Natasha Needs to Get to Work (Or I’m Out)

by Gerry O'donoghue - Boot Camp Advisor

Natasha Needs to Get to Work (Or I’m Out)

I experienced more emotional swings this past week than I have in a long time. From concern and worry to sadness to frustration and even anger.

I have not been able to make a communication or emotional breakthrough with Natasha, and for a financial planner this is often the most important aspect of helping people. This doesn't happen that often for me because my prospective client and I usually recognize that we may not be a good fit for each other before formalizing the relationship and we simply go our separate ways — no harm, no foul.

But this is a much different situation. I read Natasha's posts and I feel the hurt she is experiencing. I am very concerned about her emotional distress, and this makes me want to help her even more. (Financial planners usually get into this line of work because they want to help people more so than for the money.) But when I speak with her, I sense none of the same anxiety or panic that is so obvious in her writing. Instead she answers my questions calmly, without much elaboration — unless I pull it out of her.

For instance, last week she mentioned that she received an eviction notice. I advised that we try to get some expert help in dealing with this, and she said that she would call the "Citizen's Advice Bureau" for help with their Rent Court hearing this week. The exchange was surprisingly easy-going and the complete opposite of what I was maybe expecting based on her blog entries. I feel that if I don't ask the exact right question, I won't find out anything about what's going on with her.

I am not used to, and certainly don't like, having to read a public forum to learn firsthand accounts of my client's trouble and concerns. Natasha and I have only met up in person once since the project started, and for weeks after that she would only sporadically return my calls or emails. In the Beginning, I didn't want to seem too forceful or nagging in checking, but recently, I have resorted to calling her at work because that seems to be the best time for us to actually speak, and maybe she can't open up in that environment. I have encouraged her to call me on my cell at any time (and I am very protective of that number), and to leave a message if I miss her call so I know to call her back as soon as I can.

I will continue to work on trying to make this breakthrough, but in the meantime, her dire financial situation requires me to force the issue whether she wants to or not.

When we met back in October, I gave Natasha a notebook (her "expense journal" so to speak ) and asked her to keep track of all her expenses so we could make a budget‹the cornerstone of any financial plan. Two months later, I still haven't seen anything. I also asked her to fill in an income and expenses worksheet saying how much she thought she was making and spending, but for one reason or other it never arrived until this weekend‹and that was after my inner Jillian Michaels came out and I nagged her almost daily last week.

I would generally think, "Better late than never", but I had to hound her for it, and that frustrates me. I did not expect that I would have to push so hard when I signed up to be an advisor on Boot Camp. I have been doing financial planning long enough to not naively expect smooth sailing, but based on her introductory profile, I anticipated that she would be keen to tackle the "homework" I would give her and eager to begin solving the issues she faced. She had already acknowledged her issues (spending too much), and more importantly identified a powerful measure of success (getting her children out of their dangerous neighborhood). But we have not been able to gather any momentum whatsoever.

So it's time to not spare any feelings: We are nearly at a point where if I can't get Natasha to start doing what I need her to do to allow me to help her, then there's no point in me continuing with Boot Camp. Maybe she'd have better luck with another planner.

This is not about me, or even Natasha any more: It's about her children. We are not talking about long-term retirement planning or even paying off credit cards, we are talking about potentially keeping her and her children out of a homeless shelter. This is serious financial triage — virtually do or die stuff. Granted, Natasha's life challenges (sick children, school, breaking up with her boyfriend) are many, but in the end, she must be the one to turn the page and write a new life story. There is no quick fix, and no one other than she can eventually make the issues go away.

To try and keep a roof over their heads, I need Natasha to send me copies of her filled out expense journal (I sent her stamped, pre-addressed envelopes last week) by the end of this week. I can then crunch real numbers and hopefully figure out a way to address her back-rent problem.

This might seem coldhearted, but Natasha is now on the clock.