Overcoming the high costs of financial shame for free

Growing up, Ellyce Fulmore was taught two essential rules about money by her parents: don’t go into debt and save every last penny. These ideas would later have a greater impact on her life. 

She didn’t want to disappoint her family and made sure to follow these rules. But one of the first things she did when entering university for physiotherapy, was take out a student loan.

After graduation, Fulmore found herself with a lot of student debt and an added high-interest loan. On top of shame, she didn’t feel confident about pursuing physiotherapy anymore, thinking she had made a serious mistake. 

“I was so ashamed and threatened by my debt that I deleted every single email from the student loan centre that came to me,” said Fulmore. 

Data collected by FP Canada in 2020 found that money was one of the top forbidden subjects in conversation, alongside politics, sex, religion and health. One in four Canadians felt it was taboo. Meanwhile, one in ten Canadians would not bring up the subject at all. 

Robert Smith is a financial counsellor at West Neighbourhood House (West NH) in Toronto. He said that generation Z and millennials are experiencing an evolving economy. 

An economy that no longer supports individuals making less than $40,000 with added pressures of student debt. On top of that is a diverse Canadian population with an immigrant background, who mostly did not have the resources to navigate financial discussions in Canada.

“No one wants to admit when they’re struggling. With money, this fear of opening up can lead to a fear of mistakes,” Smith said. “Seeing money as a threat often leads to people avoiding help, which only damages your financial situation more.” 

When Fulmore finally found the courage to reach out for help from her bank, all she was given was product information with no assistance on how to use it. 

“I felt misled and alone more than before I asked for help,” she said. 

Jeff Klein is another financial counsellor at West NH. He added that many who feel ashamed of their finances may have also had negative experiences with a bank advisor. 

“If they see you are not making enough income, have an overdraft or a late fee, there can be judgement,” Klein said. “They go through so many people quickly every day, which doesn’t take into account your complex situation.” 

According to Klein, this could lead to a domino effect. Distrust of the bank may lead people to make worse decisions. This could include taking on loans from establishments that take advantage of shame. A lot of these loans appear attractive by creating a menu similar to a fast-food restaurant. They have all kinds of loans available but no extra details about the potential risk of high-interest rates and extra fees.

“One mistake with a bank, and you’re in a spiral,” he said. “Climbing back up that ladder is never easy when you don’t feel like reaching out.”

Building confidence with financial literacy

Knowledge-Box Canada project coordinator Danny S. Wells said the first step to overcoming shame is building confidence through financial literacy. Wells, alongside program coordinators Kuruparan Nadarajah and Jennifer Vo, fight the negative stigma around financial discussion. Free programs for disadvantaged youth and women are available through Knowledge Box and Nexim International Development Organisation (NIDO) collaborations.

“We want to make sure these webinars are represented by people that make them accessible,” Wells said. “We want youth to see their experiences represented, but we also want them to feel safe enough to reach out through email or a phone call.”

A large part of their mission is to provide non-judgemental spaces to ask questions, mentorship, and personalized financial care. Spaces that can rarely be found in mainstream bank institutions. 

As coordinators and personal development counsellors, Nadarajah explains the importance of relationship building.

“Nobody ever takes time to sit someone down and tell them the first steps they need to take to achieve their goals,” Nadarajah said. “We want youth to understand that they are always included, and usually, they tend to open up over time.”

Knowledge-Box and NIDO facilitate in-person and online workshops concerning financial literacy and pre-employment, specifically for young people in low-income neighbourhoods.

“Financial literacy is important for survival in this city, so we make sure we follow up,” said Vo. “Knowing that you have that connection is what can help beat that shame.”

Personalized coaching

Shame can still affect those who have all the basics down but don’t know how to reach out for help. At West NH, Smith said financial health is encouraged through their programs as much as literacy. There, they can receive individual coaching to find the best course of action. 

They provide coaching that builds on the knowledge that one already has with individualized plans. Whether it’s deciding what to do after a tax refund, buying a car or finding a job with higher pay. 

“You are never alone in this situation,” Smith said. “Whatever your financial goal is, we will work on it together.”

Personal growth = money growth 

After going through her own experiences with financial shame, Fulmore was able to regain control by understanding her identity in relation to money. As a queer woman with ADHD, Fulmore learned about the barriers in the economic system that affect her ability to access financial education. Understanding herself as a person allowed her to understand her self-worth.

Now, Fulmore is a financial coach, business owner and successful online content creator. She has over 14,000 followers on Instagram and over 514,000 on TikTok.

“When you understand where you come from and what systems are built to prevent you from receiving help, you can adapt to find a better plan,” said Fulmore. “That is what I try to do through my social media.”

Fulmore fights the stigma around money talks by using her dance moves to cater to the target audience on TikTok—generation Z. She provides financial information in sync with her moves. 

For Fulmore, the aim is to reshape negative feelings that young Canadians feel around money. This will help them approach their finances without fear.

“I try to deliver that safe space, so young people don’t feel bombarded with information,” she said. “I want them to know that discussing money can be fun and lighthearted—not scary.” 

About the author

Reporter at Youth Mind

Rebecca Benitez-Berona is a reporter at Youth Mind. She is passionate about social justice, creative writing, reading poetry and youth mental health. When she is not writing, she is exploring nature or trying out yet another new bubble tea shop.

Rebecca Benitez-Berona

Rebecca Benitez-Berona is a reporter at Youth Mind. She is passionate about social justice, creative writing, reading poetry and youth mental health. When she is not writing, she is exploring nature or trying out yet another new bubble tea shop.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *