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053: Aja Evans – Overcoming Trauma at the Intersection of Mental Health & Money

Aja Evans is a board-certified therapist, speaker, and writer who is focused on financial well being. After ten years in a mental health practice, she noticed the emotional impact of how people interact with their money, especially black people. She saw reflections of her own journey to financial literacy and her own reckoning with her relationship with money and sought additional training.

Today, Aja joins the show to share how she has made assisting people at the intersection of mental health and money a pillar of her work.

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Key Takeaways

00:58 – Jonathan introduces today’s guest, Aja Evans, who joins the show to discuss her earliest memories of money and entrepreneurship and her path to becoming a financial therapist

09:42 – Accumulating debt versus not saving money

13:56 – Unfortunate financial statistics surrounding the black community

25:34 – Aja speaks to how she works with financial advisors

29:07 – Financial anxiety

32:24 – Money, guilt, shame, and secrecy

35:52 – Generational wealth

39:25 – How Aja works with her clients on their financial stress

43:42 – One piece of financial advice to heed and one thing to completely ignore

47:13 – Aja talks about her upcoming book

47:53 – The last thing Aja changed her mind about and the one question that Aja would want to know the answer to

50:32 – Jonathan thanks Aja for joining the show today and lets listeners know where to connect with her

Tweetable Quotes

“I was going into debt and feeling really awful about myself and awful about my money because I just did not understand how I could be making what I felt like was so much money, and not be able to afford my lifestyle. And that was the first time that I really had to have a financial reckoning with lifestyle versus how much income you have and what does that look like and where does it come from.” (08:04) (Aja)

“I didn’t really have any direction, I think is the best way to put it, in terms of what I was trying to do. It was a lot of looking at how people were paying off debt, whether that was debt snowball or avalanche, it was just the stories of people. So, it wasn’t necessarily, ‘Hey, here are each of the steps.’ It was the stories that people were paying off debt and how interesting that was. And I just realized that people weren’t talking about it and felt really bad about it.” (13:04) (Aja)

“When it comes to the black community, historically there haven’t been as many opportunities to create wealth. And, because of that, that means that there isn’t as much wealth to be passed on. That is not to say that there are not black people who are extremely wealthy; there are. But, as an overall collective as a population, we have less wealth than our white counterparts.” (15:37) (Aja)

“What I have found is that people want to be making more money. They want to grow their wealth. It is either a matter of they don’t know how to, or they aren’t getting the opportunity to get some of the jobs that might allow them to get to that point.” (21:09) (Aja)

“We are not navigating money as if it’s something that we all have to navigate. That taboo, that secrecy, the potential jealousy of deciding who somebody else is because they do or do not have money. Deciding what value they have because they do or don’t have money. I think people have assigned a lot of meaning to money when money doesn’t care. Money has no feelings about us.” (31:11) (Aja)

“Figure out what you need to feel [financially] stable. I say that because a lot of times what people don’t realize is that what they’re looking for is a sense of stability and they don’t know how to get it.” (44:01) (Aja)

Guest Resources

Aja’s Website

Aja’s Instagram

Aja’s LinkedIn

Aja’s TikTok

Aja’s Email

Link to ET the Hip Hop Preacher ‘You Matter’ Video

Books Mentioned:

Strangers in Paradise

Mindful Money Resources

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Jonathan on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jonathandeyoe

Episode Transcription

Jonathan DeYoe: Hello there. Welcome back. On this episode of the Mindful Money podcast, I’m chatting with Aja Evans. Aja is a board certified therapist. She’s a speaker and writer, and she’s focused on financial well being. So after ten years in a mental health practice, she noticed the emotional impact of how people interact with their money, especially black people. She saw reflections of her own journey of financial literacy and her own reckoning with her feelings and relationship with money, and went and sought additional training. She went to the Financial Therapy association and the center for Financial Social Work. And Aja made assisting people at the intersection of mental health and money a pillar of her work. Aja welcome to the Mindful Money podcast.

Aja Evans: Hi, Jonathan. Thank you so much for having me.

Jonathan DeYoe: I’m, um, excited for our conversation. This is, I think, right at the center of the kind of things we want to talk about and sort of normalize this conversation a little bit. Uh, very first, where do you call home? Where are you connecting from right now?

Aja Evans: So I am connecting from New Jersey, which is where I call home, but I tend to call myself a New Yorker still. So I’m very New York City adjacent. So I am in a suburb in New Jersey of New York City, but my office is in New York City, so Jersey, New York City. A little bit of both.

Jonathan DeYoe: I went to training for my industry in. Is that. And that’s like, right across the. Yeah, yeah.

Aja Evans: Yes.

Jonathan DeYoe: Did you grow up there? New York?

Aja Evans: No. So I did grow up in New York. So I’m from upstate New York, so I’m from Albany, and both of my parents are from York City and then moved upstate to start working and built a life up there. So New York City is very much so. Part of my story, but it’s not where I was born and raised. I’m from upstate New York, so growing.

Jonathan DeYoe: Up in upstate New York, in Albany, what did you learn about money and.

