Therapist who says she can cure your ney troubles
Hokum? FLIC EVERETT (no pension, no property and saddled with debt) hops on her couch
My name is Flic, I am 46 years old and I don’t have a pension — nor do I own my house. For most of my adult life, I’ve been continually weaving my way in and out of some quite serious debt.
Divorce, taxes, and some really good parties are what got me here. But, I admit it, my profligate attitude to money hasn’t helped matters.
Like most of us, my dealings with my finances have been shaped by my childhood. my dad was a journalist, and my mum a playwright. It was feast or famine. Sometimes we’d be living on beans because a crucial cheque hadn’t arrived and bailiffs were pounding on the door, and other times we’d swish off to Harrods to buy me a new coat.
It was inconsistent but exciting, and I’ve simply repeated the pattern.
If this is all starting to sound a little like a psychotherapy session rather than financial planning, that’s because it is.
I’m not sitting down with my bank manager. Instead, I’m putting my hope in the hands of ‘financial coach’ Simonne Gnessen.
Part financial adviser, part therapist, Simonne promises to help even the greatest financial- car- crash client get a grip, through a combination of practical advice and much deeper therapeutic exercises.
Simonne co-authored Sheconomics, the popular financial advice book for women, in 2008. She is fully trained in neurolinguistic programming — a type of thinking used by psychotherapists to challenge assumptions and reset old brain patterns — and has 20 years’ experience in finance. She now combines her two areas of expertise to help clients overcome money problems.
She’s going to have her work cut out with me. my attitude to cash hovers between ‘terrified’ and ‘overwhelmed’.
But I’m not alone. Simonne tells me that many of her clients are fairly successful people who have found themselves in mid-life without a pension, or drowning in debt.
Last year, the Debt advisory Committee found that 10 per cent of UK women have at least £10,000 of debt. and last month the Bank of england warned that contactless cards and online shopping were fuelling a boom in household debt.
Simonne first aims to uncover the root of her clients’ problems with money, then helps them to find practical solutions. She works from a charming Brighton mews, and, as she greets me at the door, she’s warm and likeable.
She offers me a cup of tea and we get down to exploring the labyrinth of my finances.
To my enormous relief, Simonne doesn’t even require me to switch on my laptop — we’re just going to talk.
SHeexplains that, like me, most of her clients come to see her because they’re not in control of their money.
‘People often talk about stuff they’ve never discussed before,’ she says. ‘Traditional financial advice is about looking at savings and pensions, and is full of jargon. But that just scares people. I want to empower them to have a better relationship with money.
‘ nobody teaches us about money. We don’t discuss it with friends the way we talk about relationships.
‘We’ve had the sexual revolution — now we need a financial one, where talking about money isn’t shameful or embarrassing.’
She’s right — I am ashamed to admit the reality of my financial circumstances. I live with my partner in Scotland most of the time, but I also rent a flat in manchester close to my family and friends, which I visit on a regular basis.
I earn slightly more than the average wage — enough to eat out sometimes and go on holiday in the UK, but I’m not even tugging at the hem of ‘well off’.
I never feel secure financially, and even though my monthly debts are manageable (I have around £3,000 of credit card debt), I still live in fear of an unexpected bill. The reality is that I could have paid the credit card off years ago if I’d been more careful. But budgeting has always been a mystery to me. For years I’d simply spend until the money ran out — then borrow more.
I dreaded finding brown envelopes on the mat and couldn’t bring myself to open them, so would instead hide them in a drawer.
In the end there were summonses and county court judgments. Then, in 2004, I received a tax bill so huge, I had to sell the family house. It took a year to sell and in the interim there were bailiffs at the door. The guilt was crippling and even today I find it difficult to sleep properly.
I’m much better now, but the fact that I still have debts is testament to my chaotic approach. Before we met, Simonne sent me some worksheets. One of these consisted of statements, like: ‘ In my family, money meant . . .’, ‘ People that make lots of money are . . .’ and ‘ I’m scared that if I
have money . . .’ I surprised myself by feeling quite emotional as I filled in the gaps.
It became very clear that I’m not comfortable around cash. My answer to how I’d feel if I had lots of money was ‘guilty’ — my family and friends don’t have that much.
