March 20, 2023

How to tackle your financial anxiety with Alexa von Tobel

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Financial anxiety, just like all forms of anxiety, can affect anyone. So, Ofosu and Leah talk with Alexa von Tobel, the founder and managing partner of Inspired Capital and a Certified Financial Planner™ about how to overcome mental barriers around money and take the fear out of finances. She also shares her three key steps to successful money management and how to have better conversations about money with others.

📣 We want to hear from you! What do you like, not like, and want more of on the Well Balanced podcast? Share your feedback here:

📚 More about Alexa von Tobel: Alexa is the founder and managing partner of Inspired Capital, a Certified Financial Planner™, and a bestselling author.

📙 You can order her book, "Financially Fearless," here:

📘 And you can order her second book, "Financially Forward," here:

🎧 What's in this episode:

  • (00:31) Meet Alexa Von Tobel
  • (01:47) What's at the core of our fears about money
  • (02:57) Having conversations about money
  • (03:44) Overcoming mental barriers around money
  • (04:24) Reframing money as a tool
  • (07:57) The 3 key steps to successful money management
  • (10:14) How to talk to your family about financial stress
  • (12:14) Reframing your beliefs about money
  • (13:37) Teaching children about money
  • (16:41) What's giving Alexa von Tobel life right now

🧘 About Balance: Well Balanced is co-hosted by Ofosu and Leah, Balance’s Co-Heads of Meditation. Balance is a highly personalized meditation and sleep app that's been named Google's App of the Year and Apple's App of the Day. Completely free for the entire first year, Balance is helping 5 million+ people around the world improve their stress, sleep, focus, and mood. Unlock your free year of Balance today by downloading it from the App Store or Play Store:



LEAH: Today we are talking about money. Like the gold thing. One of my favorite topics actually, and. I think it's also something that can be scary for a lot of folks. Or at least feeling taboo or awkward. And so we're gonna talk about how to make it less scary. 

OFOSU: Yeah. I could really use this conversation for sure.

LEAH: Hi, I am Leah Santa Cruz. 

OFOSU: And I'm Ofosu Jones Quartey. 

LEAH: And we're the meditation coaches on the Balance app.

OFOSU: And this is our weekly show Well-Balanced, where we explore ways to live a healthier, happier life. 

LEAH: So we get a guest expert here who's an expert on making money, really approachable. Her name is Alexa Von Tobel and she's a certified financial planner.

She's also the founder of Learn Vest and the founder of the Venture Fund Inspired Capital. She's a fellow podcaster as well. She hosts the Founders Project from Ink Magazine. And she's literally written New York Times bestselling books about taking control of your money. So really excited to have you here.

Alexa, welcome. 

ALEXA: Thank you guys so much for having me. I'm thrilled to be here. 

OFOSU: Thanks for being here with us. So jumping right in. For many of us money can feel kind of scary, um, and that fear can be pretty difficult to overcome. And I feel like it's something that we have to approach before we can even think about taking control of your money.

And I'm curious, like what do you think is at the core of our, of many of our fears, um, around money? 

ALEXA: Well, there's a lot of studies around this. We know that based on how you watch money growing up, that creates a pretty strong orientation to how you think about money as an and as you would imagine, it's not good to completely ignore money and think of it as a topic that you should never discuss.

It's also not good to think of money as this horribly stressful topic. It doesn't mean that money's not stressful at times, but if you orient yourself thinking that money is just like, oh, I don't like it. I don't wanna think about bills, I don't wanna figure it out, that just reinforces it in the same way that they teach you in your preschool and lower school to tell your kids that you love math, even if you didn't love math.

And that orientation to money is really important. And so the headline is, most people listening, almost everybody listening worries about money. There's very few people in my entire life that I've ever met that said Money is not stressful. Literally, I can count on one hand the number of people have been like, I'm not stressed about money.

Money is a topic that we all should think about and there'll be moments of anxiety, there'll be moments of joy around it. But it's a topic we need to learn to talk about. And we need to keep it on the table.

LEAH: I completely agree. Like I came from a family where money either brought up anxiety or it just wasn't, it just wasn't spoken around over the table. So accessibly like you were speaking about, and I remember seven years ago, when I first started dating my husband, going over conversations, difficult conversations around our financial situation, money at the time, and literally being so uncomfortable I couldn't even stay in the room. I start to feel anxiety and it took a while. It took years to overcome that and be able to have these frank conversations. So I think this is so useful, what you're saying. And you know, as someone like myself who may not have had a family where we spoke about it freely and it was just a comfortable topic to explore, what advice would you give to someone to overcome those obstacles, those mental barriers that they have around money?

ALEXA: Sure. So my first book, um, called Financially Fearless by Alexa, one of the first things that we really did was just let everybody take the big deep breath that we need to. All of us are ashamed about money in some way, shape or form.

All of us know people that came from a lot more money than us. There is always somebody with more. And you have to throw away that mindset very quickly. And you need to start thinking about money. And I, I went back to the origins of money. Just to really help ground this and root this for everybody.