Aja Evans: Entrepreneurship that’s so interesting? I haven’t thought about entrepreneurship in Albany in a while, so I love that question. I will get to that. My parents were probably on the opposite ends of how they treated money. So my mom was a big saver and my dad enjoyed the finer things in life and spending. So I kind of grew up having both aspects in my life and just understanding that the way it was and the money, belief in my house was working hard for your money, but still also being able to enjoy it and enjoy vacations and growing up in a pretty middle class at the time. I know the middle class is shrinking, as people are saying, and that looks very different. But where I grew up, we were very much so in the middle class kind of arena of money. So they were conversations, but they weren’t major conversations that came up within the family. I knew there was, like a budget and that was okay. My mom would definitely tell us, like, hey, listen, we are not getting five pairs of sneakers because you want to look cute when you go to school type of thing. But it didn’t mean that we weren’t getting any sneakers. It was just like, hey, we have these things that we enjoy doing as a family, like going on vacations, and we also want to make sure that we are able to do certain other things, too. So we are not going to be spending all of our money in one place. So for me, that meant getting a job so that I could go spend my money, which I did, and was happy to do that and enjoy going to the know, ate, dating myself, because that’s when people, what we used to.

Jonathan DeYoe: Do all the mall. Absolutely. The mall was our place, for sure.

Aja Evans: It really was our place to socialize and hang out, which feels so wholesome now. So thinking about entrepreneurship in Albany actually is really funny because my dad, who both my parents were government workers and worked for the state of New York. But in addition, my dad had always had what we would call a side hustle now or a side business with pest control. So he had that throughout my life, honestly, and had been doing that work. So it was something that was very much so the norm that he had that business, in addition to his nine to five, too. So I guess I didn’t really think about the entrepreneurial spirit that I got from my dad, but it was something that I was continually seeing throughout my life.

Jonathan DeYoe: That’s really interesting. I want to go back to when you were a little bit younger and you said your dad liked to spend, your mom liked to save. Did you ever witness any battles? Was that anything that came up as a point of contention in the house?

Aja Evans: Not really, but my parents are also divorced, so it might have been a point of contention that they had internally? I don’t think so. I’m very close with my mom, so I know the details, but I don’t think it was about, necessarily, finances or contention. It was just, like, other things that were coming up. But thinking about my own money story and my own history, I don’t recall money being something that my parents were, like, fighting over or having a hard time with.

Jonathan DeYoe: Yeah. What’s your first money recollection? I mean, when did it become something that was in your life?

Aja Evans: So my first money memory right now, whenever this comes up, I always use this memory because it feels so real to me, but I don’t know if it’s my m memory or another person’s memory. Understood. So my best friend had told me this, and like I said, I can’t decide if I kind of put it into my own memory scheme or if it was actually her memory. And she told me, but she had told me that when we were younger, I think I was about eight or so, we had gone to the grocery store, and I went to go buy something. So I must have had some money, a few dollars or whatnot, but I went to buy, like, a bag of chips or a piece of candy or whatnot, and I went up to the cashier myself and put it on the bell and paid for it. And she, uh, had told me afterwards that she couldn’t believe that I did that on my own and that she would be too nervous to even speak to the cashier. And the fact that I went up so confidently to go pay for something was just, uh, very fascinating to her. So that is what I think about as my first money memory, and I’m not quite sure if it’s mine or hers, but I like the story, and I had no idea that somebody else would feel that way. And I was pretty shocked that people wouldn’t feel as comfortable navigating kind of that experience. So not even just having the conversation with an adult or who you would thought would have been an adult. When you’re eight, everybody feels like an adult, but also too navigating money and paying for something and taking the time to count out the coins or dollars or whatnot and get change and stuff.

Jonathan DeYoe: So, yeah, that’s awesome. It’s interesting that the first memory is one of your own or your friends going to the cashier and buying something. I think my first memory was not really about the money. It was about looking at a catalog and realizing that I couldn’t have the things in this catalog that kept coming to our house. And that was kind of nothing concrete, just, oh, can’t have. That was kind of the memory. Before we look at what you’re so doing today, can you develop what led to it? Tell us the path you took to get to being this person and this therapist you are today.

Aja Evans: Sure. I was a 20 something living in New York City, and to me was making more money than I had ever made before. So I was thrilled and was like, hey, I’m going to be in New York. It’s going to be so great. I’m rich. I was not rich. Yeah, New York is extremely expensive, and not by a long shot was I rich, and, uh, quite the opposite. I was going into debt and feeling really awful about myself and awful about my money, because I just did not understand how I could be making what I felt like was so much money and not be able to afford my lifestyle. And that was the first time that I really had to have a financial reckoning with lifestyle versus how much income you have and what does that look like and where does it come? I, you know, dove first into financial education after a conversation with a relative, and he had just said, like, hey, Aja you should start looking into personal finance and just paying attention and learning and educating yourself. And he also said that it will get easier when you have a partner as well. And I was just like, what in the world is going on? And I was paying for rent, I had student loans, I kept my car in New York City, so I was paying for my car as well, and going out and going to dinner and shopping and dropping off my laundry to be done. So all of that, for some people around me, was very normal, if you will, but I could not afford to live like that at all.

Jonathan DeYoe: What job were you working at that time?

Aja Evans: So I have been in the mental health field for a very long time. So I was a therapist working for a grant funded position. And because it was a contract role, they pay a little bit more. So right out, uh, it was how many years? I probably had been graduated from my master’s degree for probably three or four years at that point. So not exactly entry level master’s position, but a little further into my career.

Jonathan DeYoe: And how long were you doing that spending more than you had coming in before you were really aware. This is a problem. Debt’s growing.

Aja Evans: That’s a great question. I think it was probably like six to eight months. And it wasn’t even just the debt growing. What it was is that I realized I wasn’t saving money and I was bothered by lack of savings. So I don’t even think the debt is what stopped me. It was the lack of what I felt like should be saved on a regular basis. And not having that, when I would look at my account, too, that’s kind.

Jonathan DeYoe: Of, uh, an advanced 20 year old if you’re 24, 25 at that point. I know a lot of think most people aren’t really. Maybe they’ve got an idea that maybe I should be saving, but they’re not really thinking about how much I should be saving for what goals until they’re in their 40s, that’s when it really comes down. So you mentioned somebody suggested that you look into personal finance. Was that a mentor? Was that a parent? Was it an uncle? Who was that?

