International Wealth Mentality Month is held annually throughout the entire month of January. It serves as a reminder to get our finances in order and plan our financial strategies. If you’ve ever experienced financial difficulties, you are aware of the negative feelings that accompany them, compounding the problem and making matters worse. According to financial therapist Dr. Ashley Lowe-Simmons, LCSW-C, FSW, our financial habits do indeed affect our mental health, and stress plays a major role in how we handle financial pressures. As an expert working exclusively with BIPOC communities, she helps minorities improve and maintain their mental and financial health.

“Stress affects your mind and your mental wellness,”says Dr. Lowe-Simmons. “When you lack the skills to manage that emotional piece, a distressing financial situation can cause you to go into survival mode and act out of desperation.”

Dr. Lowe-Simmons is so passionate about financial literacy that she created a game to help people educate themselves and their families about financial behavior in a fun and engaging way. She hopes the game will lead to people adopting healthier choices and having better control over their financial state.

“The game, which is coming out soon, is a two- to four-player floor board game that uses human game pieces (think Twister.) Children and caregivers can play together, and the choices and decisions you make determine if you’re going to move forward in your financial life or if life will knock you back.”

This year, we're all seeking to create better financial habits. We're hopefully stepping away from things like taking out credit cards, borrowing money, or getting loans—all which result in us falling deeper into debt. To tackle the problem, Dr. Lowe-Simmons suggests the following tips.

Face it head on

“You have to stop avoiding it. Sometimes you can be in a financial drought and try to avoid answering phone calls from debt collectors or people calling about unpaid balances," says Dr. Lowe-Simmons. "That avoidance is not helping. It’s adding on to your level of stress. Contact whoever it is that you owe to see if there is a plan of action. A lot of companies, such as utilities and phone companies, offer a fixed amount you can pay monthly. You may need to downgrade. Port your phone number. You have to really be creative and strategic when it comes to your financial health.”

Write your thoughts and feelings down

“Keep a financial journal and write down your emotions pertaining to finances. Make a list of who you owe, the amount, and the money you have coming in. It’s really very simple, but it's also very challenging. It doesn't take a lot to sit and write; it’s just the magnitude of what you’re writing on that paper,” continues Dr. Lowe-Simmons.

Get help from a friend or family member who can help you better understand the situation

For people who are aware that they are lacking in financial literacy and skills, it can be beneficial to seek assistance from someone more knowledgeable on the topic. 

“I was a single mom for 10 years. My parents did not teach me about finances," Dr. Lowe-Simmons shares. "When I went to grad school and met a friend who majored in finance at Howard, it took a couple of years for me to sit down with him because there was a degree of embarrassment. You have to gain that awareness to know that you have an issue and that it’s okay to ask for help.”

However, she cautions against asking for help from just anyone. The individual you seek help from should be someone you trust, someone who has the knowledge necessary to help you, and someone who is empathetic to you and your situation. 

Teach your children how to make smart decisions regarding money

Once you become empowered with financial knowledge, you can then pass it on to your families. You can teach your children how to make smart and healthy decisions regarding money by equipping them with the necessary knowledge and by serving as a good example of it in practice.

“The inability to educate our children so that they know the importance of finances and how to build healthier financial habits and behaviors is a big problem,” says Dr. Lowe-Simmons. “A lot of it has to do with social learning. We learn based upon what we’re exposed to; what we see our parents or caregivers do and what we don’t see them do. If they’re teaching us unhealthy habits, those habits carry on into adulthood, trickle down into our relationships with our children, and it’s just a never-ending cycle.”

Develop multiple streams of income

“This is another place where self-awareness comes into play. The Bible says, ‘Be still and know that I am God.’ A lot of us try to take matters into our own hands and move without a plan. But if you allow yourself time to sit and be still, you'll figure out what you’re good at," explains Dr. Lowe-Simmons. "I ask my clients all the time, ‘What is it that you do well and with ease?’ That's what you’re gifted in. The Bible also says that our gifts will make room for us. God has given us the ability to produce wealth, so we already have everything we need. We just have to take the time to tap into that, and that comes from things like meditation and journaling.”