In last week’s column I suggested the value of setting up a support system if you are trying to change a pattern of overspending. Part of that system is finding a financial mentor to support you as you work your way toward financial health.
A financial mentor is someone who “walks the walk,” who is qualified to serve as your guide because he or she has traveled the same road you want to take and has done so successfully. For an overspender, a financial mentor will be someone who is able to control debt, live within his or her income, and save for the future. This is someone who can model successful money management, help you develop a plan for financial change, and hold you accountable to keep your commitment to that plan and stay within the limits you have set up together.
A good mentor won’t necessarily tell you what to do, but instead will act as a “sounding board” and help you decide what changes you need to make. He or she needs to have the strength to confront you when your behavior falls short of your goals, but also needs the skill to do so without attacking or shaming you. Preferably, a mentor is more of a partner than a parent figure.
The details of working with a mentor can vary, but it is important to get together regularly, whether in person or by phone. You may initially meet quite often, perhaps weekly, but over time the frequency of your meetings may decrease to once a month, and eventually to an “as needed” basis.
Typically, spouses should not serve as mentors for one another. Nor is it generally a good idea to ask a parent, a child, or another close relative to serve in this capacity. It’s often wiser to look for mentors among trusted friends or professional colleagues. One option is to find a financial planner who specializes in cash flow management. Unfortunately, very few planners offer this service, and finding one may be difficult.
The mentor doesn’t necessarily need to be a financial professional, however. What is most important is that this person demonstrates the kind of financial behavior you want to emulate. A mentor doesn’t necessarily have to manage everything perfectly when it comes to money, but that person does need to have a clear commitment to achieving and maintaining financial health. If you have trouble finding a mentor, another possibility would be to establish a mutual support arrangement with a friend who is also working toward financial balance.
We’re accustomed to the idea of developing relationships with mentors to help us learn and grow professionally. It’s far more difficult, however, to ask someone to serve as a financial mentor. To some degree, you will need to bare your financial souls to each other. You will need to obtain enough information from your potential mentor to satisfy yourself he or she is qualified. In turn, you will need to honestly and fully reveal your financial circumstances, which can bring up huge amounts of fear and shame. When it comes to managing money, almost all of us believe we “should” know how to do it right. Trusting another person with your financial information, including your past mistakes, your debts, and your less-than-perfect checkbook register, takes a great deal of courage and a strong commitment to change.
It may help to remember that working with a mentor does not mean giving up financial control to that person. The mentor’s role is to help you follow a money recovery plan of your own choosing, which ultimately can help you regain financial control in your life.