Aja Evans: M. It’s my cousin who is. I think he is three years older than I am.

Jonathan DeYoe: Okay. And were you talking to him and saying, there’s this problem and there’s debt, and I’m not saving? And he said, well, do this. And so where did he direct you? What did he say? Read this, go to this blog?

Aja Evans: To be honest with you, he didn’t even really direct me. He just said I should start looking into personal finance. Now that I know him, he was in personal finance in terms of just consuming content, and I just didn’t know. And I think he was being pretty coy, um, when he told me about this, and it was also during Easter dinner, so it wasn’t exactly the time to dive deep into finances. And he had kids that were running around, and I was like, what’s going on? So it wasn’t so much he told me where to go, but he just told me that I should start learning. And after that, I remember I was consuming a lot of learnves blogs at the time, and Business Insider information, because similar to Business Insider now, they would still run those stories. Like, hey, this person paid off $120,000 of student loan debt or medical debt. So those types of stories, because that’s what I felt like I wanted to get into. And at that point, it was a lot of blogs, because social media wasn’t filled with personal finance content. It was a lot of just like, who’s talking about this? And I feel weird. And what’s going on and what can I do, or should I do and budget? So when, um, it started, I just could not stop. I really just read personal finance books for fun. That’s what I enjoy. I just thirst for it.

Jonathan DeYoe: Just for our listeners, I want to say that, and you may disagree with this, and I apologize if you do, but I would say, take anything you learn about personal finance on social media with a grain of salt. There’s a lot of just bunk out there. And so I would find and vet blogs and go to places that you have a community that’s recommending different stuff. Usually you can find that and that’ll filter out a lot of the garbage stuff. There’s an awful lot of garbage in the personal finance recommendation world out there, especially on social media. So just be very careful what you’re reading. Is there a book or a blog that you found? Besides, I know learnvest very well. Is there another book or a blog that you found and said and thought, this is the Bible? This is really, really important?

Aja Evans: At that time, no, because I just was all over the place. I didn’t really have any direction, I think is the best way to put it in terms of what I was trying to do. It was a lot of looking at how people were paying off debt. So whether that was like debt snowball or avalanche, it was just the stories of people. So it wasn’t necessarily like, hey, Aja these are the steps. It was a little bit of that, but it was the stories that people were paying off debt and how interesting that was. And I just realized that people weren’t talking about it and felt really bad about it. So as, uh, I grew more comfortable talking about it in general and learning about it, I brought that into my practice with my clients. So when they would kind of slowly bring up money, I would just be like, oh, let’s talk about it. How do you feel?

Jonathan DeYoe: Yeah. So I’m going to start this next sort of series of questions with an apology or with a permission slip, I guess. So. I have only my own experience to go on. I’m bound to make mistakes in asking these kinds of questions. If I make a mistake or ask something I shouldn’t ask, just tell me. So, okay, so I know a lot about the general statistics around individual financial well being, and those are bad enough. But could you contrast the general statistics with what it’s like in the financial world and financial well being for someone who is black? Could you paint that picture anecdotally or with data, if you have either one?

Aja Evans: Sure. So I think one of the, uh, big. A lot of people are talking about generational wealth, right? And I think it was 2016 or 2019. I forget it might have been 2019 that Bloomberg came out with the study that said white Americans have ten times the wealth as black Americans. And I think seeing those numbers, people and the black community, including myself, were like, oh, my goodness. We knew that other people and our white counterparts had more money. But to see it be, like, ten times the net worth or ten times the amount of money wealth that people were holding, I think the conversations about generational wealth and the importance of creating generational wealth just exploded during that time, 2019, which I’m pretty sure that’s when it came out. But 2019 is also right before COVID right before a lot of people were looking at their jobs very differently. Before we were looking at how the impact of money and mental health. I think during COVID we were all having this kind of collective, like, what is going on? And, uh, is there an income disruption, and how does that look for what you want your life to look like in terms of how you feel as well? So when it comes to the black community, of course, historically, there hasn’t been as many opportunities to create wealth. And because of that, that means that there isn’t as much wealth to be passed on. That is not to say that there are not black people who are extremely, extremely wealthy. There are. But as an overall collective, as a population, we have less wealth than our white counterparts. And I think recognizing that at, uh, a time where people work, life was being disrupted, especially as a millennial, the conversations were not just like, hey, you find this job, you stay there for 2030 years, you retire. There it was, hey, how can I boost my income? Do I need to move jobs? The, uh, advent of tech meant that more people were diversifying how they chose to work and diversifying where their income came in as well. So real estate. But I think overall, what I have seen in the black community is that people are recognizing the importance of not just having money for themselves and their family, but growing money for their future as well, and for the generations that will come after them.

Jonathan DeYoe: That’s huge. I think that study was 2019, or at least the publication was 2019, and it changed. That also came right on the, you know, right in the same space as Floyd. Floyd was murdered. And everyone was at home for a long time. So a lot of more people reading. So I want to talk about mindset for a second. So women earn 18% less than men. White women earn 18% less than white men. Black women earn 2020, 1% less than white women and 38% less than white men. So this is a fact. Right? So my question is, how do we keep the fact from becoming, like, a self fulfilling prophecy? How do we keep. I make 38% less. How do we keep from making that a thing, a sense of deserving? I only deserve. How do we stop that from happening?

