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Podcast Episode: Rise Above the Money Fog

Rise Above the Money Fog

🤔 Is the more effective money management approach to have lots of different banking buckets and strategic credit cards, or is the elegant simplicity of a checking account, savings account, and credit card more effective?

🎙️ Our latest Modern Husbands #Podcast guest is Mikelann Valterra. She is a financial psychologist and author of  "Rise Above the Money Fog.”

📚 Mikelann shares key insights from her book, sharing with listeners how to break free from the shackles of financial anxiety. #money

For more than two decades, master money coach Mikelann Valterra, MA, AFC®, has helped folks transform their relationship with money. A highly respected expert in financial psychology, she is the author of Rise Above the Money Fog and has been quoted in national publications, including Forbes, USA Today, and Business Insider. 

Mikelann is an Accredited Financial Counselor (AFC®) and holds a master’s in psychology and consciousness studies. 

🔔 Click here to listen and subscribe to the Modern Husbands Podcast on Apple.

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Questions Answered

0:00:00 Introduction

0:01:15 Where does your passion for financial psychology come from?

0:07:12 What has been the biggest change in financial psychology over the past 25 years? 

10:18 What is a money fog? 

12:26 Can you explain your acronym, FOG? 

13:47 What are some of the hidden impacts of the money fog? 

16:41 What is the origin of the money fog? 

22:22 What is your favorite story of someone who rose above the money fog?

24:48 Where can listeners go to learn more about you?

25:33 What is one piece of simple and actionable advice you want to leave our listeners with?



Welcome to the Modern Husbands podcast, where any combination of Dr. Bruce Ross, Christian Sherrill and Brian Page host national experts who share winning ideas to manage money in the home as a team.

For more than two decades, master coach Mikelann Valterra has helped folks transform their relationship with money.

A highly respected expert in financial psychology, she's the author of Rise above the money fog and has been quoted at national publications including Forbes, USA Today and Business Insider.

Mikelann Valterra is an accredited financial counselor and holds a master's in psychology and conscious studies.

On today's episode, we will discuss the money fog and what it means to you and your partner.

Enjoy the show.

Welcome to the Modern Husbands podcast. We are here today with Mikelann Valterra and she is a financial psychologist, as you heard in the intro, and she is also the author of the Money Fog. I just finished her book. It was an excellent book, it was a quick read.

And so Dr. Ross and I are looking forward to this conversation.

Dr. Ross, are you ready to go? I'm ready.

Let's do it. I'm excited about this.Well, we want to start with just understanding where your passion for financial psychology comes from.

Ah, where did it come from? You know, we take such interesting paths in our careers, don't we? My undergrad actually was in economics. It was in third world economic development, or at least that's what it was called at the time. Okay. And you know, I wandered the earth like Cain for many years, trying to figure out what I wanted to do when I grew up after I, you know, finished my undergrad and I decided I wanted to go into psychology and so I ended up with a master's in transpersonal psychology.

And then you go, well, now what do I do? Like, you know, here's this. I don't know what that is. What is transpersonal psychology? It's contemporary psychology that looks at, it borders almost spiritual psychology. It looks at a lot of the psychology of adults in the second half of life as opposed to early childhood developmental psychology.

So it's a, it's a very growth oriented psychology that looks at a lot of positive aspects of psychology, right. As opposed to trauma psychology, right. So. And you know, psychology, which seems like that's what dominates everything, right?

Yeah, anytime you read something about psychology, right? Exactly. Well, you know, my love was Carl Jung and, you know, there's just so much fascinating, wonderful stuff in analytical psychology, which is kind of where my love was.

But I finished this masters and granted at the time was kind of an avant garde masters. What do I do with it? I was still fascinated with money. I was still fascinated with what came to be called the psychology of money. But at the time, nobody was talking about such an odd marriage of money and psychology. That's crazy.

And I was stuck.

When I finished my master's, I actually debated becoming a financial planner, going in and looking at, you know, like investments, for example. But that just seems so dry. Didn't hit the emotional side of money, none of that, you know, deep.

