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Q&A with Amanda Mills of Loose Change Inc.
The AFC is pleased to partner with Amanda Mills to offer entertainment professionals financial therapy as part of our Financial Wellness Program. Mills has been working with arts organizations across Canada and with artists of all kinds to assist them in achieving financial sanity over the last 25 years.
We spoke with Mills about what exactly financial therapy is, who can benefit from it and more. This interview has been edited and condensed.
The AFC: What exactly is financial therapy?
Mills: When I started financial therapy, it was with a view to helping people figure out what they projected on money, what they were expecting from it so that they could take that away. I used to liken it to a Christmas tree that’s so decorated that you don’t see the tree anymore. And that’s my experience with people’s view of money. So, I try and help people see how what they feel money should do for them is getting in the way of handling it well.
How did you come up with financial therapy?
I was having financial trouble and was trying to figure out who to go to. As a tax person in the arts and someone who has taught accounting in the arts and budgeting, I know what all those professionals do, but that wasn’t what I needed because I was really upset about my money.
Accountants don’t want crying in their office. They are like “No, no, no tears. Take those away. I’m a dry person.” And therapists are like “No, no, no, I don’t deal with money.”
I feel very lucky because my therapist actually did, but therapists typically graduate from therapy programs with the knowledge that they will not have to talk about money in their practice. And it’s a pity because it’s one of the biggest stressors in society. A lot of divorces and suicides are about money. Money is totally fraught. It needs therapy a lot of the time.
After you identify what may be some of the root issues behind someone’s relationship with money, what comes next?
Then someone can begin to plan what they are going to do about their financial situation without falling prey to the emotional drives that were so hard on it. The drives don’t go away, but you are walking into the gunfire with a vest now.
One of the things that people always do is they will make a budget and then at the end of the month, they realize they’ve failed. And the main reason why they fail right out of the gate is that they have no idea how much they are spending.
So, sometimes its expenses that happen once a year that they don’t account for when budgeting. I’ve had clients come back and go “Everyone had a birthday this month, I couldn’t make it work” or “I didn’t budget for Christmas.”
People also often minimize what their addictions cost them. They are embarrassed about them usually, so they don’t really factor them in adequately. So people will say “Oh, I’m on a budget, so I am going to give up smoking.” And it’s like “No, don’t make money carry that.”
Trying to spend less money is also trying to fight an addiction, so it’s like a double fight. You are kind of making money the bad character that’s not letting you smoke. If you are going to quit smoking, quit smoking because you want to quit smoking. Don’t quit because of money. What will happen in my experience is you will spend all that money you saved from not smoking because you were angry about quitting or it will leak out another way.
Who do you think could benefit from financial therapy?
Anyone who is really upset about money. It’s about the level of feeling. Because once the distress is deep, before you can manage the problem, the distress has to be acknowledged. And that’s what I was trying to find when I was trying to find help: someone who would hear my distress. Until the distress was acknowledged, it was really hard for me to think about anything sanely.
How long do you typically work with people?
It really depends. I had one client who came in because she had kept her debt so messy that she couldn’t really let herself get in a relationship and she wanted to get married. By the end of the hour and a half, we both realized that she didn’t actually want to get married and was using the money as a protector. She realized that she didn’t have to use debt to do that. It was quite amazing to see her go through all this in an hour and a half.
I also worked with this woman who had really nagging parents to the point that if she was five minutes late, they would call the police. When they died, she went into massive debt and finally after ten sessions, we realized that she had used creditors to replace the nagging. She missed her family; they’d nagged her to death, and well, creditors will do that to you, too.
Is there any preparation that people need to do before coming in for a financial therapy appointment?
I usually will suggest when someone books their first appointment that they do some journaling about money if they are comfortable with that. Or some sort of self-expression about money so that they can begin to think about what role money plays in their life. Because it can be a useful one or it can be a non-useful one.
What do you hope people help get out of financial therapy?
The hope is that they get a more balanced attitude to money, so that they can work better with money on their own behalf because money and the arts can be very non-close friends.
I actually don’t think money is the most important thing in the world at all and I feel like the biggest teacher for me has been to spend the last 25 years in my life working with artists who do not put money first, they put art first. It’s been very humbling and incredibly freeing to work with some of the few people on the planet that actually do this.
Thank you, Amanda, for taking the time to speak with The AFC!