Aja Evans: Well, I think what happens a lot of times with my clients that I’m seeing is that they were already struggling with I deserve the money part is just an added layer, and that’s really what I see overall just in financial therapy, when we’re talking about money, that is also a layer on top of a whole slew of other things that are going on for somebody. So it’s easy to start to attach your self esteem to money, because a lot of the way our society works, it does play a huge role in how we assign value to other people, as if their net worth is what they are worthy of as a person. But a lot of times, what I have learned is that people were just trying to figure out their own self esteem and whether or not they deserved, whether or not they were enough before we even added money. And I would honestly say that for what I have seen crosses racial boundaries. It is not something that just black people are dealing with, people of color are dealing with. I have seen many of white clients that I work with who are also dealing with the same thing. And I know, especially during 2020, when we were dealing with the social justice movement in general and the conversations about privilege coming from a white family where you may have more economic privilege. So I’m talking about money right on top of the other privileges that you have in general, there was a lot of guilt that I was working with my clients to move and navigate. So when we’re talking about kind of mindset, it’s so deep, because it’s not just what you’re living today. It’s everything that you lived in your past, and it’s also everything that the people who raised you were living to and how they communicated that to you. So it can get really complex when we’re talking about it. But a lot of times, what I have found is that my clients were dealing with feeling like, do I deserve this? And am m I enough? Way before we started entering in aspects of their finances.

Jonathan DeYoe: Yeah, I just talk about money, so I don’t have the. That’s not true. We talk about everything. We’re sort of financial advisors, sort of quasi therapists. We take one hat off and we put the other hat on talking about that. But we’re untrained, so don’t rely on us for therapy. So it’s very interesting, because I grew up in a household. I have lots of privileges, but I grew up in a household without the financial privileges.

Aja Evans: Right.

Jonathan DeYoe: But my parents raised me to believe that I could be whatever I wanted. And when I think about what I got, the biggest gift that I got from my parents was that belief. And what I’m worried about, and I want somebody to tell me I’m wrong to worry about this. But what I’m worried about is all of the conversations about, like, 38% less, 21% less, 18% less. That sort of sets up an expectation. We’re talking about it. We should recognize it. We should know it’s there. Absolutely. But then we should say, we should be working to boost them, and not, you should be making less. We should boost others. Does that make sense?

Aja Evans: Yes. And to be honest with you, I feel like people feel the opposite. I feel like what I have seen is that people are like, no, I am deserving, but other people may not be ready to give me the opportunity. So it is about figuring out what spaces that you are valued in, what spaces are your skills valued in, and how do you grow and flourish there, and also not get comfortable in the spaces that aren’t valuing to leave. Because sometimes you do have to leave, be valued in a different type of way or to be fed as an employee or in a relationship, and this goes across the board in your life. But what I have found is that no, people want to be making more money. They want to be growing their wealth. It is either a matter of, hey, I don’t know how to, or I’m not getting the opportunity to get some of the jobs that might allow me to get to that point. But honestly, like, a majority of my clients that I’m seeing, and it might be by way of being in New York City based, where it is a high cost of living city, which means that salaries can be a lot higher than some other places, but a lot of people are hungry to shift their lives, uh, that they grew up in their lives, of their family, and continuing to make those changes. So what I have found is that they do feel deserving, and self esteem always plays a role, I feel like, with money, always. But it’s about opportunity, and where are they valued?

Jonathan DeYoe: Yeah. And something happened for you in your 20s, where you had a cousin who said, you got to dig into this. And for you, that was enough. You dug into it. You went and searched and dug into it. Do you run into some reticence, like, you tell somebody you’re in a therapist, and I’m just assuming you’re in a session, and someone says, oh, here, it’s money, and I don’t feel worth it or whatever the story is, and you say, hey, well, just, why don’t you dig into personal finance? Let’s dig in and read, and here’s a blog, or, here’s a book. Do they go, oh, thank you, and then go read it, or do they not read it?

Aja Evans: I’m just wondering if people usually not read it.

Jonathan DeYoe: Yeah, exactly. I built these courses. I built 18 courses, and I give them away, and I thought it’d be just a beautiful thing. These are financial education, financial literacy things. And it’s not me as the teacher. It’s a cartoon. The videos are animations. And the workbooks, uh, they don’t look like people like me. Right. I made it so it’s accessible and people can have it, and it’s free, and I give it away. No one does. It blows my mind, giving people that belief and then giving them a structure to work with and then having them not do it. How do you do that over and over and over again? Do you get frustrated at some point?

Aja Evans: Yeah. Well, I feel like that’s exactly where my job kicks in. Right? That’s where my work starts. Right. It might be where your work is kind of like, I have done the things I can do. Something else is getting in the way. That’s where my work. Then it’s like, okay, now we’re really diving in to the work that I’m here for to start talking about, hey, what is going on that it is hard for you to pick up that book or what happened emotionally for you? Were you triggered in some point, uh, or what was happening when you were reading that financial, personal, uh, finance book that you were like, oh, gosh, I don’t want to read that anymore. I want to put that down. Like, I’m uncomfortable. And I dig into what happened, what’s going on that you’re uncomfortable, what’s coming up for you emotionally. Let’s walk through as slow as necessary what’s happening for you, because this is what’s getting in your way of achieving some of the financial goals that you want. Now, I talked to many, many of my clients. I’m like, okay, we looked at your budget. We did the things. You have your plan in place. You talked to your advisor, your planner. This is great. What’s going on, Asia? I spent more money. I’m like, okay, great, that’s fine. It happened again. Oh, it happened again. And at some point, then I’m like, okay, well, let’s stop. What’s happening? Why do you have seven black sweaters? Who are seven black sweaters for? Is it because you love them? Do they make you feel good? And really what happens is that so many people use spending money to cope, and they’re trying to cope, and I’m trying to figure out, what are you coping with by spending money? Like, let’s name that. Let’s get to that root cause, and then let’s come up with new coping habits to integrate into your life that do not involve you blowing your budget on an 11th sweater.

