Everyday Icon: Hillary Augustine, Financial Health Expert

Meet this month's Guest Editor, Hillary Augustine, an expert on financial health and healing.
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Money can be a sticky subject, and finances an awkward or conflict-inducing issue we sometimes prefer to avoid discussing with our loved ones (and even with ourselves). That’s why we’re so excited to have Hillary Augustine sitting in as this month’s Guest Editor. Hillary is a financial visionary and healer who helps individuals, couples and organizations find financial alignment and lifestyle integration, and she believes that financial health has significant effects on overall wellness. Below, she shares an introduction to her insights on what she calls "life's most precious currencies": not just money, but also time, energy and space. 

You have had an interesting career trajectory. Can you share a bit about how you landed on this path and what it was it was like to make a pivot in your professional life?

I remember when I decided to offer my services as a blend between my right and left brain. I have two Masters: one in Accounting and the second in Counseling (which wasn't the original plan). I landed on this path because I followed gut instincts, dealt with personal struggles (which led me into counseling) and ran from work environments that sucked my energy (i.e. the CPA world). Several decades ago, I felt like my two degrees were opposites. Meaning, I had to pick between the two worlds. However, I've come to realize and appreciate that they are highly and strategically complimentary. Formal training in Accounting and Counseling increases the power of my consulting services. I've always blended everything (including my drinks and my food). So, to blend my career with my brain and heart has been a natural next step.

It is sometimes difficult to take the leap into new work/schooling/etc. and many people struggle with knowing when it is time. What was the event/sign/person that motivated your decision?

Timing is the hardest reality to gauge. Many people ask, "Is this the right time?" I've noticed this question is often asked in light of, "What am I giving up?" (which might be money, security, stability, etc.). However, I often ask the question from this perspective: "What am I missing by not leaping?" This is an opportunity cost question. 

Leaping onto a new path occurred when I could no longer bear to leave huge pieces of myself on a side table. I felt this soul-sucking reality in the accounting world. There was a person in my life who challenged me to think about becoming a therapist. His challenge led me to pursue my Masters in Counseling which catapulted me (years later) to blend my career path. I now meet with people around their financial questions which are really life architecture questions. In other words, my financial services blend questions about money with overarching life questions so that clients are strategically crafting their existence with holistic and integrated decision making.

What are the most common themes your clients come to you with looking for guidance?

The leading question is, "What should I do?" This question deals with spending, saving, moving, traveling, switching jobs, having kids, merging family units, funding education, etc. I think this is a great question if it leads the questioner (i.e., client) to think multi-dimensionally. The question should help the client build a mindset for money-related decision making that will be useful for multiple questions across the course of their life. I call this type of thinking Sustainable Guidance. Sustainable Guidance recognizes that we are answering the leading question, while mining and identifying the underlying patterns and themes that support or sabotage multiple financial decisions.

For those who have repeated financial patterns in our lives (be they good or bad), what are three things we can do to start to break or work to maintain those patterns?

Patterns are hard to break, so I recommend that the three items below be mixed with and seen in the light of time. Time is truly a friend when new patterns are forming. And, underlying all patterns are actually concretized habitual responses to a known environment. Meaning, if the environment stays the same (i.e., people, places, thoughts, trigger points, emotions) across time, people will default into the same set of habitual financial decisions (patterned responses). Therefore, sustainable pattern change or maintenance requires diligent and conscious effort – across time - to identify and shift the environmental elements that hold habitual responses in place.

1) Identify which patterns feel cyclical or repetitious. Write those down. For example, "Every year I want to save $X, but I don't," or, "Every year, my credit card gets to $X dollars and I pay it down."

2) Identify how you want the specific pattern to change. For example, "I'd like to save $X dollars per month," "I'd like to quit using my credit card," or "I'd like to give generously in the next year."

3) Think about what feels sustainable in your response to #2. For example, did you write a crazy big savings number, yet you've never saved anything? Or, did you write a big giving number, but you hold money so tight your fingers are numb? Be realistic. What pattern could you maintain for 12 months? This is better than feast or famine. Or, if you wrote down, "Quit using my credit card," but you’ve had a credit card balance for five, 10, 20 years, you probably won't quit using it, but you can incrementally change your relationship to it. Maybe you could scale back your credit card spending by 20%, 30% or 40% for 12 months. Incremental adjustments have the power to create sustainable change across time.

How can we all work towards creating the financial future we want and need?

Guiding finances for future wants and needs is only compelling if there is a future vision pulling the activities forward. This doesn't mean a person should have their 20-year plan all mapped out (BTW: most folks don't). What this does mean is that the ability to dream into some known future is valuable for aligning daily life activities so that financial change (whatever that looks like) can take root and blossom. So, if planning ahead one week feels doable, then do it. If planning out five years feels sustainable and exciting, by all means write down that vision. Envisioning is the key to guiding and sustaining a meaningful financial future.

What is one block we can all eliminate that will best aid our relationship with money?

The one block that is insidious in peoples' relationship to money is "should." I should have saved this. I shouldn't have spent that. Should thinking keeps people enslaved to the past. And, it fosters a game where some are winning (doing the right thing) and others are losing (doing the wrong thing). This dualistic split (winning/losing or right/wrong) makes me so sad because my work interacts with the barrage of guilt and shame that buries and paralyzes people. Should thinking also strategically fuels people to spend in a consumerist society. What if should was dropped from financial language and thought? What if questions of vision and foresight were adopted instead? For example, "I would love to guide this bit of money toward this goal," or, "I'd enjoy traveling to this country in 12 months. What if I could guide $X amount of money toward my travels?" Drop the shoulds!

Do you have any mantras or saying that help you stay focused and grounded when you are feeling overwhelmed or in need of guidance yourself?

"Hillary, what is the next best move?" This question represents grounding, internal integration, and simplicity. I love it.

p.s. Is buying or renting the wisest financial choice for your personal needs?