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How racial trauma, wealth and mental health collide in women’s financial lives

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A book idea can come from anywhere. For financial wellness specialist Eugenie George, reading tables of contents in the personal finance section of a Barnes & Noble store provided inspiration.

“I kept saying, ‘Well, what's missing from this?’” George says. “There was no discussion about race or class. And then the folks that did write about race or class, it was all about their come-up story.”

Two years later, that question became a book revealing insights and experiences that don’t generally show up in financial discourse. In “Our Money Stories: A Six-Week No B.S. Holistic Guide to Financial Wellness,” George shares her difficult experiences with money and those of 40 women who are African American, Asian American, Latina and Native American.

Self-published this month, the book links personal finance, wealth management and the trauma of America’s racial history — slavery, segregation, Japanese internment during World War II, the genocide of American Indians and mass deportations. The trauma extends to present-day racism as well, George’s anonymous interviewees say. Given the complexity and sensitivity of the women’s personal lives, she withheld their names so they could speak candidly.

While George says she wrote the book for women of color, she notes “all these conversations are messy” when it comes to racial disparities. She invites readers of all backgrounds to “sit with it” and think more deeply about topics like race and adverse childhood experiences.

“Now that we have these studies, we know that it affects folks’ mental health,” says George, a teacher-turned-MBA-holder, as well as a workplace educator and an aspiring CFP. “The goal for me is to really create something where we're actually looking at the mental aspect. I think that's going to be the tricky part, because now we have the problem but we don't have the solution.”

Author Eugenie George
Eugenie George released “Our Money Stories: A Six-Week No B.S. Holistic Guide to Financial Wellness” in June 2020.

Using her sources’ personal experiences, George, who is Black, illustrates the complex interplay of race, money and mental health.

For example, a Japanese American writer, editor and actor says she feels guilty about her own wealth; feelings that stem from her family’s incarceration and loss of land during World War II. A Black doctor in her 30s tells George she finds it hard to think about her goals.

“The problem is that I am ignoring my standards and my future standards because I'm dwelling on my past,” she says.

Hopefully, the book reminds women that they’re not alone, says Erica Booth, a Lansdowne, Pennsylvania-based accountant. Citing the trouble she had attracting capital to her business, Booth says the book is right on time.

“There are a lot of businesses that want to expand but no one will give them a chance,” says Booth. “It’s unfortunate, but it's the reality we live in.”

George’s financial advisor, Kristy Runzer of OnRoute Financial, says she sees lessons for planners in the women’s stories.

“Finances are about more than the numbers,” Runzer says in an email. “It's important to be listening to what our clients are saying, how they're feeling, and provide a safe, non-judgmental space for clients to talk about the other areas of their life that are affecting their financial well-being.”

George suggests the U.S. should have an organization to address adverse childhood experiences and racial trauma on wealth, similar to the U.K.’s Money and Mental Health Policy Institute. In addition to training to become a CFP, George also aims to assist companies with becoming more diverse.

“It's not too late,” she says. “You have to start with saying your initiatives and setting actual metrics to say that you're learning, not saying that you have all the pieces but saying that you're learning.”

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