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The Fullness of Midlife

“How we think about money will form our behavior.”

by Dr. Barb DePree MD

Andrea Kennedy with Dr. Barb

Andrea KennedyAndrea Kennedy is a financial wellness coach and the author of Own Your Financial Freedom, published in 2014. One of only a handful of Certified Financial Planners globally who is an accredited Financial Psychology Specialists, Andrea marries the best practices of psychology and financial planning to help clients understand their relationship to money, how to communicate around money, and the most effective means of investing it. As principal of Singapore-based Wiser Wealth, Andrea consults with couples, families, and professional women in Hong Kong, Singapore and North America. She also lectures to women and young professionals around the region to promote the concepts of financial ownership, individual investing and financial education. Andrea writes a blog covering topics as diverse as the U.S. debt ceiling, retirement, and tax planning for global investors.


 Dr. Barb: Andrea Kennedy is our guest today. She is a certified financial planner and a finance behavior specialist, originally from Chicago and currently living in Singapore. She consults with couples, families, and professional women there, and in Hong Kong and Shanghai. She is the author of Own Your Financial Freedom: Money, Women, Marriage, and Divorce. You may have guessed that our topic for this conversation is money. Welcome Andrea!

Andrea: Thank you for having me!

Dr. Barb: I was interested to see in your bio that you are trained as a finance behavior specialist. I’m not familiar with that term. What does that involve, and how was that particular area of finance discovered or added to your career?

Many of us work against what we know is the right thing to do with our money.Andrea: To make a long story very short, there’s a couple of psychologists who are also certified financial planners called the Klontzes, a father and son team. And they basically carved up this niche teaching finance behavior specialization. And the reason that it’s become a need is fairly simple. I think that anyone who has ever worked with a banker or worked with a financial adviser or an investment or asset manager, you’re often taken through a plan or through the data – and all those things are good, and they’re the necessary building blocks to have a guide to your money – but many of us don’t put that good advice into practice. Many of us work against what we know is the right thing to do with our money. And this comes down then, to really how we’re thinking about money in a more unconscious way, right? Because how we think about our money will form our behavior.

How we think about money will form our behavior.So what I really learned about through this process, and what I help my clients with, is understanding their money narrative. And that’s the story that you tell yourself about money. And we all grew up in different ways and different families. Certainly in my, and where I’m living in Singapore, I’ve worked with people from all over the world; they’ve come from very different economic systems, and you have, everyone’s got a different story about what to do with their money: how to spend their money, what to spend their money on, how to invest money. So, this can work for you if you’ve got a very good grounding and a very healthy money narrative. It can often work against you. And women often have been left out of the conversation around money and finance from when they were young. So we have some of these dysfunctional money narratives, and that’s what I help women walk through, so they understand both intellectually as well as psychologically what they should be doing with their money.

Dr. Barb: It’s interesting, I don’t think I’ve really thought about the psychology of financial planning. I think I understand a little bit of my own motivations of times where I maybe spend more money than others, or what I might spend money on, but I never really thought of it in the bigger picture about addressing it as a behavior, so to speak.

Connecting that mind-to-action piece with money is critical.Andrea: Right, so there’s just so many things that influence this, and I think there’s so much that comes at us. Now, we’ve got social media, so there’s so much that’s constantly coming at us about what we should be doing with our money, all kinds of advice and very few filters. Financial planning is a step-by-step process, which I genuinely recommend for everyone, whether you pay someone to do it, or you do it yourself. But it’s actually putting that process into place and doing the right things with our money – and also having the right conversations we need to be having with other people. So, it’s one thing to have a plan, it’s another thing to actually activate it and have healthy money talks within a household as well. And you’re role-modeling for your children, so I think really connecting that mind-to-action piece with money is critical.

Dr. Barb: So, to step back a little bit, what led you into a career of financial planning?

Andrea: I have to say my mother and my husband, which is ironic because it’s not something I would have naturally chosen for myself. I was in marketing for a long time, and I became a stay-at-home mom and I was fairly restless. It was at a time in my late 30s and early 40s. My friends were going through divorce, and I was always the one stepping in saying, “Okay, this is what you have to do.” Not from a legal perspective, but just simply from a money preparation perspective if you will. And so my husband said, “You’re really good at this and you need to be helping and doing this for a living.” So he really encouraged me in this direction.

