Financial Social Work: At a Glance

What is financial social work and how does it differ from the kind of budgeting support you would get elsewhere? 

Financial Social Work (FSW) essentially brings together traditional social work practices with basic money management skills to help people improve their financial well-being and circumstance. The premise of FSW was built around the notion that our relationship with money impacts our financial behaviours, which then influences our financial circumstance. At the core of this work, there is an emphasis placed on exploring the thoughts, feelings and attitudes associated with money that are currently driving a person’s relationship and behaviour with money. This psychodynamic processing is not something that you would delve into when meeting with a financial advisor or another financial support person. However, when going through a financial exercise such as budgeting and creating space to explicitly identify and explore the thoughts and feelings, it allows us to increase our awareness and identify perhaps some ‘unhelpful thinking styles’ or cognitive distortions associated with budgeting, saving, and/ or spending.

What is meant by ‘our relationship with money’? And how can we better understand our own relationship with money?

Our relationship with money is really referring to how we connect and associate with money. It’s probably not something many people have thought about before but it’s an interesting concept to consider; if I were to ask you to list a few words for how you associate with your money, what would you say?  …Cautious? Optimistic? Content? Secure? Hopeless? Defeated? Fearful? Guilt? Shame?

Our relationship with money can certainly change over the years, but sometimes it can be stagnant. So for example, perhaps for the majority of your life you’ve felt hopeless, defeated and anxious about your financial situation and in how you earn, spend, borrow and save money. Part of this can be related to when we are growing up, as we receive different ‘money messages’ from those around us and can take on these thoughts, feelings and attitudes that will impact how we associate with money. Generally, this all happens unconsciously, and so awareness can be the first step to make change. So you may start to consider some of your earliest memories about money and reflect upon how it affects your approach to money today.

Can you explain what the ‘money disconnect’ is?

The money disconnect is a term that has been used to describe a phenomenon in our culture where we are not physically interacting with our money, in a sense that we do not see it or touch it. Instead, plastic credit cards and debit cards have replaced cash, and even more popular now is using our phones or watches. While these detached forms of payments are convenient, sometimes these ‘digital wallets’ can become problematic because it can keep us from staying focused and engaged with our financial situation, which makes it easy to not only avoid but also deny what’s going on, financially.

Interestingly, there have been studies done that point to the conclusion that when we use credit or debit cards, our brains do not even perceive this as spending money. So, it enables us to spend money quickly and easily, with little thought or budget considerations.

Do you have any tips for people in our community who are feeling overwhelmed, hopeless and/or defeated with their financial situation, particularly with the rising cost of living? 

Yes, the rising cost of living can definitely bring added stress and leave us feeling hopeless and defeated. Here’s a few tips for dealing with anxiety, money management, and debt:

Anxiety. If it seems like financial stress is consuming a large part of your day, try scheduling a worry-time where you dedicate a specific time in the day to think about your finances and outside of that time you commit to disregarding any anxious thoughts that arise. (You may write down your worries as they come up throughout the day but try to commit to thinking about those worries during a specific time). You may choose to schedule a worry-time once a day for 15 minutes, or once a week for 30 minutes. However, ideally this time would be when no one else has demands of you and also not right before you go to bed).

Money Management. This tip is similar to the first but with the purpose of checking in or altering a monthly budget, and re-evaluating your cash-flow, savings, debt and financial goals. Try to schedule set times throughout the month that you can dedicate to having this Financial Check-in Time (FCT). It could be as often as a couple of times or as little as once a month. Get creative and consider how you can make budgeting a little more pleasurable for yourself -Grab a favorite snack, put on a good playlist to help you focus, light a candle, switch up the budgeting categories to ones that connect and resonate with you or bring up humour and sarcasm for “Rent” you might choose to rename this category to “the nest” or “my mansion”. 

Here are some great budgeting tips that will help you ( )
There are lots of budgeting templates online and you may find that budgeting apps are helpful too.

Debt and falling behind on bill payments.  If you get into a situation where you are unable to pay your bills, always contact the people you owe. If you fall behind on making credit card payments, contact your credit card company because they may be willing to work with you to change your payment if you're facing a financial emergency. Explain the situation and let them know that you would like to work out a reasonable, manageable way to repay the debt. The biggest mistake you can make is to ignore the problem, because if you fall behind on your payments for months at a time, your creditors may hire a collection agency to get their money from you legally.

If you have multiple creditors and the debt load is becoming too large, it may be helpful to try to work out a debt repayment plan. You can speak with your bank to discuss different options such as a debt consolidation loan, or you may contact a credit counsellor. If the debt is large enough that you cannot pay it off or can only pay part of it, you can speak with a licensed insolvency trustee.

How can FSW assist people?

Money is a number one stressor in people’s lives and is found to be a major cause of depression, anxiety, abuse, crimes and divorce. Coming into counselling to talk about financial concerns can help you process through thoughts and feelings –we can help shift these thoughts and feelings that may be tugging you down.

I will end with a reference from The Financial Integrity Program Guide (Version 1.4): Many people don’t feel in control of their relationship with money, because either they don’t understand how it developed or they never even thought about other ways of relating to money.  …Your own approach may have made sense at one point, but now you are unsatisfied. is about paying close attention to your usual approach to money, rethinking it, and then building a new relationship that truly fits your life.

For those who are interested, click here to download a short guide to holiday budgeting that can help you practice these skills.

Written by Kalysha Feltz, B.S.W., M.S.W., R.S.W.