A Tough Love Manifesto on Money, Boundaries, and Biz.

written by Bari Tessler May 10, 2016

Loving warning: This a BEAST of an article. It’s long. It’s a long time coming. And it’s bursting at the margins with lessons for consumers, entrepreneurs, and all of us interested in deep money work. Because after keeping mum for years, it’s finally time for me to speak up about some behind-the-scenes drama — and make a public declaration. (Or five.)

Holding onto your cowgirl hat? Here we go …

About twice a year, my team and I face a lose-lose situation with a client. Not just challenging. Tough, wrenching … and sometimes, downright nasty.

(Twice a year, for those counting, is more often than Derby Day, but less often than Mercury Retrograde.)

They ask for support in a way that makes it impossible to give. They ask for exceptions that cross a sacred line. They get unhappy in such a blind, triggered, blaming way, it’s impossible for my team to make things better.

Frankly, it’s a bit of a shocker that this doesn’t happen more frequently. The more people you serve, the more people will be unhappy with you — that’s just a part of doing business, in a service-oriented industry like mine. But my situation is a bit more complicated, because of a pesky, complicated, wonderful elephant that’s sitting here in the room with us. (May I introduce him? Here, hold this peanut bag … )

I charge money (and earn my living) helping people with their relationship to money. 

That means I enter into financial agreements with people who have raised their hands and said, “Yep! That’s me. I need help with this money stuff!” This is the great, big paradox at the center of my business.

Now, I made friends with this elephant many years ago, because I know: people with “money stuff” to work through aren’t some small sliver of the population, but all of us. So I adore my community extra-hard, because they’re the select, courageous few willing to look at this “money stuff,” get help with it, and move forward.

I’m so grateful to report: 99.5% of my clients and Art of Money members show up to this strange paradox beautifully. (That’s the actual percentage, by the way: my metrics-driven husband crunched the numbers!)

This 99.5%? They do deep, healing work. They take heart-felt baby steps and subtle leaps. They face their resistance, roar, and keep going. They ask for support and receive it. They take action and rumble with their deeper issues. They inspire me, daily. They are an incredible community to learn with and grow with.

But when you commit to spending an entire year working on your money relationship, stuff can get … whacky.

That’s what the extra-brave members of my community do, when they sign up for The Art of Money: my year-long money school. And that’s why I don’t offer refunds or opt-outs for this program.

Say whaaaaa?

Yep. My 12-month money school is a commitment. You sign up … and you’re in like Flynn (if Flynn was a soulful guy with courage absurdly good taste.) Once the program starts, it’s up to you to take advantage of the resources and support we provide — for the rest of the year.

To make this program accessible for as many people as possible, we offer a monthly payment plan (so you don’t have to pay in full, in one fell swoop, because many people can’t swing that). But (and this is the important part!) The Art of Money isn’t like a Netflix membership or monthly subscription you can try out and cancel later. It is an all-or-nothing deal: a curriculum with a beginning, middle, and end. We offer a monthly payment plan because we’re gluttons for punishment. (Not really — though most online businesses won’t touch a payment plan that long with a 19-foot pole, since it creates so much extra administrative work.)

So … refunds? Very simple: we do not offer refunds or opt-outs. Period.

I didn’t decide on this all willy-nilly. (Who is Willy, by the way? And why does he get such a bad rap?) My team and I thought long and hard about our policy. We studied other popular multi-month programs and found: even when there’s a 30-day cancellation policy, people still ask for refunds after that. It’s like an immutable universal law (right up there with gravity):

No matter how great you are, no matter how awesome your services, no matter how clear your policies: some people will STILL ask for refunds. 

Marie Forleo (an online entrepreneur I respect a lot) says in this playful smackdown of the “customer is always right” myth that when people ask for a refund for a digital product, it’s essentially stealing.

So instead of refunds or a 30-day trial period, we decided to offer A METRIC OODLE-TON of free content, so people can get a great sense of my teaching style, what the program entails, and what they’ll get out of the program. We leave our doors open to the program for a luxuriously long time (no fabricated sense of urgency), so people can really let the details of my teaching and the program sink in and decide if it’s a good fit for them.

 

This-is-really-important

 

 

And because we believe in empowering people to make clear, good money decisions, we make our no-refund policy abundantly clear:

  • We post it in YUGE letters. No fine print, here. Our sales page literally says: “This is really important: The Big Why Behind Our No-Refund Policy.”
  • We then spend multiple paragraphs explaining exactly what the no-refund policy means, and why we do it — addressing the practical and emotional reasons.
  • We repeat the no-refund, no opt-out policy on the sales page, on the FAQ page, on its own standalone policy page accessible at the bottom of my site, and in the members’ area students access once the year-long program begins.