But I think what gave me the confidence around money was my mother. She was a very good role model. She was not even high school educated, but she was self-educated and she was not necessarily a good teacher, she didn’t “teach” me well in regards to money; I think she taught me what she felt she could explain, but she served as a very empowered role model. So I think a combination of those two things made it just a natural fit for me.

Dr. Barb: So that led you to the additional training that was necessary to launch a career?

Andrea: Yes. I happened to be living in Shanghai at the time, which didn’t really have a place for me to go learn this. We moved to Hong Kong, and it was there that I went through the typical course. This is a course for certified financial planners that’s done pretty much worldwide. We learn the same things, it’s slightly tweaked for the location, for tax and other issues. But, this is a fairly standard course. It’s kind of the gold standard for anyone who really wants to really help people with their finances.

Dr. Barb: In one of your blog posts you said, “The disabling of our girls starts young, when you are not having conversations about money in your home.... It continues when mothers show their own ignorance about money matters, and... treat money as a domain cordoned off for men.”

And I will say, when I think about growing up in my household, money, it was agreed that it wasn’t spoken about, in some unusual way. And I can’t tell you exactly why, but mostly we were, it was understood that you would never ask anybody a question about how much they made, or how much they spent, or how much something cost. It was largely not spoken about.

Andrea: Right, so that’s a very common experience in the world, actually, it’s not unique to America, or unique to any one place. But, I will say this, we do have this kind of Anglo-Saxon, Victorian hangover, where we treat money with such taboo. You know, the West has been wealthy for 500 years, but most of that wealth is still in the hands of men. I’m going to write another piece about this, but I think that these taboos – sex used to be a taboo, but now it’s something that everyone is talking about – it’s everywhere. I’m hoping that the next revolution or the next taboo we overcome collectively as humanity is really money, because, it does not enable people by not having conversations. It’s just like practicing anything, practicing discussing any topic, really, the more often you do it, the easier it becomes and the less emotional it becomes. It just becomes something that you do as a family. So I just think again, everyone should be doing this in their household. I think this kind of mindset that has been kind of been left over from – it’s almost a socioeconomic, a certain level of class doesn’t talk about money – I think that this doesn’t benefit anybody really these days.

Dr. Barb: That makes sense to me. I fully understand why that would be logical to introduce that as a topic of importance early and consistently. But more specifically, how do you encourage or how do you have that conversation with, I’ll say, especially mothers to daughters?

Andrea: Right, so I actually have this conversation with both – I’ve got a son and a daughter, just to use my own family as an example – and we have just begun to talk about simple things. It starts very young with – and again you’re a role model; I think that‘s the first thing you have to realize. You are going to be role modeling, so you cannot be telling them one thing and doing another. That’s the first and most important aspect of this. Because kids understand hypocrisy even before they can say the word.

The second thing is, I think you’ve got to start with valuing money, and that people work for money, and this idea that money doesn’t just come out of the ATM machine that’s filled magically [laughs]; that people are actually working, and there’s a whole, “Daddy goes to work so we get money” or “Mommy goes to work and we get money.” And then people get allowances. We give them an allowance for doing something.

I think we can start this very very young with very simple concepts and then slowly work into, “If you do not invest money, then money loses value over time.” That’s called the concept of time value of money. Money will lose power through inflation, so you have to then invest money. I started telling, just as an example, my kids started to invest money when they were both ten and twelve years old. So they’ve actually had money invested in my own Schwab account that’s their money, earmarked as their money from that age. And we’ve gone through ups and downs in the financial cycle with that money. But they’ve learned from it, and they are now, I think, much more financially empowered in all these spaces, just because they’ve gone through this experience already.

Dr. Barb: Yeah, that sounds like ...

Andrea: … Does that make sense, more or less?

Dr. Barb:  It totally makes sense. Yes, yes.

Andrea: And I think every household could do this. It’s fairly easy in America, as well, to do this because you can invest with little bits of money; you can start with small amounts of money. So, I think it’s easy to get started. Sometimes it can be hard to have the first conversations, but once it becomes something you do every quarter, or twice a year, it’s just normal.

