In the Cards
SYBLE SOLOMON can tell a lot about people by examining their spending habits. In fact, for the
past ten years as what might be termed a behavioral economist, she’s been helping people –especially women – better understand themselves and their attitudes toward money.
Before that, Soloman was an executive coach, working with middle- and upper-management individuals in corporations, academia, and the military. Then, something peculiar began to happen.
“For some inexplicable reason, women started telling me how much debt they had incurred,” Solomon recalls. “I took that as a sign that I needed to figure out why. These were intelligent women who knew they had options. They knew they should be spending less than the money they had coming in, and they knew they should have shared this information with their spouse or partner, but (instead) they did things that sounded pretty irrational.”
Solomon did some research and discovered that money is the most difficult topic for people to talk about – that sharing intimate details about their sex life is easier than opening up about finances.
Solomon says she found the vast majority – 80 to 90 percent – of financial decisions were not made on a rational basis but on an emotional basis, and women were good at rationalizing their decisions.
As a result, in working with individuals and groups, Solomon gets beyond the “what” of financial decisions to the “why,” helping people understand the factors that influence their attitudes and habits regarding money. Her clients have included the National Football League as well as the Miami Dolphins, the U.S. Navy, and the U.S. Air Force, as well as a range of individuals of widely varying means and education.
She’s used what she learned through research and experience to develop a set of cards, called Money Habitudes, that’s designed to help people understand and talk about the strong subconscious messages that influence their money behaviors.
The cards feature statements such as “I have lots of things I bought but never use” or “Even if I can afford things that will make my life easier, I will not buy them” to use either for personal reflection about financial attitudes or in simple games to bring up subjects with spouses or business partners.
There are six primary patterns that develop from childhood that influence people’s subconscious messages about money behaviors, Solomon says.
First is your personality – whether you tend to be responsible and whether you have a positive or negative outlook.
Second is the “inherited messages” you get from family and close associates. “Those can be messages like ‘You have to be really careful with money and not spend it,’ or ‘You can’t trust people who have a lot of money,’ or ‘Success equals the amount of money a person has,’” she says.
The third pattern emerges from personal experience “such as if your family lost money and you felt very poor and scared,” Solomon says.
The fourth comes from your culture and its values: how much the culture spends on a woman’s wedding compared to her education or how charitable giving is viewed, for example.
Religious beliefs and background influence yet another pattern, Solomon says. “Religion influences your views on charitable giving and whether your focus is on living simply or on affluence as a sign of success,” she says.
The final pattern comes from media influence. “We get thousands of messages every day on spending,” she notes. “Even when we think we are impervious to these, we find we are not.”
Solomon has observed that arguments about money – between spouses or other family members – usually center around values and priorities, especially with regard to spending money on children. She gives the examples of gift giving, how to pay for a child’s college education, or whether to give a child a car.
Her Money Habitudes cards, Solomon says, are used with equal success by people with no money and those who are wealthy; by people with little education and those who are well educated.
“It’s also interesting that many woman who are incredibly responsible, assertive, and articulate at work seem to lose that confidence when it comes to addressing their own financial behavior,” she says.
“Conversely, some of the most confident and financially savvy people I’ve met are women who have little or no education and earn a minimal salary. Again, it reinforces that our relationship with money is not dependent on our means but our mind.”
On April 7, in connection with Money Smart Week, Syble Solomon will present “The Elephant in the Room,” a program on financial attitudes and behaviors, at the Northeast Regional branch of the New Hanover County Public Library. The event takes place 6-7:30 p.m. and is free, but reservations are required as space is limited.
For information, call 798-6306.
To view more of photographer Susan Francy's work, go to www.susanfrancyphotographs.com