You can see the full no-refund policy, including our explanations, right here. Scroll down to payment buttons and you’ll see the policy (it’s a surprisingly fun read). As it explains, while we do have practical reasons behind the no-refund policy, the most important reason we enforce it (above and away and beyond) is: to support our students’ money healing work.

You see, looking at your money stuff is a process. And my team and I know:

When you look at your money stuff for any length of time, resistance will rear its fire-breathing dragon head. 

It’s a fact. And when this happens, letting people out of the program and off the hook for the work they signed up for actually isn’t the kindest thing to do.

Part of my and my team’s job, as we run a money school, is holding our members to the commitments they’ve made: to themselves, to their money work, and financially, to us. Because, when tough resistance shows up (as it always does along the healing journey), the only way out is through. Gently, gently — but through.

Sometimes (OK, always), this takes some grit, determination, and loving boundary-setting.

9.5 times out of 10, when I decline someone’s request for a refund, they end up THANKING me.

Last month, my team got a note from an Art of Money student, thanking us for not letting her out of the program this year. “Yep,” she said. “That was my money shit coming up. Thank you so much for calling me on it. I got a couple months in, and hit resistance, big-time. This is deep work, and it made me wanna run for the hills.” If we had let her off the hook, she said, she never would have seen her patterns for what they were. But we held her to her commitment, she persevered, and broke through. 

But we’re here to talk about that rare 0.5%.

Some people hit that inevitable resistance (the fire-breathing dragon that nobody likes) and demand to be released from the program. When we remind them of the commitments they’ve made, they get even angrier. Instead of turning within and owning their issues, they blame everyone else. They lash out, make threats, and get nasty towards me and my team. They miss this opportunity to do real money work, when the going gets tough.

It sucks for them, and it sucks for us. And it’s never about the surface issues it seems to be about, no matter how tantalizingly real they might seem. It’s about resistance. That’s why we need to talk about what’s really going on, here.

This turbo-charged resistance shows up in four main flavors. (Or a swirly combination thereof, hold the sprinkles.)

1. Feelings of financial scarcity and stress.

What it sounds like: “I just don’t have the money to keep up with my payment plan for this year-long program! I got sick/my husband maxed out our credit card/my business is in a slump/ I moved to a more expensive apartment and I can’t do it. Let me out of this contract, now!!!”

The tough love truth: “Financial scarcity,” “enough” and “not enough” are 100% subjective. Some people say they can no longer afford the $88/month payment plan because they legitimately can’t put food on the table. But others say the same thing — because they don’t want to dip into their savings or sizable trust fund.

The irony here is: Sticking with The Art of Money program will help people through the money issues that lead to making financial commitments without thinking them through. They’ll have support in doing real money work: on spending more consciously, on breaking through income ceilings, on strengthening their responsibility, and more. My team and I offer goo-gobs of support for students as they work through their low spots or stuck places — but we can only do this when they stick with it. Unfortunately, deep healing work takes patience and perseverance.

Most people show up to this money work with a laundry list of “money stuff” to work through … and a huge sense of urgency to do it all, fast. Pay off that tax bill, hire a bookkeeper, unpack the compulsive spending I learned from my Mom, deal with that existential emptiness I try to cover up with shopping … oh, and learn how to balance a checkbook and what the heck a Roth IRA is. Whew!

This takes time. When, several months into our year-long program, people tell me they’re too hard up for money to keep going with the very program that will teach them how to rumble and break through these deep patterns, what I hear them saying is: “I’m not making enough progress, fast enough. I’m feeling impatient, scared, and a little hopeless. Why isn’t everything 100% better, already??”

Breathe. Baby step. Breathe some more. Take another baby step. This is a process, remember?

And above all: TRUST. In our money journeys, we will all experience ups and downs, periods of thriving and periods of challenge. That’s why I teach my Art of Money students to tune into the rhythms and cycles of their money … so they can recognize and honor this bigger picture. Yes, this can be difficult! It can even become a spiritual practice, as people dance with trust and how they can apply it to their relationship with money.

2. Refusing to slow down and read the policies they’ve signed up for.

What it sounds like: “Oh my God, I had no idea I couldn’t cancel at any time! What do you mean, you don’t offer a 30-day opt-out?! There’s no way in hell you had that on the sales page. Nope, I didn’t see it. Nope, nope, nope!”

The tough love truth: My team and I bend over backwards to call attention to and explain our no-refund policy — and repeat it many times in the signup process and in the members’ area. Despite all of this? Many people claim they never saw the no-refund policy. That’s how powerful our blinders can be, folks.

I find myself repeating frequently to my Art of Moneyers: slow down, everyone. Read these materials. Let them sink in. This is part of you empowering yourself with money. Make slower, more conscious decisions about where your money flows. Know what you’re signing up for.