Dr. Barb: And you alluded to allowance in the household, and I think you connected it to chores, or work done. In general, is that what you would see as a healthy approach to beginning to train children of connecting money and work?

Andrea: There’s a couple of ideas around this. I think people should contribute and help out in the house just because you have a house together, and you are a family, and that’s just what you do. But I do believe in giving children specific chores where they do earn money, just to connect that, “This is work, and you’re going to be compensated for it.” Other people might disagree with me, but based on how my kids have thus far turned out, they do connect the sense that they’re not just going to be given money for anything. I think there’s a bit too much of this indulgence – giving money for anything, which leads to credit card debt and all kinds of other problems in adulthood.

Dr. Barb: I know a number of perfectly smart and capable women who have mental blocks about managing their money, besides maybe their ability to balance the checkbook and pay the bills. So for women who haven’t had the experience or exposure, or maybe haven’t had the need to, how do you help women get over the block of enabling them to be able to do that successfully?

Andrea: I think that always the best place to start is understanding your money narrative. Before you get into the actual math of it all, you’ve got to understand your money narrative. You have to understand where your relationship to money came from. So, I think that’s kind of a deep dive. Some people can do this on their own, other people need therapists, some people need to come to see someone like me who is a financial behavior specialist – and some people can have very very painful memories around money. I’ve worked with some women who have had addictive problems, and they’ve come from therapists. And their big story was basically, they were essentially financially abused because their parents had used up their credit lines and so on; so there’s some very difficult stories related to money, and this is where you get this kind of dysfunction.

Financial literacy is like a ladder, and you've got to get on a rung....I think the first thing is understanding your money narrative. And the second thing is understand that financial literacy is like a ladder, and you’ve got to get on a rung. Right? It almost doesn’t matter what rung you get on, but you’ve got to get on some rung. If you don’t know where to start, look at your net worth. Understand what your net worth is, which is what you own minus what you owe. And understand how you’re growing that every year. There’s only three ways to grow it: paying down debt, saving, and investing. So, that’s a very uncomplicated way to get on the rung of financial literacy and to start. I think, honestly, if you spend anywhere from three months to a year on this stuff, just reading about it in your spare time, getting into it, you can become financially literate fairly quickly.

Dr. Barb: I’ve observed women often in my practice who (my practice is comprised primarily of women I’ll say 40 and older) who find themselves, children have left the home, they find themselves in an unhappy marriage, they’ve often given up career opportunities, maybe not worked at all – and honestly, their ability to leave a marriage is completely dependent on financial connection to their husband and they’re unable – or at least they perceive that they’re unable – to leave an unloving marriage because they must stay for the finances. And I think this must not be too uncommon actually.

Andrea: Right. I guess I’m not sure exactly what question you’re asking, but yes, it’s not uncommon. And I think this is again, why, even if we do not feel what I call, “financial agency,” in that part of our lives, or empowered in that part of our lives, we have to ensure that the generation after us, our kids, our grandkids, do not go through these same experiences.

And you literally just have to start at step one. What do I have, what do I need? I think that a lot of people believe they need a lot more than they need, because they haven't gone through a financial planning process. They believe they need X amount of money because they do not know how to invest their money to create essentially, income streams for themselves.

So once you start to understand the different pieces of this, you can understand that it makes sense to leave or not. Obviously I would only add, if anyone is in a physically abusive situation, it is always better to leave and have a bit less money than to stay. And I think there’s too many women that stay and really get physically ill or get worse abused or worse than that.

Dr. Barb: So for those young women entering relationships, long-term relationships, who often will have, I think some income discrepancy, and therefore some differences within their relationship in regard to access to money or decision-making around money, is it important that they intentionally, along the way – again no one ever looks to be single once they’re married – but, is it your message that individuals, especially women, create some sense of independency throughout their lives, financially?

Andrea: So this is, again, one would say this is debatable. There’s no perfect structure for family finances. What is absolutely important is transparency, and that each party, husband and wife, so whether you keep your money all together or you keep a pot that’s together in two separate accounts, that’s really up to the couple to decide, but I think it’s really important before you get married that you decide that you understand how that family economic system is going to work. And what makes sense if one person loses their job, how does the other person take over and all this kind of stuff. So I think that, I would say, at a bare minimum, those discussions need to be happening, and ideally, some economic system is set up, ahead of time, that both parties are completely happy with. Does that answer your question?