Why do people do what they do?

I then thought about becoming a psychotherapist, which would have been kind of a natural place to go as well, but talk about two different fields, right? I mean, it's like jelly and peanut butter. I can't even think of it. 

You know, they were just such an uneasy marriage, and I met a money coach by the name of Karen McCall. And this was before money coaching was even called money coaching, who was looking at our relationship to money and really deep issues, like when we feel deprived around money, what happens?

And how do you create a nourishing relationship to money and heal the pain of so many things that happen around money? You know, debt, for example. And I just. I fell in love with her and then fell in love with, with what she was doing. And I said, train me, Karen, please.

I'm one of the very first people she ever trained to become a coach at the time. And again, this is 25 years ago, I trained to be a financial recovery counselor. That was the only designation in the field. 

Over the years, I became an accredited financial counselor, I became an AFC and then added different training and whatnot. I mean, 25 years, there's a lot of books I've read, let me tell you, but I love this field, and it is a marriage of psychology and money, because there's nothing more emotional on the planet, in my personal opinion, than people's relationship to money.


So you're like, you're one of the first, like, if not the first, like financial psychologists. Well, I mean, yeah, there's, you might not have coined that at the time. I didn't. Yeah, you are like one of the. Yeah. Yes, exactly.

Because nowadays there are people, you know, like, there's the financial therapy association, which is this, you know, wonderful organization that I'm a member of, but not 25 years ago. Right.

Because there's more and more. You're totally right, Bruce. There are more financial therapists, financial coaches, money coaches.

Everyone uses different terms in the field because the field is kind of like the Wild west.

No one knows what to call themselves. But 25 years ago, you're right.

Yeah. Who knows. Shout out to our co host, Dr. Ross, who's the past president at the financial therapy association.

He still serves on their board. Love it.

Yeah, well, that's such a fabulous organization, you know, and 25 years ago, high school, it just, it was a different world and I couldn't figure out how.

All I wanted to do was be a money coach and no one had ever heard of it. I wanted to help people around money, and I want, and there was nothing to do. And I think the reason I emphasize, like, you're one of the first people to do this because I have such high respect for you making that connection.

There wasn't an association before, right?

Like, there wasn't, like, you could have just Google, like financial psychology or financial therapy or money psychology and like a whole bunch of stuff.

I mean, did, Google didn't even exist 25 years ago, right?

Or maybe it was just in the early stages, I guess, but like, um, I remember we had AOL, um, or sgs. Right?

So there's a box. I have a lot of, uh, yeah, I have a,

I'm probably dating myself too, with that, but I have a lot of respect for just that early work.

Um, you all did, and I'm curious, kind of, you know, going off script here, but what do you think

the biggest change has since you've, you've kind of started in this 20, like 25 years ago in this.

What's the biggest change you've seen, you think, in this kind of financial psychology?

Yeah, it's interesting. Yeah, no, I know exactly what you're asking. And we ask ourselves that. There's, you know, the colleagues that I have had in this field. If, you know, there's only a handful that you can take that go back, you know, maybe 25 years, that would be like Barbara Stani and that'd be Karen McCall and Barry Tesler and I are colleagues.

So we all kind of came into this field a couple decades ago, and it was hard in the beginning because I spent all my time explaining what on earth a money coach or a financial coach was. That's the biggest thing, is that people just made a bunch of assumptions.

As soon as you put the word money in front of anything, people assumed I was working with investments or taxes, so I had to spend a lot of time explaining.

Actually, I'm working on the practical side. I work with people on teach how to manage your cash flow. I'm not a big fan of the word budget, but let's create and design a personalized spending plan.

Well, that was unheard of unless you worked with perhaps consumer credit counseling. That, of course, didn't look at the emotional side of money. I feel like I spent the first decade of my career explaining what I did as a money coach and helping people be less stressed about money and design a spending plan. And God forbid we actually look at your numbers.

