Talk to financial planners Susan and Steve Zimmerman, and you will get more than practical advice on how to invest your money. You will also get a strong dose of psychoanalysis...
Talk to financial planners Susan and Steve Zimmerman, and you will get more than practical advice on how to invest your money. You will also get a strong dose of psychoanalysis.
In 20 years of working and living together, the Zimmermans have learned that to truly help people get their finances under control, they must know what makes them tick.
The Zimmermans are among a small but growing number of financial planners who have figured out the intimate bond between money and relationships makes human nature hard to ignore when making financial decisions.
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Most money habits are deeply rooted in the way a person was raised, they and others say, so it is no surprise money is one of the top reasons behind marital troubles.
Susan Zimmerman, who also is a licensed family and marriage therapist, has identified eight personality traits called “money rascals” to help figure out how people think about money.
The terms include “flashers,” or spendthrifts; and “cashers,” who are savers and debt dodgers.
She details the money rascals and other financial concepts in her 2002 book, “The Power of Your Money Personality” (Beaver’s Pond Press).
The Zimmermans, who live in Apple Valley, Minn., use themselves as examples. She is a “recovering” casher. Steve Zimmerman says he is a recovered stasher, who liked the thrill of high-risk investments and making a quick buck.
“The trick is to get them balanced and not have one dominate at any one time,” said Susan Zimmerman. “It’s simply helped us to know what deeper questions to ask and to help put couples at ease. I was never OK with it just being about the numbers.”
The Zimmermans think their background and experience give them insight in helping other couples.
“There’s a greater degree of trust when they know you’ve been there,” Susan Zimmerman said of clients.
The Zimmermans, who create their own financial plan, have dealt with their own diverse money habits, a blended family, paying for their four children’s education and business growth and succession issues.
Trust is the magic word as investors’ confidence has been shaken by corporate greed, mutual-fund scandals and the stock market.
Financial planners, who often deal with people’s life savings, are in the thick of it.
“How can someone understand what I’m going through if they haven’t gone through it themselves?” said Steve Karolewski, who with his wife, Barbara Epstein, found the Zimmermans last summer.
“I felt very comfortable with them. There’s no hard sell here. You can sit and pet their dog if you want to.”
At Zimmerman Financial Group’s office, the family pets greet visitors. Clients sit in comfortable couches and chairs in a living-room setting.
The Zimmermans try to make finances fun by handing out toy dinosaurs to clients who give up bad financial habits and heart beads for having the courage to change.
Such homespun touches make it easier for clients to talk about their lifestyles and spending habits.
The Zimmermans focus on helping people figure out how to vary their investment options and protect their money for the long term.
Bloomington, Minn., residents Cindy and Ken Youngberg, who started meeting with the Zimmermans last summer, have discussed the guardianship of a disabled cousin and establishing a trust for their own disabled adult son.
Those issues never came up with their previous financial planner of 10 years.
The Zimmermans, both certified financial planners, met nearly 20 years ago when they worked together at a Twin Cities education-software company. They saw many customers affected by tax changes and decided to start their own business in 1987.
In the mid-1990s, Susan Zimmerman became interested in the psychological study of financial decision-making and ended up getting a master’s degree in counseling and family therapy.
She weaves that knowledge into her financial planning and dealing with the various “money rascals” she counsels.
The most problematic pairs are an overspender like a rasher, who is compulsive; and a casher, who is very organized, she said.
“Those two types can give each other some major headaches because they’ll both tend to plant their feet a little and not able to see how the other is,” she said.
The most compatible couples are those who are equal parts stasher, who is diversified; and casher, she said. For this pair, reasonable decisions will be made without much disagreement.
The Zimmermans have found their niche: About three-quarters of their clientele are couples, and about half of those are business partners.
Many financial planners say they inadvertently deal with client matters that reach beyond the finances because money and lifestyle issues often are intricately tied together.
Couples will discuss subjects that have not been broached before. Sometimes it gets downright nasty.
“We often refer clients — couples and siblings — to [family or marriage] counselors,” said Karen Altfest, half of a New York-based financial planning team with her husband, Lewis, for more than 20 years.
“We’ve had siblings in the office who are in their 50s yelling at each other, ‘Mother loved you best.’ ”
Psychology’s role grows
Bob Bilkie, a spokesman for the CFA Institute trade group, said the use of psychology in money practices is increasing.
Bilkie, a chartered financial analyst in Southfield, Mich., has consulted with a licensed psychotherapist in the past and plans to have her join an upcoming meeting with a new client.
The Zimmermans divide their work.
Susan Zimmerman concentrates on why people make certain financial decisions; Steve Zimmerman focuses on the technical planning part.
When listening to clients, they say they each hear something different.
She will think, “Why are they saying that? I’m listening a lot of times for where is the underlying stress and how can we alleviate that and bring harmony to their lives.”
Steve Zimmerman, on the other hand, will think about how the matter can be solved.
Clients say they like the Zimmermans’ relaxed rapport with each other.
“The Zimmermans, as a couple, make a difference,” said client Cindy Youngberg, who is retired. “They each bring something different to the table.”