Coambs: 26:12
Yeah, I think so. I think that it is that being able to get to as healthy oven appraisal of what can I control on? What can't I control? And so a simple exercise is taking time to get out sheet of paper and create two columns and list out in as much detail as you can. What are the things that I really have controlling influence over? What are the things I don't? And I think that's the other side of you. You okay? You talked about charitable giving and spending is unintentionally. I think a lot of times people can do that and the receiver can feel like this is pity that you're pitying me because I'm in this bad spot and people don't like being pitied. So we need to be aware of two is why we wanted to be helpful. How is the person that's receiving our help experiencing us? Is that what they're really wanted from us? and so that's a difficult thing to work through as well. But it's something that we could be mindful of. Is my arm I terrible inclinations or desire to continue? It's my money. How is that being experienced by the receiving party?
Katie Utterback: 27:23
That's great insight
Chase Peckham: 27:23
I think we're all in just unknown unknown territory, right? And we just have to take every day, as you mentioned earlier micro steps. Ah, little by little, and take it as it it comes. At least I know that's how I and my wife are getting through this. And thank goodness my kids are adjusting somewhat happily. But I tell you what. These kids, this generation, they're gonna appreciate school more than any other before. Sure,
Ed Coambs: 27:55
hopefully, hopefully, well, I think you're really the honor that there's some segment of our population with their kids now trapped at home with their parents in families that are not healthy emotionally, that are more extreme end. And in school was a reprieve for these Children and they no longer have that, and they may be more socially disconnected, and so we just want to be mindful of that. That may not be something that any of your listeners can do a direct effect on, but you can. You know, whoever's hearing in this can also be mindful of. Your kids may be feeling trapped at home with you. And if you're having trouble with managing your emotions and the distress your kids were picking up on that, and if you can reach out and get, especially if things are extreme professional support there there is support out there. There's a lot of therapists that are working online and across the different service needs from low income, the highest income. And so don't be afraid to take this as a chance as a catalyst to get help to learn how to create a healthy family environment. If you don't know how to do that, asking for that help gaining perspective, learning how to deal with your emotions, that is the really the crux of what we need help with. And if we're not able to keep this perspective, Chase that you offered a one day the time micro-steps and you're losing your lid a lot that's having negative impacts for you, but it's also for your kids and in some families, that's part of the kid's emotional acting out is they just don't know what else to do with it. So
Katie Utterback: 29:41
thank you for saying that. So I guess I want to add to it. You do hear any sort of domestic violence. Please call 911
Ed Coambs: 29:50
Yeah. Domestic violence 911 immediately. Then there are domestic help lines. All it takes is a quick Google search to get that support. And even if it hasn't got to the extremes of domestic violence, just relational distress can be enough. And this is really when, When there are other underlying, especially histories of trauma in your background, it makes it harder for you up to typically navigate these types of adjustments. You don't have the psychological flexibility to keep things in perspective, and that's not your fault. It's just the way that the brain is wired. And so if you've grown up in an environment that a lot of drama and now you're having a difficult time being at home and keeping yourself emotionally managed, reaching out for mental health support can be really important at a time of crisis.
Chase Peckham: 30:43
1000%. Ed, Thank you so much for being here today. I know that you fit us in in between your schedule so we Can't thank you enough for being here again and would love to have you back on the other end of this.
Ed Coambs: 31:01
Sure. Well, I'd be happy to come back whenever you invite me. Thank you for the opporunti