Jonathan DeYoe: So I’m just going to admit something here that I would normally never admit. So I was looking at a car to purchase. I’m a poor kid, right? I have a pretty successful business. I’m married to somebody who’s very kind of strict and sort of do things the right way, and I love her for that. And I’m looking at this car to purchase, and she says, jonathan, you don’t want that car. You want a car that costs $100,000. So other people can see that you have a car that costs $100,000. And I was like, at first, ouch. Holy crap. Someone’s holding up that mirror sucks. And then I was like, yeah, you’re a little bit right on there. I got to kind of dig in and figure some of that stuff out because you don’t even know why you spend half. I don’t even know. I’m not going to put it in somebody else’s words. I don’t even know why I spend sometimes. It’s really interesting to go through that discovery. Do you work side by side with advisors with people, or do you refer back and forth? Sometimes?

Aja Evans: Yeah, sometimes. So I have a few advisors that I work with, and I’m always open to other people because it’s such a particular niche that I’m in. But, yeah, I do work with some, um, financial advisors, and they’ll say, hey, Aja like, I’m working with this client, and I think they could use your services, but I’m not quite sure how they feel about it. And I tell them, like, okay, well, let them know, and we can always have a consultation, and if they are interested in kind of the work that I do, then we can move forward. But if they’re not, then they might not be ready, and that’s okay, too. But it might mean that you’re hitting some roadblocks with them for a while if they’re not ready to do some of that work. But it really does go hand in hand because so many people, to your point, don’t know that what they’re spending is coming from something internal. And, uh, it’s so funny because when you shared that story about yourself and kind of buying the car, I understand and relate to that so much. And I didn’t grow up poor, but I did grow up in a place. And this is so fascinating because I realized this recently, that I was on probably in, uh, the higher income bracket of some of the people at my school, but I didn’t know for a very long time. And because I lived in the city and not in the suburbs, so I went to school in the suburbs at a small catholic school. But because I lived in the city, I think people had an impression that my family wasn’t doing as well as they were. And because my house, I grew up in a brownstone compared to some people who grew up like the ranches or the suburban neighborhoods and had huge backyards. I grew up in the city in a brownstone because my parents were like, we love New York City, and we’re going to get that in Albany. And it’s a beautiful house, but it looked very different than where a lot of the kids that I went to school grew up in. So I assumed, because they had two car garages and I didn’t have a garage, or because their parents may be spending more money on whatever Abercrombie and Finch are limited to when I was younger, right, that it meant that they had more money than I did. So part of my money store is that sometimes I’m like, you know what? I really want this. What does it say about me if I don’t have that vehicle type of thing? So I understand where you’re coming from, even though the difference in how we grew up financially is different. Because I could go down the marketing tunnel, but I won’t. But sometimes you feel like, oh, goodness, am I less valuable? Am I less of a person? Is my self esteem lower? Because I don’t have fill in the blank?

Jonathan DeYoe: There’s a flip side of this. And this gets into, uh, the idea of signaling, or the idea of, I’m the kind of person who this kind of thing. There was a real estate agent that I knew here in Berkeley, this is probably twelve years ago, and he bought kind of a dumpy used car. And his argument was, I don’t want people to think that I’m wealthy. And so he drove around in just a less popular Toyota. Simple. The roll up windows, not the electric windows. Right. Just really low cost vehicle, because he was signaling that he wasn’t the way he actually was. And that’s a whole different thing. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Right. I mean, it’s just, that’s kind of the way it is. But it’s good to know that that’s.

Aja Evans: Going on inside your head and understanding it.

Jonathan DeYoe: Yeah. Right. Because it can lead you, any kind of bias or foible in your own head can lead you down a wrong path. You talk a lot about financial anxiety, debt, shame, about mistakes or fear in relationships. And I remember the anxiety I had when I didn’t have any money when I was young. And interestingly, it still creeps in. I have plenty. I am set, I’m good, but I still have this stuff creep in, and it ends in this idea that I want people to think I can drive an expensive car. So how does money breed so much anxiety for us? Why is it that money is so much at the center of everything?

Aja Evans: Yeah. Well, I think part of it is like, one, we all have to navigate it in some way, shape, or form, right? So whether you have none or you have all, we all have to navigate money in some way, shape, or form. And that, I think, adds to how hard it is that we don’t talk about money at all. It’s so, so taboo, and it is secretive. And this is something that I have had. I had a conversation with one of my clients about the difference between secret and privacy. Secret and private. Money itself is not a secret. Right. Like, we all have to navigate money in some way. It’s not a secret. But if you choose to maybe not disclose all the things about your financial aspect, that’s privacy. But the problem that I find is that we treat money like it’s a secret, like, nobody else is dealing with it. And I’m, um, the only one that has to deal with it when everybody has to deal with it in some way, shape, or form, at least in the society that we’re living in. And I think it’s that taboo that has bred a lot of shame and guilt. And I say this because it’s not just people who may not have grown up with money. It’s people who have a ton of money. There’s a lot of shame for people who are wealthy, and that’s why it may feel more comfortable for them to be in community and in circles where other people are as wealthy as they are, if not more. Because talking about some of the things that you have or some of the vacations you took, uh, or the car that you drive, may seem very flashy to somebody else who isn’t living that life. And I find that it’s because we are not navigating money as if it’s something that we all have to navigate. That taboo, that secrecy, the potential jealousy of deciding who somebody else is because they do or do not have money, deciding what value they have because they do or don’t have money. I think people have, um, assigned a lot of meaning to money when money doesn’t care. Money has no feelings about us.

