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#89 – Redefining Debt with Michelle Steward of Financially Aligned

Do your thoughts about money hold you back?

Have you ever found yourself worrying about money or feeling anxious about your financial future? As entrepreneurs, our thoughts and beliefs about money often drive our actions, sometimes leading us down stressful paths. 💰😟

In this week's episode of the Profitable Web Designer podcast, I had the pleasure of chatting with Michelle Steward, a financial planner and financial therapist for entrepreneurs. With over 20 years of experience, Michelle helps women business owners feel confident and in control of their financial futures, using strategies that focus on creating the most ROI. 📈✨

In this episode, Michelle and I dive into:

  • 🧠 Understanding the emotional aspects of money
  • 💡 Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT) as tools for financial well-being
  • 🎯 Strategies for using debt as a tool for growth
  • 🚀 How to align financial goals with personal values
  • 💰 The surprising truth about leveraging other people's money

Whether you're looking to overcome your financial fears or want to align your finances and mindset, Michelle's insights will help you unlock your version of financial freedom and make informed decisions about your future.

👉🏻 Get Michelle's Free Training: Debt as a Tool for Business Growth

Episode Breakdown

  • [00:01] Introduction to Michelle Steward and Financially Aligned
  • [01:25] Michelle’s journey to becoming a financial therapist
  • [07:31] Common money loops entrepreneurs face
  • [12:04] Techniques for interrupting negative money thoughts
  • [25:00] How to use debt to accelerate business growth

Resources Mentioned

If you enjoyed this episode, please take a moment to leave a rating and review. Your feedback helps us reach more listeners like you!


Shannon Mattern (00:01.37)

Hey everyone, welcome back to the Profitable Web Designer podcast. I am so excited to introduce you to this week's guest, Michelle Steward of Financially Aligned. Michelle, thank you so much for being here. Can you share a little bit more with our listeners about you and what you do?

Michelle (00:28.906)

tax planner and financial therapist for entrepreneurs and specifically for creatives, healers, anyone that really identifies and relates with not doing money the traditional way.

Shannon Mattern (00:46.882)

So you pitched me to speak at the Simply Profitable Designer Summit. And I was like, this is fascinating. This is a presentation unlike anything I have ever seen. I didn't know there was such a thing as a financial therapist. And you talked about how people think about debt. And

All of those things. So I definitely want to dig into that a little bit more. But how did you become a financial therapist?

Michelle (01:25.606)

So that was a bit of a journey in getting there. You know, I went the traditional route in finance, which is to be a financial advisor and investment advisor first. And so I did that straight out of college. I got my degree in finance and it was really a love of mine since I was a teenager. So I moved into that and at the time that I moved into it, financial therapy was not a field. There was no conversation around money mindset. It was all about strategy.

And at the time we didn't even have a vocabulary for the fact that it was about strategy and not about the way we experience money. So it took a number of years for me to evolve personally, professionally, and for the industry to evolve because financial services is a pretty conservative industry. And certainly at the time that I started, it did not... There was no...

there just wasn't a conversation on anything other than facts and logic. And so what I started to notice as I started to grow my financial advisory practice was that no matter how much people had in their investments, in their bank accounts, how much they made, there was always this underlying current of stress with nearly everybody around money. And I thought that was really fascinating.

And nobody really addressed psychology either, which isn't even, you know, on the category of woo, but it just wasn't something that people were looking at. So I started to look for resources around the way we experience money internally. And there were very few of them at the time. And so I kind of kept going about my route and just doing my thing and noting and observing and...

just seeing the patterns of what was happening. And eventually what ended up happening was the industry shifted to a place where they said, oh, you know, what you have to do is you have to talk to your clients about money and what they're thinking about it. That was sort of the door opening to people's internal experience.