Dr. Barb: It does answer my question. And I think it gets back to the similar scenario you talked about parents communicating with their children and modeling throughout those years. I think, obviously the same would be said, once you’re an adult, for most individuals in a shared relationship, where finances are being shared, that somehow you create communication around this on a regular basis.

Everyone has their own money narrative... and sometimes partners aren't speaking the same language.Andrea: Right. And I think that the great thing about sometimes having a third party, and I am not a big fan of overusing financial advisers or any of this, because you can waste and have a lot of money going out the door. But sometimes it does help to have a third party come in and kind of set the ground rules. If you’ve already been in a marriage and things are not going fantastically they can kind of act as a referee, give you a road map, get you on the same page. I have done this, I’ve worked with couples successfully. Sometimes people just need to see the data to realize that if they keep spending this much money, you’re not going to have anything in retirement, you know? If no one’s showing them the data, then there’s no reason to change how things are going, right? So, I’ve had couples literally come in, women who have come in and said, I’m going to get a divorce, and a month later everyone’s happy again, because they’ve finally been able to have these conversations, right? So the sooner you start having them, and certainly before marriage, that’s ideal. If you’re in a marriage, and you’re frustrated with how things are going financially, but you do love your spouse and you do want to stay together, then sometimes it makes sense to tap a third party and say, “listen can you help us kind of get on the same page.” Understand, because you have money narrative, but so does your husband. Everyone around has their own money narrative, and sometimes you’re just not able to communicate using the same language. It’s almost like you speak two different languages, so I think that’s also an important to point out.

Dr. Barb: How would a couple find someone who has the skill set to be that financial behavioral specialist in their lives? It strikes me that many financial planners, probably don’t necessarily have that skill set, or am I wrong about that?

Andrea: Right, so no. Okay, so obviously a great financial planner, whether they’ve gone through the program I’ve gone through or not, is going to have that skill set. They will have naturally developed the right coaching and the right kind of diplomatic skills, if you will, to help couples. But there’s a few variations of things. You can find someone who is a finance behavior specialist, there’s only a small group of us, because this program has only just begun – I’m the only one in Asia, but we are scattered across the country, practicing this. But someone who is a certified financial planner who also acts as a fiduciary – which means that they are acting on your behalf – and I think sometimes, it’s the personality type, understanding that you can have a conversation with them, and that they are going to treat each party fairly. Those are two options.

I also think sometimes it helps to go to a therapist first. A lot of my more successful clients have actually gone to therapists. They’ve actually done that sort of psychological work. They understand their own story about money. They are trying to understand a partner. And then from that launching pad, you know, this kind of level of greater self awareness, they are able then to come in and work with a professional like me, who then walks them through more of the nuts and bolts of financial planning.

We deserve as much respect as anyone does.So a few of those combinations of things can work. I think mostly it’s finding someone whose got the right rapport with you, who is going to explain things to you that you don’t understand or that you aren’t comfortable with. Don’t work with anybody who’s not transparent, who tells you one thing and does another thing, or who is kind of dismissive of you. Because women get this from the financial services industry as well. We still get spoken to like we are three-year-olds. And we deserve as much respect as anyone does. So this is sometimes kind of a systemic or endemic problem in this industry that I work in.

Dr. Barb: And does your book, Own Your Financial Freedom: Money, Women, Marriage, and Divorce, to some extent help an individual walk through some of what you’ve just outlined?

Andrea: Yes. What my book clearly goes through, the first two pages touch on divorce, because it really was written with this idea in mind. So many people when they are in the throes of working through a divorce, they are under so much emotional stress that they are not thinking practically, pragmatically, or logically and, often, not in their best interest, as well. Usually their first instinct is, “I’ve got to get out” and sometimes, they’re thinking, as fast as I can, and sometimes the money gets left behind as well, not in the best state for them to go forward. So, it was really written for women to sit down, understand, if they are going to go through divorce, how they’re going to feel, what are some other options. And then from there it literally takes over for someone to be the CFO – or the chief financial officer of their household. So it starts with cashflow, with budgeting, with the net worth type of topic I was talking about earlier, all the way through investing. It’s really so that someone can be completely financially empowered, even if they’ve never been financially empowered a day of their life.