I see money as a random act of God, partly due to having always been self-employed.
I’m also addicted to the adrenaline rush of suddenly feeling flush (Holidays! Presents!), and equally, suddenly losing it due to an unexpectedly huge bill or household drama.
We spend the first half of the two-hour session talking about why I struggle to maintain control of my finances. Simonne asks gentle, probing questions, to uncover what my subconscious has been telling me.
‘I’ve been fully employed for 25 years but deep down, I still think every job may be my last,’ I admit. ‘So I’m scared to plan ahead, because it feels like tempting fate.
‘If I save for the future, I feel I might lose my job, or drop dead, and it will be pointless. It doesn’t seem as though I have any power over money.’
‘How does that make you feel?’ she asks. ‘Like a field of rabbits scuttling about, trying to avoid thunderbolts,’ I say.
I’m enjoying this. So far, there have been no scary spreadsheets and no impenetrable financial jargon. ‘What if we challenge the idea that not planning is somehow keeping you safe?’ says Simonne. ‘Is that really true?’
‘No,’ I admit. ‘But if I save for retirement, I worry it’s wasted money as I might not live long enough to need it.’
‘What’s the average female life expectancy?’ counters Simonne, calmly. ‘About 80?’
On she goes, kindly dismantling my assumptions and misunderstandings. We conclude that I don’t want to be a scurrying rabbit any more. But I’m also attached to the thrill of my rollercoaster career.
‘It doesn’t have to be either/or,’ Simonne says. She suggests we try some exercises to help me see where I really want to be financially, and what’s stopping me getting there.
Take my random attitude to spending. I buy my clothes from charity shops, and I don’t own a car — but I do spend a huge amount on socialising. When I’m in Manchester, I meet friends several times a week, spending at least £50 each time. Adding this up, I feel quite faint at my profligacy.
I pay £450 rent in Manchester, half the utility bills in Scotland (around £80 a month), and fork out £120 a month for satellite TV and broadband. I also buy bottles of wine without ever having noticed that the average bottle price has crept up from around £6 to nearer £10, and I spend an enormous amount on fancy food at my local deli.
Another £25 a week gets spent on driving lessons. I have no choice now I live in the middle of nowhere, but it’s not cheap.
The first of Simonne’s exercises is The Timeline.
I’m asked to envisage a line running through the building, towards the bright blue far wall of her office: ‘Number one is right back in the past, where you don’t want to be, and number ten is the future, where you have enough money and the career you truly want.’
I have to go and stand where I think I am now. I pick six and a half, and hover in the doorway.
‘What’s stopping you facing ten, and moving towards it?’ she asks. Talking it through, I realise it’s a lack of confidence.
I approached life like a spinning top, zooming about, brimful of confidence. But break-ups and health issues over the past few years have made me feel more vulnerable.
She asks me to envisage what I’d really like, and move towards the imaginary ‘ten’.
I’d like to have enough money to be able to spend a day a week writing a novel.
We discuss how I might achieve that: more planning around what work I take on; more ring-fencing of my time.
After our conversation, I realise that if I stopped going out so much in Manchester, reined in my posh wine habit and passed my driving test, I could free up around £300 a month.
If I saved that up, I could eventually allow myself an extra day a week to start that novel, or pay off my millstone credit card debt.
The exercise I like best is called ‘If money came to tea’.
‘Imagine money is a person,’ says Simonne, ‘ and it’s knocking on your door. Do you let it in? What does it look like?’
Some people see it as a monster, she adds, while others may see it as a judgmental family member. I envisage an icy blonde woman.
‘Now,’ says Simonne. ‘Imagine if you got to know her better — invite her in, ask questions.’
After a few minutes of this ‘conversation’, I realise she’s not as terrifying as I first thought.
I have always been intimidated by cash — Simonne’s exercise suggests it’s something I could become relaxed around.
I feel enthused and empowered after our session and wish I’d met her years ago.
Simonne’s gentle therapeutic approach is exactly what us finance-phobics need to bring us out of the wilderness and help us realise that money is a servant, not a master.
Money talks: Simonne Gnessen and Flic (far right)