Let's actually put together a march spending plan. But nobody did it. Nobody did it. You know, planners worked at a higher level on investments or people worked on debt issues.

Nobody worked in the real world of cash flow management combined with why we feel the way we feel around money. And so I think that's the biggest change, Bruce, is that now more and more people have heard of financial coaches, right?

The field is still so new that there's a ton of confusion about what people do and who's doing it, but it's not as new. And so I have more and more people that contact me, literally googling financial coach. Financial coach help. Well, they didn't Google that 10-25 years ago because they didn't. They just.

They would google or whatever. Ask Jeeves for help. Help with money.

You know, I mean, there were these real general search terms that maybe brought them to a financial planner or something. You know, they just knew something wasn't working.

I mean, thank you for your journey through all this. And because I. Obviously, it's a huge asset, you know, to the people that are reading your book, that are finding insights and getting help from other financial therapists, financial psychologists, money coaches, etcetera.

But speaking which, going back to your book, so the rise above the money fog. What is a money fog?

What is a money fog? So I define it as when we are full of anxiety and stress from being vague about our money. And that's, granted a real general sounding definition. But what I want to key on is it's not just the practical side of if you don't know how much you spend, yes, that's a sign of being in a money fog, but it's also how we feel as a result of being vague about our money.

So, you know, a lot of times when. When I'm helping people see if they're in a money fog, I'll ask, you know, like, let's. Let's go through the basic, you know, kind of five diagnostic questions.

Do you ever feel frustrated and wonder where the money went? Where did it go? Okay, so that's a sign you might be in a money fog, right.

Do you feel fear and anxiety when you think about your finances?

Okay, that's a sign you might be in a money fog. Do you feel guilty when you think about something you spent? Well, that could be a sign you're in a money fog. And again, the practical side. Absolutely. If you don't know where all your money goes, that can be a sign.

If you don't know how much money you need to earn to live the life that you want, that is a sign of being in a money fog. And I'll just throw one more in that.

I just love this question. Do you feel like money is a sacred tool to help you live your best life? And if you go, well, no. Or, like, what the heck? That's a weird question, sacred tool to live my best life, then that could be because you're in a fog and you don't know how much money you need to live your best life.

So it is the practical side of not being clear about the ins and outs in your life. Absolutely. You don't know how much is coming in and what you're spending, but the money fog is also how we feel as a result of this fuzziness and vagueness.

But if I remember correctly from the book, fog is actually an acronym as well, right?

Well, yes, it is. So fog stands for. Thank you for asking. Fog stands for when you're in fear overwhelm or guilt around your money. So when you feel fearful around your money, that is a sign you might be in a fog. When you feel overwhelmed, when you think about your personal finances, that could be a sign you're in a money fog.

And when you feel guilty over something that you are either thinking of buying or bought, that can be a signpost that you're in a money fog. So there, and you can kind of feel there are these emotional signposts that guide us to go, hmm, could this be pointing to this phenomena that people don't really talk about, which is this fuzzy vagueness that so many of us feel over our personal finances and small business?

So the hidden impacts, I love that question, because when people are in a fog, they don't always know what is being impacted. And so I would say there's kind of four potential hidden impacts.

The first one is probably the most obvious. If you're in a money fog, it can cause you to overspend. I don't know how much money I can spend or where the money's going or what I've got. So overspending is rampant.

That leads to a lot of pain around debt. That's a huge subject. But also, sometimes when people are in a money fog, they underspend. There's a lot of people that are self depriving. They don't know how much they can spend. And so depending on their money personality, they will batten down.

The hatches, don't spend anything, and maybe they can afford something or maybe not, but they're so fearful of spending that they don't spend enough.

They underspend.

And then I would say that the other two impacts that people sometimes miss is if you're in a money fog, it might lead you to under earn. You are underselling yourself. You're not making enough money. And, you know, under earning is a huge topic. That was the subject, actually, of my first book, like, 20 years ago, of when we chronically undersell ourselves and don't earn enough money.

