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SeroTunein Epidose 22: Money on my mind - the emotions behind our finances ft. Heath Carelock, AFC

In this epidose of SeroTunein, I talk to financial coach and my long-time mentor, Heath Carelock, about the emotional side of money. We learn about money’s relationship with our mental health and its relevance to our self-development goals. We talk about the difference between financial counseling and coaching, and later we talk about its relevance in helping people to move upward in society and navigating their interpersonal relationships.

Listen to the full epidose here:

Kurien: If you’ve taken an economics class, one of the first things you’ll learn about is demand theory: the idea that in an economy, demand is simply the quantity of a good or service that consumers are willing and able to buy at a given price in a given time period.

The willingness and ability to pay. I’ve dwelled over those words a lot. What makes someone willing to buy something? When does someone become able to own something of their own, say a car or a home? A lot of us are willing to buy things we love, but how often is someone actually able to make financial choices that allow them to buy certain things or plan for their future? A lot of those questions can probably be answered by our emotional history.

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Like most people, a lot of my relationship to money and the emotions it brought up started when I was young.

Growing up, I was fortunate to have my parents give me money to buy things that I wanted or needed. They encouraged me to spend money on important things that could benefit my future like joining sports clubs, taking music classes, or hiring a tutor among other things.

Being a part of a South Indian Christian community, I also found it interesting how people were calculated in their expenses on food, gas, and clothes, yet the culture taught us to be generous in hosting others or contributing to community institutions like the church.

As I got older, earning my own money became more important to me: I wanted a job that could give me the liberty to make choices for myself like buying clothes I wanted, paying for my own place, or affording the classes I wanted to take.

My relationship with money is not like everyone else’s. There are some people who grow up thinking that having money means the ability to have luxuries and there are some people who think money is corrupt and damages lives. I know especially for some children of immigrants, earning an income and owning a home is a way to gain status in society and support their families.

There are things that I should be doing with money, but how can I start thinking about money to accomplish the things that I want to do? Our choices with money are not 100% driven by rationality and diligence. In fact, it’s largely driven by our feelings and our desire to live the kind of life we want. This is what financial health coaches like Heath Carelock are trying to help people accomplish.

Me and Heath go way back to when I was a middle school student enrolled in a financial education program through a nonprofit called Junior Achievement that targeted young students to learn about financial literacy and entrepreneurship. Heath was a mentor that helped me learn about saving for my future and building the necessary skills to start a business. Nowadays, Heath is among a growing group of professionals in the country who have begun integrating aspects of both mental health and money coaching. He’s a financial coach and Director of the Financial Empowerment Center at Prince George’s County Community College, in Largo, MD.

Aside from running workshops about financial trauma and money management, Heath runs his own financial coaching practice, Carelosophy Social Impact Solutions, and is also earning his graduate certificate from Kansas State University in financial therapy.

***EDITORIAL NOTE: In May, Heath completed the Financial Therapy Certificate program through Kansas State University and in April, Heath was announced as Financial Educator of the Year - 'Community Champion' by CASH Campaign of Maryland in partnership with the Maryland Council on Economic Education and the Maryland State Department of Education.

In this episode, I talk to Heath about money. But, beyond that, we learn about money’s relationship with our mental health and its relevance with our self-development goals. We talk about the difference between counseling and coaching, and we also talk to him about its relevance in helping people to move upward in society and navigating their interpersonal relationships.

Let’s get started.

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Kurien: So why is money such a sensitive topic?

Heath: I think intrinsically money has a sort of value beyond just the value on the paper. It sets up your quality of life, it sets up your environment, it sets out the characteristics of your own choosing.

Money allows for choice, choice gets into self agency. Agency gets into what we desire to do. So, without the ability to have self agency…we call that poverty. People who have the resources…the means to do things.

Kurien: How did you arrive at the convergence of mental health and financial literacy?

Heath: In my line of work people say, “what keeps you up at night?” or “what gets you up in the morning?”, “what gives you a rise for this work you do?”, and it always goes back to, “can this person in front of me participate in the economy?” We live in the world's greatest economy---a capitalistic, market-based place with Democratic-Republic type values that represent the person and the sustenance of the individual and of the community. But, can this person participate in that economy? And that's what we're really dealing with still to this day at meta levels and mezzo levels and at micro levels.

We have to determine who gets to participate in the economy. It's also this fundamental: who gets to participate in democracy? And that's where these conversations begin to broaden in and bear more sort of consequence.

And you see what happens when people don't get a chance to participate in the economy: you see what happens in our politics, you see what happens in different types of public spaces and domains, and you see the disinformation misinformation can take greater route when people have grievances because their appetite for trust and mistrust of official sources begins to become more complex and complicated.

So, this all goes back to who gets to participate in the economy and whether or not they feel like there's a rationale and a means by which they can be socially mobile and economically secure.

Kurien: So what role does money play in our emotional wellbeing? Does having more money create a better life?

