On-Demand Webinar: When Finances Feel Out of Control
Conducted by Dr. Terry Hargrave, Founder of Restoration Therapy, and The Evelyn and Frank Freed Professor of Marriage and Family Therapy at Fuller Theological Seminary.
In the last of our five-part webinar series aimed at guiding church leaders and congregation members through the stressors and worries of COVID-19, speaker Dr. Terry Hargrave took a close look at what for many can be a very stressful subject – finances. You can watch the full on-demand webinar here.
In addition to being Founder of Restoration Therapy and The Evelyn and Frank Freed Professor of Marriage and Family Therapy at Fuller Theological Seminary, Dr. Hargrave is the author of 14 books and a licensed marriage and family therapist. So he brings a wealth of both knowledge and experience to what can often be a difficult topic.
"I certainly understand that our main fear of the pandemic centers around the idea of health and safety," he began. "But there's no denying that one of the phenomenal impacts of COVID-19 has been the impact on our world economy.
According to recent surveys by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), four out of 10 adults say either they or their spouse or partner have experienced a job loss or a cut in salary. Unemployment in the U.S. is greater than 15%.
"That's a phenomenal increase from where we were just a few months ago, when we were under 4%," said Hargrave.
And that impact is showing up in people's daily lives. Three out of 10 adults say that they've fallen behind in paying bills, according to the KFF survey. Those numbers get higher with younger generations. In the 18 to 29-year-old group, those numbers are four out of 10.
"So 40% of that younger group," said Hargrave. "It's disproportionately affecting them as they're experiencing the economic fallout of the pandemic."
Not surprisingly, these numbers carry with them a demonstrable mental toll.
"Over half the adults, 56%, are identifying that worry or stress-related things related to the outbreak are causing them to experience a lot of negative effects on their mental health," he explained. "They're having sleeping and eating problems. They're increasing alcohol use or worsening chronic conditions. We know that stress, just simple stress, is one of the main health crises in the United States and, in fact, the world."
While he both praised and recommended the kind of budgeting ideas championed by authors like Dave Ramsey, Larry Burkett, Mary Hunt, and Robert Katz, his primary goal was to dig deeper – identifying the underlying personality issues that must be examined first.
"There is a precursor that is in your personhood, your personality, if you will, that if you don't pay attention to, then all the budgeting help in the world will not take care of your financial stress or your financial management issues," cautioned Hargrave. "Budgeting-type programs, unless you take care of the basic foundational issue in your heart, they will just simply make you more educated at what you refuse to do."
He then discussed the role our natural, ingrained human instincts for "fight or flight" play in our relationship with money.
"When we feel stressed, we either move to this fight mechanism of saying, 'We're going to exert our power – we're going to control the situation,' or we say, 'Whoa, that's too much for me – I cannot take that kind of stress, so I try not to think about it,'" he explained.
But, he advised it is not that one is healthy and one is not healthy.
"We're looking for you to be more in the middle – in this balanced idea where you have some control, you recognize the fears that you have, but you're not at the extremes where you're over-controlling or you're trying to escape," he said.
Hargrave next examined how these two continuums of power and control – anxiety and escape – create four quadrants that can be helpful for identifying how people use money. Citing the research of David Olson, he outlined how patterns of financial overindulgence and under-indulgence can present themselves. These examples include using money for status, control, security, and finally, enjoyment.
"Any one of these four frameworks can be used in a healthy way if they're more balanced in the framework," he said. "But once you start reaching the extremes, this is where the personality of your money style can be very unhealthy."
So what do we do when finances are a problem? He offered a few tips.
"First of all, you have to be realistic," he advised. "The pandemic and economic fallout is real and it's going to be with us for a while."
"Also, you have to really watch out for your weakness," Hargrave continued. "If you know you're out of balance on one of these four uses of money, be on your guard."
He then provided a message of hope.
"The third thing that I want you to know is that when finances become a problem, be hopeful," Hargrave recommended. "Remember that this time of economic stress will eventually pass. And so relationships, family, your spiritual growth, those are the things that are the most important elements in our learning."
He followed up with a powerful piece of advice – that when stress is high is the best time to change.
"Actually, this time of stress is the exact time that you want to practice the good habits of getting out of your over-indulgence or your under-indulgent stinginess," he offered. "It's also a good time to think in terms of saying, 'I'm not going to be governed by my need to control the situation because there are things that are out of my control. I'm going to start moving myself toward the middle.'"
Hargrave pointed to the need for courage during a time of growth, while referencing a favorite quote of his from Maya Angelou: "Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage, you cannot practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage."
Hargrave explained how this related to finances.
"In other words," said Hargrave, "you have to be courageous to say, 'Even though I feel the tendency to be overwhelmed by anxiety or power or my need for over-indulgent spending or under-indulgent spending, I want to grow. I'm going to take the courageous step to change.'"
In closing, he linked this concept back to Scripture.
"In scriptural terms, we see that as a process," he noted. "We rejoice in sufferings, knowing that suffering – and believe me, coronavirus is definitely a suffering – suffering produces endurance. That's where courage comes in.
"Endurance produces character, and character produces hope. And hope does not disappoint. This time will pass."
To learn more about Dr. Hargrave's thoughts on how to deal with financial stress, we encourage you to watch the full webinar here.