Shannon Mattern (05:04.774)

That is so just fascinating because I mean, I talk about money so much on this podcast. As you all, as all of my listeners know, I do a monthly income report on this podcast. I used to do them consistently on my other podcast, Pep Talks for Side Hustlers. We talk about pricing mindset, money mindset. And I personally know that for me, like,

money drives so many of my day-to-day activities that like I didn't even realize that it did, you know? Money or money anxiety or money stress or all of those things. And it's just, it's a thread that for me personally has like woven throughout the entire entrepreneurial journey in a way that I didn't realize how much it was like really driving and affecting me.

which is why I'm just so fascinated to talk to you about what you do, because it's, it's just like, part of my entrepreneurial journey has been this discovery of this thing that I didn't even know was a thing for me. So yeah.

Shannon Mattern (07:31.542)

So what are some of the common loops, for lack of a better word, that you see entrepreneurs in the spaces that you work in getting trapped in?

Shannon Mattern (10:14.786)

I can relate to that very much in terms of, like my thing is the like, do I have enough? Like it's almost this, like I just need to make sure that like, like I almost have a drive to have it all now so that I don't have to think about it again because there is this like, this like,

thought or believe, I don't know what it is that like, that it could like what I have now is all I'll ever have and it could run out. And the thing that I have to tell myself all the time is like, there's always more on the way, like you will be fine. Like I always have to tell myself that but like it drives me to overwork to be impatient to not like wait for things to pan out before I change something like

I can see all of those behaviors happening. It creates hustle and overworking for me. And it's just like, I don't know. It's just so funny to me. I don't know what my question is, but I basically, I notice, I notice it. I guess my question is how do you interrupt that? Or what do you do with a client? Not like I'm not your client, but what do you do with someone who's just like, that's my loop, I guess.

Michelle (12:04.892)

are borrowed from the mental health field. So for instance, CBT, cognitive behavioral therapy, and then also ACT is another one that we use, acceptance commitment therapy. And there's a couple of different ones that people can use. They're starting to bring more of the family systems framework into use as well. So what we're doing is we're trying to bring

What we do is we take those frameworks and then we apply them specifically to money so that we can really get to the root of where that's coming from. And it's probably not going to surprise you to learn that, you know, it nearly all comes from our experiences as children, right, growing up because, you know, we're programmed at such a young age, right? So it's this.

Shannon Mattern (12:51.328)

Oh, for sure.

Michelle (12:56.344)

It's this exploration you first start off with, okay, well, like you just said, you identify where you're at and what are some of your beliefs around it. And then you start looking at, you know, they have family genograms where you do the family history. How did your family experience money? So like for instance, in my family, it's really interesting. I'm third generation entrepreneur. But at the same time, there's also been some real key themes of scarcity and loss and abandonment.

And so that's influenced how I've experienced money. And I think the thing that is really interesting to me about why I feel that financial therapy needs to be looked at in a deeper way is that a lot of financial professionals also have their own stuff, but nobody talks about it. You know, they're just focused on managing other people's money. Um, and so when I started running into that myself, like, okay, what are

like I have blocks here, what's going on? Like I'm not feeling as wonderful as I'm supposed to be feeling. Maybe I'm not feeling so abundant as I thought I would be feeling. But that is like a clue to dig deeper. And so initially I started going to therapy for it and trying to understand. And I was able to get so far with that, it did help. But then looking at the body of work, specifically financial therapy and understanding these behaviors.

Um, that are consistent to everyone. Then you start to use those mental health frameworks and apply them, um, in different sessions, you know, and it takes time. It takes usually a series of months. There's no quick fixes, obviously. Um, but it's a slow unraveling. It's like, you keep peeling the onion back. You don't, I think you arrive at some point, like you hit us, you hit like.