Heath: There's a clear correlation between people who have means and resources to count on the fall back and their ability to situate themselves successful in society…clear correlation without a doubt. Does that mean people without money live terrible lives? That doesn't mean that at all. In fact, some of our billionaires, some of our best millionaires came from situations where they didn't have anything. Some of our best authors, artists, writers, composers, athletes, business owners…you name it…came from situations where they were quite deprived as well.

So, there's a story to tell, and that story is the Human Experience. The Human Experience is not always denied by the fact that somebody doesn't have money, but there are resources that mean that those people are more of the exception than the rule. Is that the kind of society we want to live in? Where the only stories that are worth telling are the exceptions? It should be that more people can find comfort by the decision-making ability at the individual level as opposed to the society already predetermining who wins and who loses.

Kurien: So, should people just work extra hard to make sure they have enough money? Maybe we, as individuals, just need to be more diligent about where we spend our money and how we save, right?

Heath: It's a lot easier to flop when you don't have money. When you don't have economic security. When you don't have the supports built around you. This is where society bears responsibility for the impact and influence it has on the outcomes that a person winds up charting. So, you look at it as here's a situation where there are distal influences that are things like, “do you grow up in a community with blighted homes?”, “do you grow up with boarded-up housing? businesses?”, “overgrown grass that is unkempt and unkept?”, “you grew up in a situation where there's shots in the middle of the night?”, “did you grow up in a situation where you're less than a block away from the local liquor store?”.

Kurien: These are serious challenges that a lot of people in the world face. Some people are blessed to be brought up in safe neighborhoods and communities that provide opportunities for them to thrive. Others, not so much. And for the longest time, I seriously believed that this could be mitigated if we learned more about staying resilient during trying times, so that we push forward with the momentum to be innovative and create new opportunities to be financially stable.

Heath: Resilience is not just a prescription that anyone should have to follow. You should be able to be resilient, you shouldn't have to always have to be resilient. If you always have to be resilient, that means the situation is out of control. Resilience is an attribute that needs to be called on, not an attribute that needs to always be on. You shouldn't always have to be resilient…that means we're not thinking right about building the efficiencies, structures, trust, and sense of justice that we need to better survive. I think if we always ask people to be under duress to have to be resilient, then something's wrong about that brand of society in decision-making.

Kurien: Well, what if we just educated more people about their finances? Wouldn’t that level the playing field for people to thrive no matter their socioeconomic status?

Heath: We have to get beyond financial literacy as an elixir. Financial literacy is not a destination. Financial literacy is helpful and important. It has its place, has its purpose, but it's not something that you can just hang your hat on. There's still so much that a person should encounter beyond financial literacy within the realm of their financial story. Financial literacy, like all literacy, attacks ignorance. We can't neglect the fact that getting rid of ignorance is the whole story. It's not. It’s not the whole story. It's also about what you do with the tools, treasure, talents, and resources that you have to take action to get the kind of results you want with your life.

Kurien: So, where does financial therapy play its part?

Heath: You look at a field like financial therapy which helps people better grasp their attitudes, opinions, and behaviors towards money, and then it goes a few steps further: This journey a person's on is not just to become literate…it’s not just to become actionable…but it's to become a holistic, more accountable…and actually achieve the results that they're looking for.

Kurien: Like most areas of change in our lives, we start by asking ourselves where can we move from awareness to responsibility. In our personal finances, we can do this by asking those questions about our budgeting, savings, spending, borrowing, investing, or any of the main aspects of money. So, when people like Heath take people on the financial planning mindset…when they take them on the financial capability journey, they’re taking them on this on this process of saying, “you may not be where you want to be at today with money, but if you stick to these types of aspirational goals and outcomes…you keep them in mind, and you build your behavior around them…in time, you'll see that you begin to gain separation from where you came in.”

Heath: Financial planning looks at a few areas in particular. One of the areas is basic money management: having a money management plan. Money management in a sense is what we just talked about. It's looking at where's your income coming from? Where is your plan for this? How do you conceptualize your money? Do you only do budgets? Do you even budget? Do you have an app that helps to facilitate your budget? Do you have a net worth calculator? Do you have, what I call, a money assessment that looks at the amount of money in your bank account, like your savings or checking or your brokerage? Do you have something that looks at the value of what your car is worth? What is the home worth? What are some of these areas worth? Going from that to looking at, “here's my savings behavior and results, here's my spending, here’s my borrowing—borrowing gets into debt and credit—, and then investment.”

Kurien: But when we limit ourselves to only the basics in money, we approach a sort of dangerous territory of losing people's aspirational selves. There's an accountability self and there's an aspirational self…and we have to speak to both of those.

Coming from a background in an Indian household, we quickly learn about financial stereotypes about our people including being stingy or cheap. However, men and women in our culture are also naturally trained to be generous in accommodating friends or even strangers which might include having them stay at your house or paying for each others’ meals.