Jonathan DeYoe: Yeah, this was 15 year. I don’t know if you know this guy, e. T. The hip hop preacher. He’s on YouTube. I started watching him, like, 15 years ago. Uh, he helped college students get good grades at Michigan, Michigan State. Is that where the Trojans are? I think he was a Trojan. Maybe it’s University of Michigan. I don’t know which one it is. But he has this one thing, and everyone should look this up. In fact, I’m going to put the link in. The show notes that you matter, and it’s not your job that matters, it’s not your goals that matter, it’s not how much money that matters, it’s not your partner that matters, it’s not your car you matter. And he goes to the six minute thing about you matter. And every time I watch it, I just get shivers. And I’m just like, yeah, people need this message everywhere. I literally just shared it last week in my weekly newsletter that I send out. It’s so important. You said something that was really interesting to me, and I’m just going to go to the end and sort of state. Do you think gated communities of people with similar high wealth levels is a function of shame or guilt? Like, we want to hang out together? Because I don’t want to feel guilty hanging out with people that don’t have this, or I don’t want to experience shame because I hoard or whatever thing I come from, is that gated communities come from, or might partially a percentage of come from this feeling. I wonder with more mindfulness, and we had more mindfulness and more therapy, maybe we would have less gates.

Aja Evans: Yeah, I mean, that is fascinating to me, and that is a very good question, and I hadn’t thought about it that way, and maybe this speaks to me as a person more. I like to think about people who are in gated communities because they are concerned about their safety. That’s how I like to think about it. But you’re right. Instead of like, hey, we’re keeping ourselves together and safe in this way, it’s about keeping people out. That is a fascinating question. Now I’m like, oh, write that down for research, because, I mean, you’re right. It’s very interesting how, again, it goes back to privacy versus secrecy, and what does that look like? And when I think about gated communities, it’s not just usually there’s a gate, but there’s also massive trees or landscaping that protects any visual seeing eyes kind of thing. So, I mean, you’re onto something, maybe.

Jonathan DeYoe: Or I could just be pontificating. Who knows? Do you think all the negative feelings and the unknowing and the secrecy around money, is that something we have to solve on an individual basis, or is this something that we solve together culturally, is it an individual issue or is it a bigger cultural issue? Have we created this over 500 years?

Aja Evans: I don’t think as a culture, we’re ready to solve that kind of problem quite yet. I think we’ve got a lot of huge problems to solve. I mean, I would love it if we were talking about that, but there’s a lot of people who have a ton of money who don’t want anybody to pay attention to them and their ton of money.

Jonathan DeYoe: Right.

Aja Evans: And shining a light on that may be shining a light on other things that they also don’t want people to pay attention to. And I think the way I work is that I want to help change and shift for individuals. Now, this does not mean that you have to go out and yell at the rooftops, like, how much money you make and what your debt looks like and your net worth. Uh, no, that is not what I’m asking people to do. Not at all. But I am saying that, hey, having a conversation with somebody that you trust and that’s in your community that you care about and that, you know, cares about you, about whether you are financially stressed or what are some of the financial moves that they’re making and can you learn? Or what do you need to learn? Some people don’t even know what they need to learn. So having these conversations, I think, takes off the veil of secrecy and can then start releasing some people from some of the shame, because shame is just bred in isolation. Right? Like, shame makes you want to isolate. It makes you feel like you’re so different than everybody else. And the second you start breaking that down and growing your community and having conversations, you find that other people might be struggling with you, too, and then you don’t feel so bad.

Jonathan DeYoe: Yeah. Two questions that are sort of forming in the back of my head, but I’m going to go with one of them here and hopefully the other one sticks. So we talked earlier. We talked about generational wealth. And I want to ask a question about, because I talk about this with a lot of my guests because I have two kids. I just literally had this conversation with my wife this morning. So I was raised with very little. That gave me the drive to create something. So I’ve built something and I’ve given everything to my kids. So they’re not going to have the same drive, so they’re going to have a harder time building something and they will spend through whatever we leave them. And then the next generation has to start over again. That process seems to be pretty normal. Do you see that in your families that you work with?

Aja Evans: Not really, because the people I’m working with usually don’t have families quite yet or do have families and they’re planning for their kids. But have you read, and I hope you have strangers in paradise.

Jonathan DeYoe: I’ve heard of it. Um, and I probably read snippets. I haven’t read the whole thing.

Aja Evans: I actually just happen to have it right here. This is the book you need. I will show it to you later and tell you. But such a fascinating book when it comes to passing down wealth and what it looks like and what you’re saying is exactly what people are very fearful of, right? That because you came from where you came from, you work really hard, you give all the things to your kids, and now they’re not going to work as hard as you, but you can do both. Th and how do you also make sure your kids are comfortable and have a nice life, but also instill the importance of hard work and value and stewarding your money in a way that feels good for you, them, and future generations. So when I’m talking about generational wealth, usually people are either at the stage where they don’t have children or they have children and they’re trying to make sure they’re okay. And this is, again, very particular because majority of the clients I see are coming from their people of color or coming from the black community. So being able to pass wealth to their kids is slightly new and they want to give them what is best, but they don’t also feel like they have had the luxury that their kids have had. So they’re also instilling, you need to hard work. You need to work hard none of this is just, like, without a cost type of thing. You see us working really hard as parents so that you can have these opportunities, but you also need to work hard as well. And one thing for me personally that I have seen is when it hit me that people have their grandparents giving them enough money to potentially pay for a wedding, buy a home, that sort of thing, my mind was blown, and I was like, well, this is the new standard that I need to set for myself and for my family moving forward, because it’s not just me taking care of my two kids now. I want to be successful enough to leave money for my grandkids because that’s where I feel like it starts to shift, where you can leave it for multiple generations, and hopefully that will give them a leg up and then continue to grow wealth. And that’s kind of the bucket waterfall, if you will, of, uh, creating that generational wealth. But because I’m coming from the standpoint that I am, I feel like I could never just give to my kids without having the conversation that there is a level of expectation for them to show up and work hard, doing whatever it is that they want to do. You know what I mean? I want them to feel like they can go be whatever they want to be, because that’s how I felt. Like, I always felt that I could do anything, truly.

