MANHATTAN — The uncertainty of tomorrow is one of the biggest sources of financial stress and anxiety for couples during the COVID-19 pandemic. Megan McCoy, Kansas State University professor of practice in personal financial planning, wants to help with a new financial therapy digital tool called MoneyTalk.
“Right now, our brains are freaking out about the ambiguity of tomorrow,” said McCoy, a licensed family therapist who specializes in financial therapy. “What is the world going to look like? What are our finances going to look like? What is our health going to look like?”
When faced with this uncertainty, it can become frustrating for couples who deal with anxiety and stress differently, McCoy said. She is part of K-State’s Institute of Personal Financial Planning and helps train financial planners to use counseling-like skills, such as facilitating couples’ conversations about money with each other.
McCoy has consulted with Morningstar to aid in the development of a new way to help couples talk about money: the MoneyTalk app. The app builds on a theory called narrative financial therapy and involves creating a self-help tool for couples who want to talk about money differently with each other. The app is a chat-style app led by a robot avatar named Mo.
“The goal is for both partners to talk to Mo first, and then to each other,” McCoy said. “The app was developed to aid you in reflecting upon your thoughts and feelings around money solo, and then it gives you tools and resources to bring up money with your partner to engage in a healthier and more insightful conversation together.”
Morningstar is using the new app to conduct a randomized control trial, and participants can try out the app for free and answer some questions about the app. McCoy will then use the data to explore the efficacy of the app, and she said she hoped it would help couples successfully talk about money during the current COVID-19 pandemic and in the future.
“Couples need to make a concerted effort to talk about the anxieties and worries,” McCoy said. “When you keep them in your head, they grow and manifest.”
Even though couples are staying at home more and spending perhaps more time than usual together, they may not be talking about important topics, either because it is uncomfortable or causes disagreement. This is especially true about money as it is often seen as taboo to talk about money, even with your loved ones, McCoy said.
McCoy suggests couples and families follow these five tips for coping with the financial stress associated with the coronavirus pandemic.
1. Set aside a good time to chat with your partner.
Pick a time when you aren’t stressed or tired and when you really can connect about what you are each experiencing around financial stress, McCoy said. Couples could consider scheduling a “worry session,” or a designated time every day or week when they can talk about their worries and concerns. If something happens outside of the scheduled time, then write it down and save it for that session.
2. Be kind to yourself and your partner and recognize that talking about money awkwardly is better than not talking about it at all.
Talking about money is so hard anytime, but COVID-19 has caused extra financial stress in many Americans’ lives. Couples may have different tolerances to financial stress, McCoy said. One person may get stressed more easily and may feel frustrated that their partner isn’t stressed as well. It’s important to talk about those differences.
3. Explore how your partner is thinking and feeling.
Couples should put aside assumptions about the other person and should not apply their own motivations to their partners. Even though you are both in this together, you may be experiencing it differently. McCoy said couples often respond to difficult situations with two extremes: Becoming emotionally ambivalent and shutting down or becoming rambunctious and trying to problem-solve everything. Both of these spectrums are unhealthy, McCoy said, and it can be very frustrating for couples who cope with stress and anxiety differently.
4. Talk about how you would like to be supported by your partner.
Sometimes we just need to vent or be held, McCoy said. Be honest with yourself about how you want your partner to support you if you are stressed and share with them so they can meet your needs.
5. End with game planning and talk about what you can control in your lives.
Don’t focus solely on the stress, McCoy said. This can be a really good time to do some housekeeping and adjust your spending or look at ways to increase your income. There are many things we cannot control related to COVID-19, but it’s important to end the conversation with what you can control.
McCoy also suggests the following additional resources for couples and families:
- The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors offers free financial planning services.
- AFCPE is offering free financial counseling.
- The Financial Therapy Association has a network of financial therapists.