3. Nitpicking the details instead of doing the work.

What it sounds like: “I don’t have time to read the program page — just tell me where to find the section on savings. Why the heck don’t you offer transcripts of the audio interviews — there’s no way I can listen to all that! I hate getting stuff in my inbox — online learning is for the birds, why do you do it this way? I’m so far behind, I don’t even know where to begin — but I can’t pick which exercises to do, so you need to tell me.”

The tough love truth: Complaining about tiny details is often an excuse we give ourselves to get out of doing the real work. Sometimes, students have legitimate questions about where to find certain materials — or suggestions about the program’s components (and we take these to heart and improve, every year).

But when they ask the same questions over and over again, refuse the answers and support my team offers, and refuse to actually do the work they’re nitpicking about? That’s when all that complaining is really their handy-dandy distraction from the money work they signed up for.

4. Feeling duped or scammed.

(Thankfully, this is the rarest form of resistance I have to deal with … but I see so many people dealing with it in other financial interactions, I want to share the underlying issues.)

What it sounds like: “You won’t cancel my monthly payments because you just want my money. You suck — just let me out!!”

The tough love truth: Saying I’m “out to get people’s money” or “just in it for the money” is so off-base and absurd, it would be laughable if it weren’t so painful, on both sides. In other words: it’s total projection.

To be incredibly frank: the cost of one year-long membership won’t make or break my business, at this point. Neither will three or five or ten. Yes, I rely on this income to help feed my family, to pay my team, and to keep producing great free content for my community (like this blog). But my business is in a stable, thriving enough place that I don’t need to fight for this income. And yes, I am incredibly grateful that, after years of heart and hard work, I can say this about my business.

When people feel so victimized, so “duped,” so “scammed” by a business like mine — that makes our policies exorbitantly clear and bends over all sorts of backwards and sideways to provide support for our members — it’s a real eye of the beholder situation. That is: it’s not us … it’s them.

It’s all too easy to feel small and powerless, with money. Sometimes, it seems like your health insurance provider is making things confusing on purpose to scam you out of money … or that the big, bad IRS is deliberately ruining your life, because you can’t afford to educate or defend yourself. These feelings of disempowerment, confusion, and victimization around money are so painful, they’re often what brings people to my work, in the first place. So it’s no surprise that these feelings should show up, again, as they begin looking their “money stuff” in the eye.

As I say over and over again: the money is never just about the money. If people are feeling scammed by my business or others, there are deeper issues of disempowerment, victimization, blame, and refusing to take healthy responsibility in other instances and areas of their lives. And hallelujah: it doesn’t have to stay this way! By engaging with these issues, within our money relationship, we can grasp these deeper threads, give them a loving tug … and shift the whole tapestry of our lives.

How you do anything is how you do everything. Seize the opportunity to treat everything as a metaphor. Especially how you “do” money.

Now, before you feel high-and-mighty and claim you never fall into these negative patterns, I want to lovingly challenge you to take a second look within yourself. Because I know this: fear is a powerful foe. We all fall into the muck of our unresolved issues, sometimes. And once those blinders are on? It can be incredibly difficult to remove them. So instead:

  • We complain.
  • We blame.
  • We refuse to accept the support being offered us. (Even if we’ve paid for it.)
  • We expect others to magically fix things for us — then lash out when that doesn’t work (because it can’t).
  • We refuse to do the work … then complain things aren’t good enough.
  • We reach near-paranoid levels of assuming people are duping, scamming, or out to get us.
  • We nitpick about details to avoid the huge issues.
  • We can’t recognize how powerful we truly are: because these situations are our creation.

Look: we’re all capable of falling into these traps, at one point or another. And that 0.5% of people in my business, who stick to their resistance? I’m definitely not here to shame them. I know that, at heart, they are good, insightful people. They love their children and laugh at cat videos just as much as you and I. They are doing the best they can. But sometimes, someone’s “best,” in any given moment, is a sticky, toxic mess.

This sort of behavior is always caused by suffering. And yes, it’s heartbreaking. But no: we can’t fix it for others. Even when we’re in the business of helping them. Especially when we’re business owners.

As a Financial Therapist. I want nothing more than to serve and support people as they come face-to-face with their gnarliest money issues. I recognize that this occasional nastiness is turbo-charged resistance and comes from deep, deep wounds within them — and I want nothing more than to take them by the hand, do a little un-shaming jig, and walk with them to the other side. (They have gluten-free cupcakes over there. With sprinkles.)

Yet on the other hand, I am a business owner. My business feeds my family. So I need to set and enforce clear policies and firm boundaries to protect my time, money, resources, and team. And I will not suffer nastiness, lashing out, or mean-spirited projection. In short: while my heart breaks for everyone suffering with “money stuff,” I can’t break my policies for them.