Jonathan DeYoe: I’m just curious, and I want to ask you about your work a little bit. Someone comes to you, shows issues with financial stress. How do you work with them? What is the process?

Aja Evans: So usually it’s kind of diving into what the crisis is. So if they’re in financial stress, it’s like, okay, why? What’s going on? And then I’m like, let’s go through your numbers. So sometimes I am one of the first people that I’m like, what are the actual numbers? And if that means that we have to do it in session together, they have to know their numbers. And if they don’t know, we don’t even know what you’re stressed about. We got to figure out what is the problem first. So, versus the financial crisis, figuring out what’s going on. What do they need? Is it something that we can do in session together? Is it something that they need extra supports for? How do we get those extra resources if they need it, connect them so that we can figure out the crisis first. Once that has been managed, then it can be like, okay, let’s talk about your history and your money story and your money narrative. And what are the beliefs that you have about money. And usually that connects to how they got in that financial crisis or why that’s been happening. And that allows us to then make a plan and kind of work through some of the behaviors. Hopefully, they’re working through the financial crisis, but work through the behaviors that come up. If they are experiencing financial trauma or being triggered by something that is coming from their past, but they don’t know it. And they used to do XYZ, but now they need to do something different. So that’s usually kind of the process.

Jonathan DeYoe: I want to be very specific here. So you said, make sure they know their numbers. For you, as a therapist, what are the numbers?

Aja Evans: You’re talking about everything. So I’m talking like, okay, you’re telling me you’re in a financial cris. What is the crisis? Is it your debt? Great. It’s your debt. What’s your credit card like? How many credit cards do you have? What’s a credit card debt? Is it a student loan debt? What is the actual number of that student loan debt? Like, numbers? Because it’s not just about, yes, let’s problem solve. But they also need to look. A lot of times, people are avoiding it. So I will hold their hand and look.

Jonathan DeYoe: Yeah, there’s that shame aspect. Like, I don’t want to look at this. I know it’s bad. It’s really horrible. And no one else has to do this. It’s all me. I’m just bad. Right? That happens.

Aja Evans: Right? I’m bad. I’m a bad person, and I’m literally with them as they’re doing it. And as we talked about before, shame is not going to be bred in my office. I am not going to allow, uh, some of my clients to feel isolated in where they’re at. And usually they’re apprehensive, but they do it, and we do it together. And afterwards, we process what that was like for them and contain their feelings because they just told somebody about all of their debt that they might have been keeping secret for so long.

Jonathan DeYoe: Yeah. So I’m glad I asked the question of the process, because didn’t realize that therapists would go into the numbers. Is this the financial therapy association? Is this that financial social work? The center for financial Social Work? Or is this your own making?

Aja Evans: This is just my own making. I can’t say what the beauty about therapy is that you do it how it fits you. Right? Like, who you are as a person. And because I feel comfortable just being like, let’s see where your numbers are. What’s the problem? I do it now, majority of therapists, like, if you’re talking about mental health trained therapists who may not have an obsession with personal finance like I do, they are not doing this with their clients, but I do. And I realized that that’s what was most important for my clients, and that’s.

Jonathan DeYoe: What worked as just a percentage of your clients. How many of them end up with some kind of a money conversation? Or is it everyone?

Aja Evans: Oh, all of them. I’m like, they know who their therapist is. Uh, there’s no way. Yeah. And I still have some clients that I work with who are solely dealing with mental health and not trying to dip into money, but I don’t think it’s different. Like I said, we all have to navigate money. So if it always comes up, I ask, and it doesn’t mean that I go dive into their numbers in that kind of direct way, as I might with somebody who really came for me specifically for financial therapy. But we’re always talking about money. I talk about money with all my clients. Always.

Jonathan DeYoe: One of the goals of the podcast, outside of sort of highlighting the conversation so that we talk about money more, is I want to simplify things for people. So I ask every guest this, what is one thing? And there’s going to be two parts to this. What is one thing that say you’re sitting on an airplane, you’re flying cross country, and someone sits down next to you and they start to talk to you. Oh, you’re a therapist. Oh, you’re a financial therapist. And they ask you questions. What is one thing that they could do today that would improve their relationship with money?

Aja Evans: I would say, figure out what you need to feel stable. And I say that because a lot of times what people don’t realize what they’re looking for is a sense of stability, and they don’t know how to get it. So when I say that, I mean, for some people who might be, like, hoarding their money, figuring out what they need in their bank account to feel comfortable, and it might go against some of the traditional personal finance emergency fund conversations, but what do you need to feel stable? Oh, you don’t want credit card debt anymore. That’s going to be something that’s going to make you feel stable. Oh, you want to know that you are at a job for three years and that you feel like you have tenure now, so you feel safe. What is it that you need to feel stable and safe financially?