Shannon Mattern (15:15.722)

I'm laughing because I experienced that like re-triggering of beliefs that I thought that I had like fully healed or gotten to the root cause of, or like overcame somehow, overcame them because I made enough money to not have to think about them or whatever. And I laugh because I'm like, oh, like last spring when I had like a series of events that made.

me feel very, that were very specifically related to money. And I just felt like so unmoored and so unsafe. And so like my freedom was like at risk and my like, like it was all at risk, which then like sent me straight back into like a hyper overwork, like how do I, you know, which the.

irony is, is that creates less money than in a business environment, you know, so trying to solve the problem was contributing to the problem. And I'm through it now, like, I'm on the other side of it to the point where I have hindsight into what is happening, whether I'm healed from that is another story, but I have I have perspective on it. And I have like, Oh, I can see what I did there. But like, when I was in it,

I couldn't really see what was going on. But it does. It's happened to me several times in my entrepreneurial journey where it's making me think, yeah, this is something that I definitely need to explore more deeply if I do want to. Because I guess I'll say this. The pursuit of money as an entrepreneur for me

has been to like create these feelings that I want to create that I think money will give me. And what I'm realizing is that is backwards. What are your thoughts on that?

Shannon Mattern (17:32.127)


Shannon Mattern (18:40.389)


Shannon Mattern (19:09.806)

Tell me more about that, like the crazy illusion around. I know that you just said like your situation is like, my situation could also be someone's like worst nightmare. Tell me more about the crazy illusion.

Like, what do you mean by that?

Shannon Mattern (19:36.332)


Michelle (20:33.161)

It's like a moving target because, you know, there's lifestyle creep, right? And you're like, oh, now I, I got this car and this is how I live now. And we go on vacations or we, we travel in ways we didn't use to, or we now have a different home and now there's more maintenance and my children, you know, are going to this school now. And so it, you know, there's just always an adding on that can happen. And so the target of enough keeps moving and it's like, we're chasing it. And I kind of think of money as like almost.

Like our relationship with a lot of times how we have been, many of us have been conditioned to think about it is almost kind of like we're abandoned children with it. Where we're like, I need you. I need you. I need you so bad, but I hate that I need you. You know, it's this push-pull kind of energy around it. Not everybody experiences that, but a lot of people experience that because of the messages of lack that we have out there.

I mean, what's interesting is like there really is enough for everybody. If you just look at like the sheer numbers out there on the planet and looking at, you know, digging into when I go back to like the logical part of my financial training, you know, where we look at economic systems and markets and the, you know, how money flows, you know, the government literally makes money. So it's like we forget these things when we're in our own little world like money.

is out there. We can access it. And it's like this, it's not just sitting, you know, and manifesting. It's not just all taking action. It's something in between that taking action, checking in with yourself. Okay, how am I experiencing this now? You know, does this feel right to me as the, it really is a mindfulness practice, I think, you know? And I think when you get to that place, you can start to...

Find some level of peace with your numbers, no matter where they're at, even if they're in a place that gets really scary. Because the reality is there's always opportunities out there, whether it's generating money or other people's money, which is kind of what I talked about in the presentation at the summit was, you know, other people's money, essentially, when we were talking about using debt in businesses.

Shannon Mattern (22:59.038)

Well, yeah, I mean, that is like the thing that really piqued my interest because like when we come back to, you know, I said I just want to feel free and safe. And one of the things that has contributed to my thoughts or contributed to my thoughts or feelings of not being safe is death.

And if we go back to childhood and where all of these things stem from, you could say on the surface that it was like money that created my parents' divorce and money struggles in my family that made us feel, made me feel like unmoored and unsafe. I mean, that was just my parents' manifestation of their stuff related to money. But that was like my internalized

um way of being and so for me like being in debt felt very uh like I could lose everything like owing money to someone felt like now they have control over me so I never want to be in the place where I owe money lots of things like wrapped up in that and then you submitted your presentation and I'm just like all of these thoughts that I have assigned

to this very basic black and white like thing of like, I bought some money from you and I'm like gonna pay it back based on the terms of this.

Michelle (24:36.931)


Shannon Mattern (24:40.23)

is causing me so much mental drama. And then I listened to your presentation, I'm like, okay, I can just let all that go. So can you give people like the cliff notes version of how you think about debt in terms of like a business or personal?

Michelle (25:00.853)

Yeah, so they're not that different actually the way that I view debt in general. I view debt like you said as you are purchasing money from somebody. That's it. You're just saying, hey, can I use your money for a little bit and I'll pay you back with a little bit more. End of story. Now, I didn't always view it that way because I also had a lot of the same... I wasn't raised on like...

you know, a homestead or anything like, yeah, you know, off grid, like I was soaking in it just as everyone else has been, right? Of like, it's bad to have debt and you got to pay it off as quickly as possible. And that was my behavior too. Yeah.

Shannon Mattern (25:34.36)


Shannon Mattern (25:41.878)

this kind's okay and this kind's not right like it's okay to have a mortgage and to have debt for that but not for this and yes for this and not for that and if you do this you're irresponsible yeah so

Michelle (25:54.841)

Yeah, yeah, exactly, right? There's all these conditions that we have assigned to it. And, you know, I mean, we used to have debtors prison. And so it's like, when you think about it from that perspective, it's like, it's pretty deep rooted the way that we as a society have treated people that have debt. But I look at the irony of it and go, huh, now does everybody experience debt like this? Oh, no, it turns out they don't.

And I think this is where my logical finance side kicks in because I step back and I start looking at percentages and I start looking at not just like our common experience, but like who's not having this experience. And the people that are not having this experience know something that we don't, which is you can use it to facilitate your growth. So they don't have the same trips about it and hangups.

around getting in debt or not being in debt. They may still have preferences, but because they've either been, you know, they've been soaking in it from how they grew up and they were taught these things, which is not most people, or because they're a little bit more removed from it. Like for instance, they might be at a company, a larger corporation and

they use debt all the time in their operations. And so they can develop different, they have the opportunities to be able to see what debt can do for you when you use it in a well-structured way. And so if you're not, I think, in that space, which nearly everybody is not, we just sort of default back to this, oh, debt is bad. You know, I got to pay off my mortgage. I got to pay off everything. Like it's, and then what ends up happening is then people

forgo some of their other goals as a result of it, like saving for retirement or saving for their version of retirement, financial freedom, even their kids' future if that's something they want to do. Then you're missing out on the returns of that, which can sometimes, but not always, be more than the interest that you're paying on your debt. I mean, there's just all these different ways to look at it, but the banks know this, the financial institutions know it.

Michelle (28:18.141)

And so it's like, if you look at this whole sort of experience around like, okay, who's experiencing debt this way? It's the majority of people, but the people that are controlling the money system don't experience debt that way. They see that it has a purpose and it can take them further. And so there's actually this very interesting philosophy called buy, borrow, die. And not a lot of people.

hear about it because it's used by really high net worth people that they'll have a lot of assets and they'll borrow against the assets. And so because of that, then you don't pay taxes on the money that is borrowed. And so when their assets get that large, they're able to literally live off of the debt of what those assets are.

backing the debt, like the collateral. So that obviously is not a place that most people are in. But if you just kind of distill it down of like, oh, wait a minute, you can use debt differently. That is an option. If you have a large portfolio of whether it's real estate or

Shannon Mattern (30:24.19)

So as you were saying that, I was having a few thoughts. Like one, the thought that I was like having about, the line of credit that I got for my business at the end of, I want to say it was at the end of 2022. One of my friends was like, hey, I just talked with a business banker at our local bank. Like you want me to like connect you with him, you can.

you know, get an SBA line of credit. I was like, I don't need that. Like things are great, you know, I don't need that. But I was like, maybe just in case, maybe just in case something happens. Like I would only give it to myself, I'd only go through the process because I had employees. And I was like, if things get really bad, then at least I will have the ability to like have this safety net to like weather the storm.

And so I think back on that and I'm like, oh, I was like, my thoughts about like, I had to use it in the right way or whatever. And I don't know, I don't know where I was going with that, but I was just thinking like, oh, I have, I'm excited to hear you talk because I'm noticing so many opportunities for me to level up my thinking around.

all of this and just kind of like going back into like my thought process of like how I was thinking about that and oh, it's kind of uncovering some core things for me that like, oh, it's only okay to use it if it's for this like righteous noble reason of protecting paychecks and whatever. And that's probably like also a very like

female oriented message, right? Like, oh, we're spending too much, but if you do go into debt, like it has to be for the right reasons. Whereas what I heard you say in your presentation, and we can like dig into this a little bit more, it's like, no, you can use it to accelerate your growth towards your goals. And one of the things I hear from so many people who want to come work with us is they're like, ah, I can't, I can't.

Shannon Mattern (32:44.102)

I can't come to work with you so that you can help me grow my business and get more clients until I make all of the money that I need to make to pay off all my debt. And they it's like a chicken egg situation for them. And I'm just like, well, yeah, you're right. That's bad. So I don't know what to tell you. And you introduced a whole new conversation about.

what this looks like and that's, you know, one of the reasons I was like, so excited to, to talk to you. So can you like share a little bit more about like for the practical, like small business owner, you know, versus the high net worth individual, like what are your, what are your perspectives there?

Shannon Mattern (38:42.093)

Storms coming.

Shannon Mattern (40:01.406)

Yeah, that was my experience too, because I just had no idea everything that was available to me. It was a process at that time to go through everything to get all of that in place, but I had no idea. I wouldn't have even known what to ask. My business banker was like...

almost like a mentor to like the world of here's all the different ways we can sell you money.

Shannon Mattern (40:38.059)


Shannon Mattern (41:19.895)

You were mentioning another angle before. What's the other angle to go?

Shannon Mattern (43:47.73)

So when you work with clients, because this is the thought that naturally comes up for me, and it's one that I'm noticing, because I'm like, oh, write that one down, you get to notice that. The thing that comes up for me is like, okay, but what if I fail? What if I have gone into this, and I'm using other people's money, and catastrophe hits, and now what?

I think that that's like one of those, one of those like thoughts that would send me into like, I'm just going to like, like hustle and pull myself up by the bootstraps and you know, basically run myself into the ground and you know, damage my relationship so that I can just make all the money myself without having to use other people's money. Like that's the behavior that like I would do to, to avoid that. So

But I know that that's a very real thought for people. It's like, well, what if it doesn't work out, then what? So I'm curious what your thoughts are about that.

Shannon Mattern (45:00.856)

Right. Easy.

Shannon Mattern (45:12.34)


Shannon Mattern (45:18.502)


Shannon Mattern (48:43.99)


Shannon Mattern (49:36.838)

Yeah, I mean, what jumped out at me when you were sharing all of that is just like, how you think about it is what's going to determine how you solve it. Like how you even, you know, like what you said before, like understanding your values, understanding why you would be.

pursuing this thing that you're leveraging other people's money to pursue and trusting yourself that you will like do the things that you need to do to make it happen. Knowing that you will hit hard spots at times and things won't work out the way that you want and trusting yourself to be able to navigate through that much better use of your time and your mental capacity and your energy.

Michelle (50:25.656)


Shannon Mattern (50:35.098)

than in the space of what if it doesn't work out because I've been in both places mentally and my actions in those places are very, very different, but the results are pretty predictable over my own journey. And so just that quick switch of what you said is just like, well, what if it does work out? I'm like, I'm going to spend my time there.

like as much as I possibly can because that's what gets me into creativity, problem solving, moving forward on those things. So this conversation has been fascinating, Michelle. I probably have 500 more things that I wanna ask you about this topic. I will definitely have to have you back on the show to dig into those. Can you?

Tell us more about how people can work with you and in your membership and what that looks like.

Michelle (51:36.418)

Yes, I too have about 500 more things that I would love to just riff on with you. There's just, it's, it's endless. So people can find me at fina and I work with people one-on-one in the areas of mindset therapy and it's, I start usually with that and then...

move into the strategy and then tactics and implementation. And I typically work with, as I mentioned, small business owners, because small business owners have very different needs than employees. And we look at money differently and variable income is much more of a challenge when you're trying to plan your financial life. So I do financial planning, mapping out either holistic financial plans or...

segments like people are looking maybe at just doing a debt pay down schedule for instance, or they're trying to reach a certain goal. And I also always include tax planning in that because tax planning is huge and especially in low overhead businesses like design, it can be one of the bigger needle movers that we don't always see with like maybe product-based businesses. So

So that's typically how I work with people. And I do have a new membership and it is around doing this work in a group format and it's about using money in a very mindful way and approaching it in a very balanced way and finding your internal compass and lining up with that.

So those are the two ways that I work with people. People can also reach out to me on Instagram at financially underscore aligned. And I love receiving emails from anyone that wants to work with me or connect or collaborate. And you can email me at hello at financially

Shannon Mattern (53:43.266)

So good. I will make sure we link up all of that in the show notes. And I just have a one final question that I ask everybody that comes on the show before we wrap up. And that is what belief about yourself did you have to change to get where you are today?

Michelle (54:01.088)

that I was not enough.

I had a serious case of not enough for the longest time. It didn't matter how many. It got to the point where I just had these crazy goals that I just kept doing to the point people were like, wow, you're a workaholic. I was like, I'm not that. I just want to do things. But then I had to step back and go, huh, I keep hitting these goals, but I'm not celebrating them. I'm like, okay, what's next? So that...

not enoughness drove me for a very long time and that had to all go. I'll have the little remnants of it pop up every now and then. I think it's natural and common for a lot of people to experience it from time to time, but it was so prevalent for me and it held me back in every area of my life. I had to boot it to the curb.

Shannon Mattern (54:59.678)

And what does that look like for you now? I mean, like, do you have a inkling of like, was it a slow boot to the curb? Was there a moment, like what was that shift?

Michelle (55:17.662)

It took time and it was like a, it was a series of events of having to get in the right direction for where I needed to be. Like I kept having these major life lessons of like, this isn't working out. That's not working out. Why isn't this working out? You know, and because like you, I'm ambitious, I'm driven, I want to make things happen, get things done. It's like you just keep pushing and you try harder and then you go, wait a minute.

maybe I'm just not, I need to be looking at this differently. So step back. So for me, it really looked like one of the pivotal things for me was being in nature a lot. That actually helped calm me down and give me a much greater perspective. So that is my daily therapy that I, and I notice if I, if I like don't spend enough time, I can be off. So just that perspective of, Hey, there's so much more.

That really helped me. It still helps me.

Shannon Mattern (56:21.99)

That is the perfect place to wrap up this episode. I'm so glad we met. I'm so grateful that you're here to share everything that you shared on the show. I will link up all of the ways to connect with you in the show notes so everyone, if any of this has resonated or piqued your curiosity, please go connect with Michelle. And yeah, I just really appreciate you being here.

Michelle (56:27.566)

Me too.

Michelle (56:46.202)

Thank you so much for having me Shannon. I'm sure we're going to keep talking about this.

Shannon Mattern (56:51.63)

Oh, for sure, for sure. All right, that's it for this episode. We'll see you all back here next week. Bye everyone.

Michelle (56:59.282)



I help ambitious women web designers reclaim their time, book web design projects they love, and make more as a freelance web designer than they ever thought possible.

I created the Web Designer Academy to give you everything I wished I would have had when I started freelancing:  step-by-step processes and fill-in-the-blank templates for your messaging, marketing, packages, consultations, sales and project management combined with next-level support so that you have everything you need to create a consistently profitable web design business doing work you love for clients you love.