“Generosity is not a free pass for people to take advantage of us, treat us unfairly, or be purposefully disrespectful and mean.”
~ Brené Brown

When people look their resistance in the eye and treat it as an opportunity for transformation … that’s when the magic happens. And my team and I are right there, cheering them on and offering all the support we can. But just because people CAN work through their resistance doesn’t mean they WILL.

horsey

 

As every therapist, coach, teacher, and member of the helping professions must remember:

“You can lead a horse to water … but you can’t make her drink.”

I couldn’t do your money work for you, even if I wanted to. It’s an inside job. I can lead you to it … but YOU have to take the sip. No one else can do this for you.

To those of you committed to conscious money work, please know:

  • If you say you want the water, do the inner work of taking that sip. No one else can do this for you.
  • Resistance WILL arise. And YOU can choose how to deal with it.
  • Own your shit. Stop projecting. Take responsibility. Empowerment starts HERE. (P.S. when you know how to turn it right, shit is really compost, which makes your garden more beautiful …)
  • Receive the support around you.
  • Get brave and let yourself grow.
  • Financial scarcity can make us bonkers. Know this. Dissolve it with body-based practices. Stop lashing out when you’re in fight-or-flight mode, because you’re not helping anyone (especially yourself).
  • “Enough” and “not enough” money are 100% subjective. Know what you mean by these. Accept that others’ definitions will vary.
  • It’s about the money … and it’s never just about the money.
  • Everything is a metaphor. How you do money is how you do everything. When your money stuff gets triggered, ask: where else in life do you react the same way? Is it time for a smarter, more loving strategy? Why not start here, now?

Sticking to my no-refund policy is many things … including one way I practice The Art of the Elegant No.

An Elegant No isn’t “No, screw you!” It is: “with love, No. I see you’re hurting — but behaving this way is not OK. This is the line, and I will not let you cross it.”

I’ve said it before: running a business is like bootcamp for boundary-setting. We must learn the Art of the Elegant No.

For the entrepreneurs out there:

  • Provide the best services and support you can.
  • Set clear, highly visible policies on refunds and beyond.
  • Know: some people will always request refunds, special treatment, exceptions, extras, etc. Always.
  • It is up to YOU to set the boundaries that feel good and supportive to you, your business, and your customers when this happens.
  • Saying yes isn’t always the most compassionate thing.
  • Saying no does not make you a bad person (or bad at your job).
  • Stick to your policies. That’s what they’re there for.
  • Break your own rules when you must. After all: you’re the boss.
  • No matter how wonderful you and your services are, some people will insist on hating them, hogging your fries, and being jerks while they’re at it.
  • Don’t ignore them, but don’t let them get you down, either. Notice when things aren’t working.
  • Shift what needs shifting. Learn the lessons … and brush the nastiness off.
  • When someone refuses to accept the help you’re offering, know: it’s not you. Let it go. Let them go. They will accept the help when they are ready. And not a moment before.

And finally, for each and every one of us:

  • Be a smart consumer. Read the policies before you sign up for something. All online programs have a policy. Don’t like the policies? Don’t take the program.
  • Don’t expect special treatment, as a customer. Appreciate it, when given — but expected gifts are never sweet.
  • Be mature enough to recognize when something is wrong … or when it’s you who’s projecting.
  • Body Check-Ins, Body Check-Ins, Body Check-Ins.
  • Be aware of how you’re showing up, what kind of energy you’re exuding, and what the consequences are.
  • Practice healthy boundaries. That means: YOU decide when something isn’t OK. As elegantly and compassionately as you can: hold your boundaries firm.

Part of our work, as human beings, is learning how to treat each other with love and respect.

And this certainly shows up in our money work, whether it’s talking to your sweetie about the credit card bill, disputing your landlord’s late fee, or navigating the sometimes-confusing dynamics of working with your financial support team.

Another part of our work — in my opinion, the foundation of all of our work — is learning to treat ourselves with love and respect.

Listen to your gut. Honor your own boundaries so you can honor others’. When you feel yourself going into pure freakout mode, slow down and give yourself love (instead of blindly lashing out). Offer yourself as much love, patience, and compassion as you can … so you can offer it to others.

If you’re here, reading this blog? You’ve already signed up for the path less traveled. 

You’ve already raised your hand and said “yes!” to some deep healing and growing. This is oh, so brave. And rare. This tough, wacky, complex stuff I mentioned — this is some of the tough stuff that turns people away from conscious money work (or personal development of any sort).

Be brave, tough, and loving. Keep going. Take that sip. Only YOU can do it.

Cheering you on,

Bari Sig

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