Cutting debt and building wealth may have more to do with your heart then your head for budgets, according to Julianne Malveaux, a master economist and President Emerita of Bennett College. In an hour-long talk on the emotions behind excessive spending held April 14, Malveaux said that taking a hard look at what motivates us to buy what we buy, is a necessary first step for those in our communities desperate to find their financial footing. “We buy because we feel bad, we buy because we feel good… we buy to affirm ourselves, we buy to unaffirm ourselves,” she said. “It’s not our finances but our emotions that are pushing us to spend money we don’t have.”

Malveaux’s talk was the third in an eight-part series launched by the National Cares Mentoring Movement,  in partnership with the National Alliance of Faith and Justice’s PEN or PENCIL (penitentiary or education) program, designed to help Black men and women bring their best selves to mentoring, parenting and guiding our children. The initiative, "Mentoring Mondays," connects listeners with some of the nation’s most inspiring leaders for life-affirming teleconferences each Monday at 7 p.m. Eastern and will run through May 19th. Past speakers include Georgetown professor and author Michael Eric Dyson and spiritual teacher and healer, the Rev. Dr. Iyanla Vanzant. You can listen to their talks in entirety here.

“Mentoring Mondays offer us the wisdom and encouragement we need to take the gift of our lives seriously and learn how to fill our own cup and replenish it, so that we will give to our children, families and communities from our overflow,” said National CARES founder and CEO Susan L. Taylor.

During her talk, Malveaux said that in addition to coming to terms with why they spend, those looking to untie a financial knot must have a sense of how deep that knot really is. “Know what you owe,” she said. “Be clear about it, have a list.” Likewise, she added, consider how much you can stash away in emergency savings. “How many months could you last if you didn’t have a salary coming in? That’s the first thing you have to think about. You want to have the dollars in your hand to know you can last three months.”

Ultimately, Malveaux emphasized, debt busting means committing to a clear plan of action, which might include taking an extra job or finding other sources of income and being willing to trade wants for needs until the debt mountain is cleared. “Hope is not a plan” for retiring debt, she said. “You have to have a plan.”

She also encouraged parents and mentors to push young people to think about the value of money and budgeting, noting that, more and more, debt begins early, with credit card companies establishing a hold on many college campuses.  “You have to talk to young people about what they need and don’t need. You need to eat. You need a sweater. You don’t need 10 sweaters, you don’t need to eat at Red Lobster. Talk to them about what things cost.”

To hear Malveaux’s wisdom yourself, listen below.