People looking for guidance in their lives are increasingly turning to coaches: life coaches, business coaches, social media coaches—and now, money coaches.
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Money coaches say they fill an important role by taking a big-picture approach to finances and focusing on clients' goals and challenges instead of specific investment or 401(k) questions. Unlike certified financial planners or investment advisors, the field of money coaching is not regulated. Anyone can call themselves a money coach, and although a variety of coaching certifications exist, many coaches say they're meaningless. At $150 an hour and up, hiring a coach isn't for everyone, and people with specific money questions might be better off with a certified financial professional.
Tea Austin, 34, a criminal defense attorney in Los Angeles, decided to work with coach Christine Hassler after feeling stuck in his career and worried about money. After graduating from law school in 2008, just as law firms started laying off employees, he struggled to achieve his dream of working for one of the district attorneys in Southern California. "I hit a wall personally and professionally at the beginning of 2010 … I felt immobile," says Austin. That's when he turned to Hassler.
In their sessions, Austin laid out his daunting financial challenges, including a mortgage payment for a house he used to live in, student loan debt, rent in Los Angeles, malpractice insurance, and other bills. Instead of focusing on interest rates and bill management as a financial planner might have, Hassler asked Austin to consider underlying issues, including how he makes decisions about his life.
"Christine helped me realize that I'd become a people pleaser, a habit I had adopted years ago in other facets of my life…. I had become more concerned with my clients' financial positions than I was with my own," says Austin. As a result, he often told clients that they could pay him later, or in the case of friends and family, not at all. As a result, he wasn't getting paid for some of his work. During one coaching session, Hassler had Austin call a client and ask for a payment on the spot. "Christine taught me how to set boundaries with my clients, something I had never done before, nor did I think I could do," says Austin. As a result, he's doubled his income.
That's just the kind of holistic support that Hassler, who's based in Los Angeles and has a master's degree in psychology, says coaches provide. "When I work with people in their 20s, so much of what I'm doing is teaching them how to parent themselves … I'm teaching them not only psychological issues, but we're also dealing with practical issues like making payments on time, here's what an IRA is, do you have a savings account with interest," says Hassler, author of 20-Something, 20-Everything.
When her clients feel overwhelmed and paralyzed, she helps break down what they need to do into smaller steps "so the overwhelmed feeling goes away," she adds. She also helps them explore their relationship with money to confront any problematic patterns or fears. "Fears around money stop people from living their life," says Hassler.
In other words, while certified financial planners and accountants zero in on financial issues from budgeting to investing, coaches look at the big picture. "If you need specific money advice, then I'll send someone to a financial planner … . Choose a coach when you recognize there are patterns. If it's always been hard for you to earn money, if you have a problem with spending, if the whole thing is overwhelming to you and even talking to a financial planner is intimidating," she says.
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Gail McMeekin, a career and creativity coach based in Boston and author of The 12 Secrets of Highly Successful Women, says she refers clients to certified financial planners for specific money issues, such as long-term planning or insurance needs, but when it comes to big-picture finances, coaches come with advantages. "I help people look at their whole life. What's stressing them, what's making them happy, what do they really want to be happy, what's realistic, what does their potential business pay and how does that fit with their lifestyle," she says.
McMeekin, who has a masters in social work and has trained as a coach through The Coaches Training Institute, adds that many of her clients, who tend to work in creative fields, can be turned off by the number-crunching approach of financial planners. "Sometimes certified financial planners can be very conservative and scare the daylights out of people, especially people in transition who are letting go of a 401(k) or starting a business for themselves," she says, adding that her clients are often better off taking risks, as long as they are calculated ones.
"What I do is broader than financial planning," explains Bruce Poster, a retirement coach based in Santa Fe. "We look at a whole range of lifestyle issues. Finance is one of them, but so is health, leisure, and how you establish meaning in life," he adds. Poster, a certified retirement coach and former consultant, uses worksheets and prompts to help clients develop their vision and goals for retirement and then create a plan to achieve them. His coaching packages for couples start at $595.
Since coaches vary so much in their expertise, training, and experience, finding the right one can be a challenge. Hassler recommends asking friends for recommendations, using the website mycoachmatch.com, and browsing the blogs of coaches. Says Hassler, "You want a coach who's walking a similar path but is a little bit ahead of you."
Corrected on 10/5/2011: A previous version of this story used the incorrect pronoun to refer to Tea Austin.