Dr. Barb: And I assume it’s never too late to begin this new journey.

It's never too late and anyone can learn this.Andrea: [laughs] It’s never too late, and honestly, you know, I have clients who are everywhere from the age of, I would say 25 all the way up to 65, and you know we are living longer [laughs], so, it’s never too late and anyone can learn this. I think it’s being with the right people in the right environment, and having the right support network. And that doesn’t mean a lot of people. Sometimes that just means a girlfriend that you can talk to, a good advisor that you can talk to, people that you can trust, finding the right blog that you can read and get comfortable with, where you’re understanding things. Sometimes it’s taking a community college class. Just do it in small steps and don’t expect – you know it’s like learning how to cook. No one is cooking souffles on the first day; we’re learning to boil eggs. This is the same thing. You have to take it step by step by step, up a ladder.

Dr. Barb: I’m curious, now that you’ve lived in Asia for a couple of decades, is the cultural context the same, do you think, for women? Or are there different attitudes and expectations regarding finances and women?

Andrea: Right, so this is kind of the interesting part. I’m writing a newsletter about this. I would say Asian women... so the same taboos exist around talking about money in some regards, but for the most part, this region has been poor during the entire time that our part of the world, including Europe, has been wealthy. Now, suddenly in the last 25 years, this region has become very very wealthy, and the women have gone from zero to 100 in terms of their education around finances so incredibly quickly, that I’m talking to women who, in some aspects, are much better educated financially than a lot of Western-educated women. So that’s interesting.

You know I think women in Asia are very practical about money. So while the topic may be taboo, they will talk money amongst themselves. Whereas often when I’m with Western women, and by this I’m not saying Americans or British, most Western women are still very uncomfortable talking about this among a group of friends. So it’s very interesting what taboos are being broken much more quickly here than I would say they are being broken back home.

Dr. Barb: Interesting. So there’s hope that maybe we’ll get on that curve and get up to speed.

Andrea: Yeah, and I think millennials, I think that the thing that is going to change in the U.S., the women are making just as much money, and sometimes more than men are, in the United States, and I think through this, and everyone’s got their own retirement accounts, and I think through this, millennial women will actually catch up and will catch up very quickly. So I’m very hopeful. [laughs]

Dr. Barb: Yeah, I would agree, it seems to me like that will be an avenue to have more parity around this. So can you share with our listeners your website and where they might find your book?

Andrea: Sure. You can find my book on Amazon. It’s actually much more widely read outside the United States, but it’s absolutely applicable to anyone inside the United States. My website is I write a regular blog, and you can also find me on LinkedIn. Feel free to send me emails. I’m a huge advocate of financial literacy, so any time I have to spare, I’m answering emails and helping people sort out simple money questions, no problem. I also do Skype calls, if people want to, essentially, hire me online. And then my book, I would say, go onto Amazon. That’s the fastest way to get my book. You can download it on Kindle as well.

Dr. Barb: Good, well thanks for sharing that, Andrea. And in closing, I’m wondering if you would share, where do you find fullness at this stage in your life?

Andrea: Right, that’s a great question. I really wish people would ask me these questions more often! I would say I find it in variety and because I live overseas, I have constant variety from travel and meeting people from all different places all over the world. I find it in feeling empowered in this part of my life, that I know a lot of people don’t feel empowered in, and that I am able to share that and help educate other people. That makes me feel incredibly fulfilled in a way that few other things, besides motherhood and a good marriage to a good man have been able to make me feel. And I would say the third thing is in balance. So, I don’t spend a lot of time on social media. I’m out in nature a lot, and by that I mean, I’m taking walks with my dog. And I think really in these three aspects, I feel quite contented, and like I’ve lived a very full life already.

Dr. Barb: That’s great. Thanks for sharing that. Especially thanks for your time and sharing our insights and your expertise on an area that I think that – at least for women of my age and generation – we have so much to learn. The future feels somewhat uncertain because of what we don’t know about our financial future. So thanks for being a resource.

Andrea: Thank you for having me! And remember, just start somewhere, because this is something everyone can learn, and everyone should feel entitled to this knowledge.

Dr. Barb: Thank you.

Andrea: Thank you very much! 



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