Jonathan DeYoe: I love that because we go through this financial planning process, and there are, like, rules of thumb, like, if you’re 25, you should have a month of emergency savings. If you’re 60, you should have two years of emergency savings. And when you’re 35 and it goes from there. But if you don’t feel stable and safe without x number of dollars, if you’re 25 or 85, I don’t care. You need x number of dollars in the bank because that feeling of stability, that’s more important than the plan or whatever sort of prognostication we have in a cash flow. Right. That’s great.

Aja Evans: Uh, and you’ll work the plan if you feel stable, right?

Jonathan DeYoe: The plan will work better.

Aja Evans: Do wild things to make sure they’re stable, that are not helpful for them financially, and put them back in a hole because they’re trying to feel stable. It’s easier to follow the plan if you’re like, hey, I’m starting from a stable place. I’m not grasping at straws. And I could go into the neuroscience of trauma on your brain and what happens, but I won’t. But you’re not making the best rational decisions when you’re upset and stressed out.

Jonathan DeYoe: Absolutely. Amen. So the other half of that question is, we swim in this soup. There’s a lot of information flying around. A lot of it’s garbage. What is one thing that you run across and you often say, hey, don’t do that. Or, I know you’re hearing about that and it’s scary, but ignore it.

Aja Evans: That’s a great question. A lot of it is just. I’m still feelings focused, right? So a lot of it is just feelings. And I just don’t think anybody should feel bad about their money. You can have made mistakes. You could have done everything wrong. It doesn’t mean that they cannot be fixed. So for me, I just don’t want people just walking around feeling bad about their money. Um, like I said, the shame. I’m a bad person because I don’t know how to manage my money. I’m bad. I feel bad about my money. I want nothing to do with that. Do not feel that way. Everything can be shifted. Everything.

Jonathan DeYoe: That’s right. It’s just every night we go to bed, we take all of our fears and imaginations and we put them in this little package next to our bed. And we go into dream world and we wake up and we pick all those fears and imaginations and we put them right back on.

Aja Evans: Like set them down or those fears and those imaginations are deep within you. You don’t even know it. So you go to your subconscious and go sleep and go swim in that.

Jonathan DeYoe: Oh, no. Yeah. Even worse, right? It could be so bad. So just real quick, before we get to a final couple of personal questions. Are you working on anything new? I mean, is there anything new coming out? Are you writing what’s going on?

Aja Evans: Yeah, I’m writing a book currently. I’m very excited, so I am working on that. And it’s just about pretty much everything that we talked about, your money and your emotions and how it impacts your behaviors with your money.

Jonathan DeYoe: Have you found, uh, someone to publish it? Are you self publishing or what’s your direction with it?

Aja Evans: No, I’m on the road. I’m looking. So hopefully it will all work out. So some interesting, hopeful prospects. So we’ll see in the future.

Jonathan DeYoe: Yes. It’s tough. I know. I published one book in 2017. Took me forever to write it, but it’s such a gauntlet getting there. So good luck. Good for you for trying. Just before we wrap, a couple of personal questions. So what was the last thing you changed your mind about?

Aja Evans: That’s a great question.

Jonathan DeYoe: As a therapist, I figure you’d just be like this immediately.

Aja Evans: No, I’m like, what did I just change my mind about? To be honest with you, it’s so small, but I love to eat out and get food and just especially when I’m writing, and I’ve been writing a lot this week, so instead of going to one of my favorite cafes and sitting down and drinking my tea and eating the delicious lunch that they have, I was like, Asia? No, we are changing our mind. We are going to stay home, and you are going to try and write at home for the first time. Because usually I don’t do that. And it worked out great. And I was so happy I did it. So, yeah, I tried working writing at home specifically.

Jonathan DeYoe: And you didn’t miss the lovely lunch?

Aja Evans: I mean, I did miss that lovely lunch. 100% I missed it. But I was really happy with how I was able to write. That’s the reason why I have the stack of books next to me right there, because I was in the midst of my research and citing and doing all that, and I was like, oh, this is nice that I did this at home. I’m happy that I stayed here.

Jonathan DeYoe: Yeah, there are days when the writing at home is actually better, right? Because you have the access to all the materials. So, second quick question. If you could know the truth about any single question about your life, your future, whatever, what would the question be?

Aja Evans: Wow, I don’t know. That is a great question. I remember my mom used to tell me all the time that when I was growing up, I’d ask her if I was going to be okay. Just like, am I going to be okay? And what I didn’t realize that it was about am I going to reach my potential? And it didn’t have a direction at the time. I just knew it was in me, and I was like, am I going to be all right? What is this? I found it, right? Financial therapy is actually it. So I don’t ask myself that question anymore, but I don’t know if I want to know. Yeah, I don’t know if I want to know. I feel the happiest in my career and my personal life right now. I’m in a really good place, and I just want to allow it to unfold. So I don’t know. I want to make sure my kids are okay and that my kids are safe and that, uh, I get to, uh, retire. But I am also the type of person that I will literally do everything in my power to make the things that I want to happen happen. I can’t believe they’re giving this answer.

Jonathan DeYoe: It’s very empowering to just say, you know what? I’m going to allow it to happen. I’m going to make happen what I need to have happen. I’m going to allow it. It is what it is. It is what I made it. It changes when I change. It’s just such a beautiful thing. Finally, tell us how people can connect with you. Aja This has been fantastic. Very much appreciate having you on. How do people find you?

Aja Evans: Yeah, so you can find me on my website, which is asiaevanscounseling.com. I am also on social media, so at LinkedIn, Aja Evans lmhc. I’m on Instagram as well. And TikTok. It’s however long TikTok lasts, I don’t know. And that my handle is Aja etherapy.

Jonathan DeYoe: Awesome. Thanks, Aja

Aja Evans: Thanks so much, Jonathan.

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