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Afraid to log into your bank account? Here's what to do

A financial therapist shares tips to stop avoiding your finances at all costs.

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Have you ever had a little voice in your head that says you really, really need to log into your bank account or pay your credit card bill, but you can’t bring yourself to do it? You’re not alone.

Financial therapist Bari Tessler admits to throwing away bank statements when she was in graduate school. Now, the author of The Art of Money works with clients to parse through our many feelings on finances.

“At least half the people who come to me are really scared to look at their numbers. It is so common and so normal,” she says. Tessler counsels people in their 20s and people in their 70s, and they’re across income levels and socioeconomic backgrounds. No matter our financial status, we all have our reasons for avoiding our finances. “We think we’re hemorrhaging worse than we are, or we have all these voices in our heads about how we should be managing and spending our money,” Tessler offers.

But there are plenty of reasons to dive in head first. For one, when you’re keeping tabs on your cash flow, you’re in a position to do something about it. Tessler recently caught fraudulent charges on her account and was able to act quickly. She also searches for what she calls “money leaks.” You know, those long-forgotten recurring expenses that are draining your wallet month after month. Regularly scrolling through and uncovering these transactions means you can correct course and put that money toward something else.

If you’ve made it this far, you’re likely ready to do something about it. Below, Tessler shares her expert tips for mustering the courage.

Give yourself a pep talk

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Money anxiety can stem from our lack of formal financial education.

Tessler says to constantly remind yourself of one particular fact: “Most of us did not receive a financial education growing up. We did not learn financial literacy or emotional literacy. I say that to everyone over and over and over.” We may be quick to blame ourselves when, in truth, we’re not equipped with these tools.

Repeat this bit of information to yourself as you prepare to log in. You may find comfort in recalling something like, “This is normal terrain. I have a lot to learn as an adult—and that’s scary—but I can do this.”

Set the mood

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A clear desk is one step toward a clear mind.

Getting a handle on our emotions? Easier said than done. But there is one thing we can control, and that’s the atmosphere around us. “Clear off your desk, add flowers, whatever is going to help you sit down,” Tessler says. She suggests lighting candles, making your coffee beverage of choice, or turning up your favorite playlist. “I’ve heard everything from Beethoven to Beyoncé and heavy metal,” Tessler says.

Check in with your emotions

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Identifying your emotions around money may help ease financial anxiety.

Perhaps you already have a mindfulness practice, whether you’re into yoga, meditation, or you Zen out with coloring or another activity. Channel that with your finances.

If that sounds like a foreign concept, Tessler offers this: “Sit, take a deep breath, give yourself a few seconds. What is the emotion that’s present? Is it shame? Is it anger? Sadness? Anxiety? Fear? Guilt? Grief?” These feelings are the same ones that pop up in every other area of our lives, according to Tessler.

Identifying what’s going through your mind and body is a good first step. “These emotions are not going to go away one day, but they can be reduced. You can catch them quicker; you can learn some tools on how to work with them.”

Continue to check in while you’re sifting through your account—and after you’ve logged out. Ask yourself how the process went, and Tessler adds, ”Celebrate. You did it!”

Doing this over and over may pay off. Right now, negative feelings may be popping up, and naturally they’ll appear every now and then. But allow yourself to imagine a different scenario: “Down the road, it may be excitement, calm, joy, or hope,” she says.

Schedule a money date

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It's a money date! Make time to sit down and check on your bank accounts.

Some of us are world-class procrastinators or savvy at digging up an excuse to push off tedious tasks. Tessler recommends putting time on your calendar. She suggests twice a week, though it could be as short as dedicating 10 minutes to take stock of your accounts.

“I’m really into bite-size money dates to start,” Tessler says. “Take a break, go take a walk, then come back. Look at your numbers a little more, going through the transactions that happened in the last weeks to see if there’s any funny business.”

This is something she did herself when she was starting to learn bookkeeping. “I did five minutes everyday. I would play my music, I had my chocolate, and I just did a little bit to create new habits, a new groove.”

Maybe you’re not convinced that you need another item on your to-do list. Think of it this way: We schedule hair appointments and gym classes (at least when there’s not a global pandemic). Why not make time for money check-ins as part of our self-care?

Grab a friend

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Thank you for being a friend—and helping me face my finances head-on.

There’s strength in numbers. Some of us do our best work with a partner to hold us accountable, whether working from home with a virtual buddy or fitting some exercise into our days. Tessler offers a discounted rate for duos who want to take her course together. Romantic partners, parents and adult children, and best friends attend the workshops, and even sync their money dates.

You may not be great at giving yourself a pep talk, but you probably have an easier time hyping up your friends or family members. “They both get on Zoom, then go off and do their numbers and come back and to report how it’s going, what they’re learning, what they can do differently next time,” Tessler says.

Ask for help

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A financial pro can help you become more confident with managing money.

As you begin to sort through your feelings around money, you may uncover that certain emotions arise because you’re not sure what to do with those numbers even after you do manage to log into your bank account.

And so this final tip goes back to Tessler’s first point: Gently remind yourself that most adults haven’t received a formal financial education. Many of us need someone else to show us the ropes, and that’s OK.

“For some people, it would be helpful to get a financial support person, like a bookkeeper who’s also a good teacher,” Tessler says. “So many of us think we need to do this on our own, or think that we should have known how to do this in the first place. There’s still so much to learn as adults.”

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