Money was truly invented as a bartering tool. Money is a tool. You used to take sheep's skins and like pass them to somebody else so you could get some milk and like it became really inefficient to carry around sheep skins over and over. And so we came up with a better mechanism, which is money. It's, it's these tiny little things and now it's all digital.

To be able to get the goods and services that you need, it is literally a tool. And in the same way other tools in our life, it shouldn't be worshiped and it shouldn't be ignored. So the orientation is, I want you to think of it like a tool. I want you to think of it as very knowable. And what's amazing. I knew nothing about money. I went to a fancy school, worked really hard to get really, and I kept looking for money classes. I was like, where's my financial literacy education? 

LEAH: Yeah. We all need one. 

ALEXA: And I kept being like, how is this not taught in our school system? And I, I started caring about money because I had lost my dad when I was younger, and my mom overnight became a single mom with three kids and she had to learn about money in that moment. And I just remember saying, I'm never gonna not have the basics of money as in my war chest, in my, in my, in my repertoire. So I started learning about it and once I finally really learned it, I felt so empowered.

It was incredible how I started feeling. I was like, I can manage my own life. I don't have to rely on another human being, period. And that doesn't mean I had a lot of money. I was young, I had my first world paycheck, but I knew how to save it. I knew what I needed to do. And for the first time, I felt empowered, like really empowered in my wallet, and that felt fabulous.

So everybody listening. You can learn how to take care of yourself. And once you really understand that the empowerment that comes with it really helps you start actually learning to make money.

OFOSU: Okay, so Alexa. My parents are immigrants. They're they, and, and, and my wife's mom is an immigrant, and she was raised primarily by her mom.

So both of our parents are, we're, we're not like native to the American system of you know, finance. And they, they came here and they had kind of they had to like figure things out and they did a fantastic job. I mean, they got us all the way through life and through college, et cetera.

They were figuring it out as they went along, and I never really got any sort of direct financial education from them. Sorry, mom and dad, if you're listening, I'm not throwing you under the bus. It's just a fact. We never like sat down and like was like, look, this is what you do with your money. It was like, but you help.

But they helped me set up a bank account, all the basic things, you know, and we're doing that for our kids too. I'm a little bit afraid that, you know, I'm kind of perpetuating, um, bad habits by default because I still think about myself as not being great with money. I don't like looking at my bank account, you know what I'm saying?

Like, I, I get a check and then I have a number in my mind, but I don't consciously watch, you know, think about that number going down every time I, you know, make a transaction or pay for something for the kids, et cetera. It's like, you know, there's a little bit of a disconnect and a fear and like an anxiety around it, you know, I like don't really want to deal with it.

So that being said, if you could like recon my financial, uh, uh, education. Let's say I'm about to get another paycheck. What should, what, what, what should my first step be? 

ALEXA: Here's the basics. It's called the monopoly step, and there's three key steps, so everybody out there listening. I don't care how old you are, I don't care where you are.

It applies to every single person. Once you become an independent person, you know, after the age of 18, first is you need emergency. And you need the right amount of emergency savings based on how old or where you are in your life. So I'm sitting here, I'm a mom of three kids. I have a mortgage. My emergency saving needs to be more, needs to look more like nine months of what my, my, my, not my fancy life- my critical basic life costs. 

If you're in your twenties, early twenties, you probably need three months, and that is the basics minimum of what your life costs you. So to still be able to pay the, for your kids go to school and to pay for your mortgage and to keep the lights on and have groceries.

Okay. So that's emergency saving. The second thing is no credit card debt. And I say that with no judgment. The average American has close to $10,000 depending on the way you slice the data. A lot of credit card debt, you need to get that to zero. You need to get it to zero as quickly as we can because credit card debt is one of these very toxic things that when you have it, it immobilizes you.

It paralyzes you such that you don't actually go and tackle your money. And then the third step of the monopoly step, the final step is you must be contributing to your retirement account. Every month. All the time, every year, no matter what. Once you pass those three goals, then we begin to think about all of the fun stuff that you wanna talk about.

I wanna buy a home. I'm having babies. I'd like to renovate a kitchen, I wanna buy a new car, et cetera. That's why we call it the monopoly step. You cannot pass go until you do those things. 

LEAH: Yeah. I so hear you and I, I definitely have done so much work to get to that point where I've got those three steps covered down my life, thank God.

But I remember years of my life and I didn't. I had some credit card debt and it felt like I was just scraping by and not able to really get out of the debt. So, you know. Is there any thoughts about when it seems like, um, you're spending everything that you make and it, like the debt is still there, like how to, how to chip away at that?

ALEXA: Sure. It's really, really intimidating, but the headline. You actually need to take your inner circle, your family, your siblings, your best friends, whoever you spend your time with and say, and it's, you may think it's embarrassing. No one will be sad. No one is sad if you say, hey I'm really trying to save.

I'm really, really trying to take care of my finances. So when you're with me, let's try to do things that are a little bit less expensive. Let's try to eat out. You know, let's try to go to the like, really inexpensive restaurant. Yeah, let's try to go for long walks as opposed to like workout classes.

So when you tell your inner circle, first of all, half of them, if not more, will say, I'm trying to save money too. Thank you. Thank you. It's like one of those things, it's like around the holidays when you're like, hey, can we all just decide that we're not spending over $20 on a Christmas present? Or can we decide we're only buying one?