Heath: That is a money script…

Kurien: “Money Script” is a term coined by Brad Klontz, a thought leader in the world of financial therapy. Basically, money scripts are your unconscious beliefs about money, often rooted in childhood, that affect your adult behaviors and perspectives. There’s four basic money scripts:

The first is Money Avoidance: People who live according to this script believe that they do not deserve money. They may believe that wealthy people are greedy or corrupt. They often believe that there is virtue in living with less money.

The second is Money Worship: These people pursue money as a stabilizing force in their lives, believing it will fill the void or provide the security they need. At the same time, they believe that one can never have enough money.

The third is Money Status: These people link their self-worth with their net worth. They may prioritize outward displays of wealth. This behavior can put them at risk of overspending.

Lastly, there’s Money Vigilance: a script where people evaluate their own spending and saving to ensure they are making wise decisions. But this type of thinking can also make people feel like they shouldn’t enjoy the things their money can do for them because they’re too vigilant about their spending.

Nowadays, I’m met at crossroads in situations where I know I’m supposed to be financially responsible and not have people freeload off me, but also wanting to express my generosity to deepen my relationship with people.

Heath: We have to have great empathy for people's values. At the financial coach level, this is even more pertinent because of the coach you're focused on helping the person achieve the reality they want. That gets into the nuance between the difference of counseling and coaching.

Kurien: Counseling is helping a person to not fail. I'm simplifying and stuff, so somebody might slightly disagree with that in its totality. But, in a simplified mention, that's what you're doing: you're keeping a person…giving them enough coverage, both in literacy and pointing stuff out and guidance…in sort of admonition…you're basically giving them the grounding they need so that they don't fail… that they're brokenness doesn't become broker.

Heath: Coaching, on the other hand, is looking at a person who does have the resources usually or they’re at some type of crossroads and they’re trying to determine what do I want to do with this money that I have…with this aspiration that I have…this goal that I have…and I just need to be coached up because they're certain competing values within me that won't allow me to necessarily commit.

Kurien: Oftentimes in coaching, you're basically coaching against and for. You’re coaching against the lesser values and priorities that they have that might show their head, and you’re coaching for the values the person really wants to accentuate based on the goal that they’ve chosen, and you're trying to get them there.

So, interpersonally, how do people's decisions impact each other's financial experience and wellness?

Heath: Interpersonally, let's say you and I sat down at a restaurant, and you never know what a person is going through. Let's say that I was unemployed during that time, and you said, “I'll cover it. I got it.” That can send me spiraling because I feel like I'm not doing my part in this friendship that, “Now Kurien has to pay for me now? I dropped so low I can't even pay my own lunch? They feel pity on me for sitting across the table?” Then the person begins to spiral out of control whereas you feel like, “Hey, this is a good healthy act. I’m showing my values…I’m taking care of my friends…So, how do you reconcile the points of views that a person has? One of the things I've discovered in this research is the use of systems theory.

K: Systems theory is a big topic that basically assesses holistically an individual’s conditions and environmental factors to gain a better understanding of why they face issues or hardships. But when you look at it in terms of relationships, there's a sort of aspect of it that gets into circular causation: when this happens, then this happens, then this happens…and it repeats.

H: So, we have to look at those instances in our relationships. Whether friends, family, lover, partner, employee-employer…We have to look at the different aspects and relationships we have and determine what parts of our conflict are we just sort of going through this muddling of cause and effect? and it just keeps repeating itself? So, there's an element of maturity and human growth to that, but there's also an element of education and transparency. There's an element of, “hey…have I been clear enough about who I am or what my expectations are? Because if I haven't, then I'm also participating in, if it's a problem or challenge or failure, I'm participating in this by not being outspoken enough or clear enough or thoughtful enough or forthcoming enough. How do we take our own leanings, our own identities, perspectives, and still make it work?

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K: Thank you guys so much for listening, that wraps up another epidose of SeroTunein.

SeroTunein is recorded, edited, and produced by myself. If you like this show, you can find the podcast online at, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, and iTunes.

Please be sure to subscribe to the podcast, and please be sure to rate it and leave a comment to share what you enjoyed or how I should improve. It helps out a lot. If you’ve done that already, thank you so much.

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Until next time, this is Kurien Thomas. As always, thanks for tuning in.


  • Connect with Heath Carelock:

  • Work with Heath independently or for consulting:

  • Work with the Financial Empowerment Center:

  • Read about Heath featured in the Washington Post:

  • Read about Heath featured in the Seattle Times:

About the Show

SeroTunein is a podcast that highlights positive phenomena in our world through conversations with psychologists, social entrepreneurs, economists, mindfulness experts. By tuning into monthly epidoses, listeners can learn how to navigate through life's challenges and use the power of positive thinking to make effective change in their communities.

About Heath Carelock

Heath is the Program Director for the Financial Empowerment Center at Prince George’s Community College in Maryland and 2022 'Community Champion' awardee for financial education excellence from the Cash Campaign of Maryland, Maryland Council on Economic Education and the Maryland State Department of Education. Independently, Heath is also the Founder and Executive Practitioner of Carelosophy Social Impact Solutions, LLC and its CARE Financial Impact operation.

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