But it's connected to the fog.

Many people don't really know how much they need or want to be earning because they're in a money fog. And that absolutely connects to underselling yourself. And then the last impact I would throw out that I think is in some ways, the most hidden, is if you're in a money fog, some people over earn, meaning it's a version of being caught in the golden handcuffs.

You know, I have. I'm in the Seattle area, and, I mean, I've got clients all over the United States, but I have different people come in that feel caught in high incomes. They're not in love with their career anymore, and they want to be able to break out, but they're so afraid of making less money, and they don't know how much they can actually afford to live on, how much they need to earn.

They just know more. Just keep working. Just work, work, work.

And everything we earn seems to go out the door anyway. So everybody just keep working. Right? So this over earning, which, you know, obviously leads to these very high levels of burnout that we see, is, in fact, related, in my opinion, to being in a money fog.

And this isn't just happenstance.

I mean, there's an origin to someone's money fog. Yeah. Oh, definitely. Yeah. I mean, it's a complicated. Can you explain what that is? Yeah, that is a complicated question, Brian, and I'm going to simplify it because we have to. Right. I would say that the number one origin of the money fog really is in our childhood.

And that I'll simplify even more in that the vast majority of us are raised in families where it's not okay to talk about money. We're not taught about money. It is not modeled in the best of families. Yeah, absolutely right.

I mean, in the best of families, sometimes it's just handled behind closed doors. But again, there's no modeling. But unfortunately, in a lot of families, it's even more negative than that.

There are these messages that say it's not okay to talk about money, all the way to being raised in families where money, you saw, caused pain and conflict.

People grow up in families where they hear parents fighting about money, and it's not necessarily connected to that. There wasn't enough money. I mean, there's a lot of conflict around money that is all over the place.

I've got clients that come from wealthy families that grew up in hearing very, very negative things around money.

But all of it comes down to this sense from childhood that says money. It's not okay to talk about it. And the irony is, as kids, we know this thing is super important, this thing called money.

We see our parents doing this thing, like, buy food, and it's connected to us getting our toys and our needs, and we hear something to do with the fact that it's paying the rent, you know, this really, really important substance that we hear the adults in our lives talking about. So we.

We hear early that it's one of the most important things there is, and it's not okay to talk about it. And there's this huge mystery around it. And so somehow we're supposed to grow up and become adults that are able to handle it easily, talk about it effortlessly. We're all supposed to grow up and get married and easily talk with our beloveds about, well, what do you want to do with money, honey?

You know, but we didn't see this modeled by our parents, so it would make sense that the vast majority of us would grow up and enter the money fog, because that is like this warm blanket, or you could say the ostrich with the head in the sand.

But either way, you know, it's safer then dealing with this thing that might cause conflict or pain. Well, so much of that really goes back to what you were talking about earlier.

There's so many emotions that revolve or center from money. And I've had friends of mine tell me they grew up in a house where they saw money really as a defining factor in someone's value. So money equals your worth, your self worth. And we all know that that has a toxic.

You will have a toxic relationship with money if that's what you see as your relationship with money. And the challenge that they faced was that if they made a bunch of money, then they felt like it was rude to talk about money because they were surrounded by people who didn't.

And then if they didn't make very much money, then they were embarrassed because they were defined.

Their value is defined by how much they earned.

So that combination of those things without just this underlying foundation of understanding that, as you said, money is a tool and that it does not define who we are as human beings. It's simply a tool. And so many of us have never had that foundation poured in our childhood.

So I appreciate you sharing. That's so true. Yeah. Isolation, right. You know, I mean, that's why it's so great that the three of us are talking about this, because it's like breaking the taboo, silence. I mean, you know, obviously, the three of us are more and more used to talking about it.

And, you know, Bruce, you talk about this like, you know, all the time. Right? And you're obviously drawn to the field, and it's such high and holy work, but it's still so new.

I mean, so many people are still not able to talk about their relationship to money and how they feel about money. And now there's this constant sense of secrecy.