And everyone's like, thank God, no one's like darn you. You suck. Right? Everyone's like, thank you. So tell your friends. Second, there's so many great simple things to do, but cut your cable, turn it off. You don't need it. Think about all the unnecessary subscriptions. Figure out your side hustle.

I call it a job. Your side job, hobby jobby. Go figure that out. You can make money doing anything from literally being a TaskRabbit to driving an Uber to teaching lessons. If everybody listening, you can find some small amount of extra money. And here's the thing, once you're done, you'll have changed your habits.

And then what we find happens is once you get to zero credit card debt, you quickly fill up that emergency savings cause you've now figured out a real way to save X amount a week, a month, a year.

LEAH: One of the things that I did, uh, a few years ago that really helped me was to write out a list of all of the beliefs that I had around money and it was really interesting because it was like money doesn't grow on trees. All the things that I had grown up hearing from people like money is hard to make. It's money is the root of all evil. Uh, there was so many things once you, once you make money, it's hard to keep it.

Like all these ideas that I had around money, that was a big eye-opener to recognize like what were the, what were the belief systems that other people that I was adopting as my own belief and getting real about what is it that I feel my am, am I tying my value to the amount of money, like, uh, that's in my account?

Is my self-esteem tied to like the assets that I have and the number of things that I have, because that could spur me to, you know, shop, uh, mindlessly or something. Um, so like, just really getting deeper on evaluating like my, where my self-esteem comes from and my beliefs around money was, was, was a big part of the process for me too.

ALEXA: So somebody, probably the people who raised you, probably, you know, other people that were in your life put those in your head. You heard them over and over again. You get to change those dynamics for the people that are now in your life. So instead of being like, money is stressful to my kids, here's when I go to work and I'm walking out the door and my kids are grabbing my legs.

Mommy, mommy. Don't go to work. I've switched it entirely. I said, mommy loves work. I said, you know how you like puzzles. You know how puzzles are really fun for you. You like to sit down, you put 'em. Mommy does puzzles all day long and she's really good at them and I love them. They're big puzzles. They involve people.

That's what mommy does for a living. And I'm good at it and I really like it. And I just think reorienting, even making money, making money is stressful for everybody. But it's, you can reorient your kids around. Being productive in the world is such a good thing to do. Number two, all the time, I'm telling my I my, I have a little girl who's soon to be 8.

We have the piggy banks when she wants something, you know, magically it appears in boxes at the door and it just magically looks like it was free. I actively sit down and say, hey, this is what this costs. No, we can't have this right now. Yeah, we can save it up for your birthday. And, and I think there's no age where they're too young for money conversations.

It's at three, four, delayed gratification, orientation to money, making money, learning how to make money, and not talking about money, as is this balloon of extreme stress. Yeah, it's math. It's, it's actually almost second grade math. So it shouldn't also seem so hard to approach. And, and that's what our society has done to your point of all of those voices in your head, we gotta get rid of 'em. 

OFOSU: Yeah. Big takeaway for me is just the mindset shift and, um, and yeah, and, and, and just making small steps to get to that monopoly place. I'm, uh, I think that that's just a, a, a powerful kind of north star to keep working towards, but for, but I, I think it, none of it can really happen unless we change the way that we think about money and our relationship to it. 

LEAH: I really like the thoughts about, about having the conversations with my, with my son as he gets older and, and being more transparent about money, like when a package shows up at the door. That that's a good one. I really appreciate that you shared that. 

OFOSU: Yeah, this is dope because my wife and I are taking a much needed staycation tonight and we'll talk about money, so that'll be great.

LEAH: Thank you for that Alexa. And please do stick around cause we've got one more question for you. Thanks Alexa. 

ALEXA: Thank you guys. 

LEAH: Go check out Alexa's, new York Times bestselling books, Financially Fearless and Financially Forward. You've got links in the description of the episode. I can't wait to read these. And hey, we wanna hear from you, listener, about what you think of the show.

So we've got a really quick survey we'd like you to fill out, and it's. In the episode notes and let us know what you love and what you don't. So we can make these episodes even better for you.

OFOSU: And if you're not watching the show already, uh, you can go to YouTube for a video version of the podcast where you can see our faces.

And while you're at it, check out the new meditations that we have on our channel. They've got calming visuals and nature sounds, and they're brand new. Check 'em out. Well, thank you so much for being with us, Alexa, and for y'all listening, take care. We'll see you again very soon. Don't forget to be kind to yourself.


What is giving you life right now? 

ALEXA: Oh, that is such a great question. I will say I'm at a stage in life where I think friendships are everything. We're not here on this planet to gather assets. We're not. Cause you can't take 'em with you. But deep relationships, real trust, real best friendship, real intimacy it fills a cup in you. And I think there's a lot of data right now how people have not been investing in close relationships. We spend all of our time staring at screens and loaned by our. Get out there, be with people, human connection it, it lifts your spirits. And I think all of us can do a better job to really force ourselves to go and really connect.

That's wonderful. 

LEAH: Such a great reminder.