Shining a light on the emotions of money
There’s an Ag For That
By Clémentine Sicard
Finances are among the top sources of stress for Americans
- 77% of Americans report feeling anxious about their financial situation
- 73% find that finances are the number-one cause of stress
- 58% feel that finances control their lives
- 52% have difficulty controlling their money-related worries
- 42% have trouble sleeping due to financial stress
*According to 2020-21 Mind over Money and CreditWise Capitol One surveys
Personal finance advisor Amber Berry ’14 strives to help people not only improve their financial situation, but another equally important—yet not as commonly treated—part of finances: their mindset.
It’s a well-known fact that finances are a stressful part of people’s lives, and yet when Berry began exploring a career as a personal finance advisor, she realized that most of her training didn’t cover the emotional side of money management.
Berry, who earned a B.S. in anthropology, took matters into her own hands to learn more about how she could help others on a deeper level.
“A lot of the curriculum out there doesn’t have that much information about the people part of managing money,” she explained, “so I took a break from my money coach training to do more volunteer work to understand more about the human element of finances.”
She volunteered in crisis counseling, tax assistance and in hospice care. These experiences all gave Berry the opportunity to engage with everyday people in emotionally charged settings.
“Volunteering and educating myself on the different resources has been really helpful,” she said. “Even if I can’t help someone myself, I know how to get them the help they need.”
Launching her own business
After completing her training, Berry started her own company, called Feel Good Finances, so that she could help people in her own way and provide the emotional support she felt was missing in the industry.
In one-on-one sessions with clients, Berry helps them unpack the story of their current profiles and figure out what needs to be addressed for their growth and security.
“Each person’s journey is different,” she said. “I always start by doing a triage and figuring out if someone is in a crisis. From there, we look into what’s going on in their financial situation.”
Sometimes, Berry explained, a person’s financial challenges can come from a traumatic experience like being scammed or in an abusive relationship. Often, victims remain financially behind because they haven’t received the support they need to help overcome the losses.
“My goal is to always provide a safe space for people to tell the whole truth so that I can actually get them the help that they need,” explained Berry. “Sometimes they may need a therapist or social services resources, so it’s important to be aware that a person may need much more than a spreadsheet or budget to get their finances together.”
Once she’s helped a client uncover the sources of their stress, they can pinpoint which financial habits are working and which ones need improvement.
“Until a person has a chance to really explore what their behavioral trends or patterns are, they can find themselves stuck in a rut,” Berry explained. “It feels really great give someone the opportunity to evaluate what they’re doing and find a solution that makes sense for them.”
On the other hand, Berry explained, people aren’t always doing as badly as they think, and she can help them feel more empowered about their financial situation.
“Sometimes people think they are doing terribly and are heading for financial ruin, but I can help them find clarity,” she said. “It’s so rewarding to be able to give them that sigh of relief.”
Creating an accessible service for everyday people
Berry’s inspiration to work in personal finance partly came from her own experience as a college student seeking financial advising. While she was an undergraduate, Berry started listening to personal finance podcasts to help her navigate common college-age topics such as buying a first car or learning how to save money.
However, she realized that it was hard to find the information that she was looking for. Up until recently, Berry explained, the financial advising industry was not very accessible to most people.
“I was looking for someone who would resonate with me, but I had trouble finding a space where I belonged. Most financial advisors worked with people who had a certain amount of investable money, usually in the six-figure range,” she said. “So where did the regular people like me go for help? Did a spot exist for us?”
As she explored more about finances herself, she realized that she could start helping others and teach in ways that would resonate with many.
“I decided to create my own space with what I’d learned and help bridge that information gap for others as well,” she said. “Finding ways to make my services accessible has been a lot of work, but it’s also been extremely rewarding.”
A helper at heart
Along with running her business, Berry remains a proud Aggie—she works as a driving instructor for Unitrans and a facilitator for First Year Aggie Connections (FYAC), the interactive program that helps students navigate their first year on campus.
Her leadership roles at UC Davis are partly inspired by her own positive experiences finding a community on campus as an undergrad. Berry participated in the Educational Opportunity Program summer enrichment orientation and the Biology Undergraduate Scholars Program.
“Having a home base community and advisors was so important,” she said. “The support was really helpful to not getting lost in the fray in college.”
She now teaches her FYAC cohort the basics of personal finance as they deal with college-related financial topics like applying for credit cards, renting a first apartment or learning how to file taxes.
“If I can teach freshmen even just one thing while they deal with their first year of college, and help them feel a foot further than when they first walked in the door—then I’ll feel like I’ve succeeded.”
In fact, this is Berry’s mentality across all of the fields she works in—whether she is advising someone on their finances, mentoring freshmen or teaching a student how to drive a double-decker bus.
“Over the years I’ve learned that I love teaching people and helping them put the pieces together while I do my own work and learning,” she said. “I never thought I would end up doing all these jobs after graduating, but I’m just grateful to have been able to help others in different ways over the years.”