You know, I find people feel like everyone else must know how to do this thing called money.

I'm the only one who must not be able to figure this out. So there's just this shame cycle that starts happening on top of everything else.

Because we feel like, I'm a smart adult. Why can't I figure out this thing called money?

Everyone else has it figured out, which actually is not true.

But we feel that way, right? And when there's two people who are married that are fighting that same fight, now, all of a sudden, it impacts how they feel about each other.

Oh, and doesn't that just break your heart? Yeah. Yeah. And marriages. I mean, half of all marriages are made up of opposite money personality types that come together and. Oh, then the hilarity ensues, you know, I mean, it's. And, you know, people come together for reasons having nothing to do with money.

You know, an opposites attract is a wonderful thing in so many ways, but then you come together in relationship with someone who, you know, probably had a different upbringing around money, different beliefs. You know, you don't want to marry your clone. That is not a very sexy dynamic at all. Right?

But then money rears its head, and like you said, it's like, well, what do we do? What's your favorite story of someone who rose above the money fog? Rose above the money fog. Gosh, I have so many.

So I specialize in working with women in midlife, and that's such a powerful demographic. And a lot of women in midlife are in massive transition now.

A lot of men in midlife are in massive transition to 100%. Right. But transitions like divorce transitions, like empty nesting transitions, like job transition, you know, remarriage, things like that. And probably one of my favorite stories is a woman who was so convinced that she couldn't leave her tech job where she made a lot of money.

And, you know, these are all relative. Right. But she was very stressed, and her dream was to ride horses. Her dream was to take up this hobby, and it wasn't quit her job and ride horses full time. It was, I want to spend a lot of time riding horses. This is very, very expensive hobby, and what's the point?

I don't even have the time to do it anyways, so let's just sort of let this dream go that she'd had from a time. She was a very young girl, and as we worked on her money and she rose above the money fog, she saw how much money she actually needed to make, what she really spent.

She made some changes in her lifestyle. When we kind of looked at everything, you know, she decided she didn't need the level of wardrobe that she was investing in.

Partly, she realized that she was investing in an image for other people, and what she really wanted was more for herself, that is. Let's go ride horses.

And so, you know, as she got really, really clear over a year of, like, rising above the money fog, she ended up basically changing jobs. And did she make a little bit less? She did. And she picked up an extra 20 hours a week where she wasn't working, meaning her lifestyle changed where she had so much more free time that guess what hobby she picked up.Riding horses.

I love the story because. So I feel like a lot of people, and I was one of them, really undervalue the importance of our time. It's the one thing we can never get back, and we're always.

I was always chasing more and more and more, but I was chasing more of the wrong thing.

And so we like to end all of our podcasts with a single piece of simple but actionable advice that you can leave our listeners with so that they can go forward and do something to improve their lives. What would that be?

I vote for elegant financial simplicity. And what I mean by that is one of the best ways that people can right away start rising above the money fog is to simplify and prune their accounts.

And what I mean, Brian and Bruce, is that I find that people have too many accounts. And I'm being literal, they have too many credit cards, too many checking accounts, too many savings accounts. 

Part of it is banks have made it so darn easy, this proliferation of accounts. I'll give you a free toaster of and if you open an account with me at my bank, we have the best intentions. A lot of people are trying to manage their money with this sort of bucket methodology.

This account is for vacations.

This credit card is for emergencies.

This one over here is for bills.

And it works until it doesn't.

And what you find is people transfer money all over the place from account to account to account, and they have too many places to look, and they're spending too much time trying to get their arms around their money because they've given themselves too many different places to go and try to get their arms around their money.

So one of the best ways to be relieved of stress around money is to have fewer accounts.

One checking account, one credit card. Yes, I'm a big advocate of savings accounts, but the more accounts people have, the more that is correlated to financial anxiety and stress.

People that are peaceful around money and feel great around money have a simplified account structure, and they give themselves a lot of peace of mind so that they can spend time on what's important.


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