How The Financial Gym Helped Me with 3 Huge Life Changes

Our clients are our “why.” We love their stories and hearing of their successes. Every month we share a few client stories.

Elena Douvanis Irwin is a life coach and full-time graduate student at New York University, studying counseling for mental health and wellness. She lives in New York City with her husband and two cats. If you want to connect, you can find her at @elenadouvanis on Instagram.

Clients Elena Douvanis Irwrin and Ben Irwin

Clients Elena Douvanis Irwrin and Ben Irwin

Nine months ago, I changed everything about my life.

In the span of a few weeks, I left my corporate job, got married, and started a full-time master’s degree program at NYU to pursue a brand-new career as a mental health counselor.

That may sound like a lot—and it is—but I’m a big fan of Gretchen Rubin’s Strategy of the Clean Slate . A clean slate offers opportunity and possibility, and a new life means it’s easier to start new habits, right?

The truth is, I had no idea!

My husband and I were now living on one salary instead of two (supplemented by my student loans), and navigating the mystical task of combining our married finances while also tackling debt.

Enter The Financial Gym.

Well, actually, enter me going solo to a boss babe panel event at the Gym and accidentally learning about all the ways they could help us.

I loved listening to the powerful and successful women on the panel, but the unexpected benefit of my attendance was learning about the holistic, collaborative, and educational approach that The Gym takes to financial advising. I signed up for a Workout Warm Up Call on the spot.

For years, I had been looking for a way to get my finances together, but I didn’t really know how to start. To be honest, I was really scared of being judged for decisions I’d made or being talked down to like I didn’t matter. At the Gym, I didn’t need to worry about that, so my husband and I decided to embrace the clean slate.

Here’s what we’ve learned so far.

Financial training is its own form of couples therapy.

Let’s talk about money avoidance and financial trauma for a sec, shall we? As a future therapist, this type of thing fascinates me. At my former corporate job, I was able to successfully manage multi-million dollar advertising budgets, yet at home, I was all but ignoring my own finances. My husband still breaks out in mild hives when it’s time for our weekly Cash & Coffee conversations. Why is this?

Ben and I both graduated from college during the 2008 financial crisis, and because of that, our relationships to our jobs and salary stability have always been a little shaky. Overall, millennials are poorer than our parents’ generation. There’s no shortage of student loan debt among our peers, rents are high, home ownership is low, and retirement can seem like a distant dream.

These are some scary things to contend with, but we have the power to take small steps to better our financial future. We needed a support system to be successful though.

Our trainer, Jenn, is a financial expert with a neutral viewpoint on our feelings, which helps us keep our money emotions in check. By the way, working with a trainer doesn’t mean giving up everything fun in life. Right off the bat, Jenn talked to us about our non-negotiable items so we could build them into our budget: Sephora for me. Technology for Ben. Dining out occasionally for both of us. No more “no lattes for you” financial shaming.

We have a plan. And I love plans.

One of the big reasons behind my financial avoidance was lack of direction. I knew if I sat down to look at my accounts, I wouldn’t feel confident in what to do next. This is where our Training Plan comes in (cue angels singing). Based on our goals⏤not some generic financial template⏤Jenn put together an individualized plan that is like our North Star.

Don’t know what to spend on groceries? Consult the plan. Don’t remember how much we’re supposed to put in savings? Consult the plan. What’s our travel budget supposed to look like again? CONSULT THE PLAN.

The days of crossing our fingers and hoping for the best are over. Even if we do fall back into old habits, we know we have to answer to Jenn at our monthly and quarterly check-ins. There’s nowhere to hide anymore, and for us, that’s a good thing.

I love learning, and the Gym’s philosophy encourages personal agency and active participation in your finances, rather than just handing things over. Jenn is helping us to break down our financial walls and remove the intimidation factor around money so that we can plan for our own future.

Are things always perfect? Hell no. Sometimes we have a bad week or order too much delivery. But Jenn doesn’t judge us; she is there to help us get back on track and remind us to schedule budget-savvy fun when we get too hard on ourselves. It’s a process. And it’s OK not to be perfect, as long as we’re trying.

My mind on my money and money mindfulness on my mind.

A lot has changed since we joined the Gym last fall. We’ve totally frozen all credit card spending—a big culprit for us when we moved to the city. We’ve brought down our average monthly expenses and built up our emergency fund, which was non-existent after our wedding. We’ve massively improved our credit scores as we chip away at our debt, and I practice multiple no-spend days each month, which is great for money mindfulness.

Our budget it still a work in progress, but we’re less afraid to tinker with it now. If we keep going down this path, hopefully we’ll be able to hit our big goals of traveling, buying a car, and maybe even a house! (Hey, a city girl can dream.)

If financial literacy seems daunting, but even a piece of you is thinking about it, get started today. I promise you that done is better than perfect. As you gain more knowledge, you’ll start to feel in control of your money—and your life—and that is priceless.

Client Contributor