Why We Need to Talk About Money

Why We Need to Talk About Money

Talking about money benefits both your clients and yourself.  Because this is a long, long career that you have chosen and you want to do the most good for the most people (and you should be one of those people!).


This is for all the social workers and helping professionals.

Why, as social workers and other helping professionals, do we need to talk about money?  I mean, most of us went into this line of work because we made a conscience decision to do so.  It was a calling.  I know that is was for me.  We understood that earning a bunch of money was not going to be the motivating factor in our work.  We chose to become social workers or other types of helping professionals because we wanted to help people and make the world a better place. 

So what’s money got to do with it?  I’ll give you two reasons:

1.       Your clients

2.       You

We need to talk about money with our clients

I would hazard a guess that many of us work directly with clients who are stressed out about money (though in my practice that percentage hovers somewhere around 100%).  According to the American Psychological Association Stress in America™ Survey 64% of Americans are stressed out about money.  That’s about two out of three.  And social workers serving clients who are living in households earning low incomes probably see higher numbers of money-stressed clients.

Yes, clients need all the supports that helping professionals can offer them, and sometimes what they can benefit from is a candid conversation about money.  And you are the person to do it.  You have their trust, respect and attention.  Just because someone is living on a lower income doesn’t mean that they do not have financial goals.  Maybe they want to buy a home someday, or support their kid’s college education, or go back to their home country for one last vacation before their family elders pass away.  You can play a vital role in talking with your clients about their hope, dreams and opportunities.

While those living in low-income communities have it harder when it comes to wealth building, there are resources out there.  The United Way Worldwide 211 program offers resources and support no matter where your clients live.  You can even reach out on their behalf.  The Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education (of which I am a member) has a directory of Accredited Financial Counselors® and Financial Fitness Coaches® (yes, I am both) that you can work with to solve your money problems and achieve your money goals.

We as social workers need to talk about money among ourselves

It may come as a surprise to uh, no one, but social workers have some of the lowest paying masters’ degrees around.  According to Monster.com masters-level social workers have a starting median salary of about $42,000.  Compare that to a nurse anesthetist who has a starting median pay of $165,000.  Those student loan balances would drop a lot faster if you were paying them with that salary!

So yes, we have detailed the obvious that social workers make peanuts for pay.  So why do we need to talk about this depressing statistic? 

We need to talk about it because nothing will change if we don’t.

Where do we start?  We can start with the percentage of social workers who are women.  According to MSWCareers.com that percentage is 83%.  Why so low, Flo?  Look at the reasons possibly keeping men from the profession (and by the way, men not in social work depress wages for the women that remain):

·         Pay rates(!)

·         More women in the social service workforce throughout history

·         Perception of social work as a “feminine” industry

Couple that with the fact that women in general are STILL earning about 80 cents for every dollar earned by a man and we’ve got a real problem on our hands.

What can we do about it?  Let’s start with income.  When you sense the time is right, ask your supervisor for a raise.  Read this helpful article by Sally Percy as Forbes.com for tips. 

Then let’s talk about wealth.  Now that we’ve documented that women dominate the helping professions (like it wasn’t obvious already) let’s take into consideration that women tend to outlive men by about five years, 81 years as compared to 76.  That means that women need to save enough money to fund at least 15 years of living expenses after they stop working.  But then again, you could live to 90 or beyond, meaning that you might want to save for 25 years instead.  Women-focused investing platform Ellevest recommends that women aim to save 10-15% of their income annually to reach their retirement goal.  And let me be frank that this is on the low end of the scale.

Finally let’s talk about debt, namely student loan debt.  One article sites that students are leaving the University of Maryland School of Social Work with about $62,000 in debt.  This breaks down to roughly $30,000 in undergraduate debt and another $30,000 in graduate school debt.  Compare that to the rule of thumb that your student debt should roughly equal your first year’s salary ($42,000 from the statistic above) and you can see that the math is way off.  Many social workers are aware of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program and it is super important to read the rules carefully to make sure that you qualify.


I could go on and on (and I plan to in future posts) but now I want to hand the mic over to you.  What do you think?  Do you talk about money now?  Tell others how you do it.  Do you avoid the topic of money like the plague?  Tell others what’s getting in your way.  The Talking About Money tribe is here to support.

And while you are at, please spread the love on the social media platform of your choice.  <3

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