Step One — Know Your Numbers: If you don’t ever look at your bank statements because you’re afraid of knowing how much you spent last month, that’s a problem. You can’t afford to be afraid to look at credit card statements, student loan balances, and other debt. I always tell people that burying your head in the sand is not the answer. You cannot conquer what you’re not willing to confront. Information is power, so arm yourself with these critical numbers: disposable income, total debt, net worth, credit score, debt free date when loans will be paid off. Once you have collected all your data, you’ll be better equipped to set goals and start planning.

With all that’s going on in our country, our economy, the world, and on social media, it feels like so many of us are under a great deal of stress. A time of high inflation, a recession, or unemployment, can be particularly stress-inducing. We know chronic stress can be as unhealthy as smoking a quarter of a pack a day. What are stress management strategies that people use to become “Stress-Proof? What are some great tweaks, hacks, and tips that help reduce or even eliminate financial stress? In this interview series, we are talking to authors, business leaders, and financial experts, who can share their strategies for reducing or eliminating financial stress. As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Lisa L. Baker.

Lisa L. Baker is a speaker, executive coach, and founder of Ascentim — an Inc. Best in Business coaching practice. During her 30-year corporate career, she accumulated a wealth of leadership lessons, which she now shares with her clients so they can achieve success more quickly. Among Lisa’s goals is to help improve financial literacy and economic well-being in underserved communities. Her coaching and speaking engagements focus on three core pillars: connections, careers, and finances.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to know how you got from “there to here.” Inspire us with your backstory!

Of course! First of all, thank you for the opportunity to talk about a topic that is near and dear to my heart. As someone who has gone through the full range of financial experiences, from down and out to successful and debt free, I think it is so important to talk openly about our money issues.

I’m someone who worked my way from the ground up in corporate America and for more than twenty years, I achieved extraordinary success in a series of leadership roles with fortune 500 companies that include Synchrony, Microsoft, Citigroup, and Bank One. I think it’s worth noting that I was one of only nine Black female executives among more than 16,000 employees at Synchrony.

That’s part of what inspired me to retire from my executive role and move into coaching. I want to help other people, women of color in particular, by teaching them the lessons that I learned the hard way. Financial literacy was a big part of that. There are so many things I wish someone had told me when I was coming up, so I really felt called to launch my coaching practice, Ascentim.

What lessons would you share with yourself if you had the opportunity to meet your younger self?

I’d tell her, “Baby girl, everything’s going to be alright.” One thing that has struck me over time is how things come together the way they were meant to, and we all end up where we’re supposed to be. It’s just hard to see the bigger picture when you’re living through the darkest days.

One thing I did a lot when I was younger was second-guessing myself. I think often, especially as women, we struggle with imposter syndrome or with not feeling worthy. I’d have big ideas and then I would talk myself out of them or overanalyze why it wasn’t worth it to just try.

The truth is you should always try! Trust your gut because your gut instinct is usually spot on. Take those risks and — this is an important one — let go of perfection. You don’t need to get it right the first time. Try to relax and enjoy the journey and just stay curious and open about where it’s all headed.

None of us are able to experience success without support along the way. Is there a particular person for whom you are grateful because of the support they gave you to grow you from “there to here?” Can you share that story and why you are grateful for them?

Let me tell you about a huge financial mistake I made as a naive freshman in college. I didn’t realize that the financial aid I received in my first semester was meant to cover the full year. After my tuition, room, and board were paid and there was money left over, I spent it on… well, who knows what I spent it on, but I definitely came up short in the spring. I called the person in my family who everyone went to for money: my brother, W. Frank Lester. I mentioned I was naive, right? I thought he’d just write me a check and send me on my way, but he didn’t. He said no. Instead, Frank connected me with someone he knew at my school, a campus administrator who not only sat down to advise me but ended up securing a housing scholarship for me that lasted for every year I stayed on campus.

There were so many valuable lessons tied up in that experience. Obviously, the importance of budgeting, reading the fine print and understanding how those funds were meant to be used. But also, the extraordinary power of connections and how a network really can be a lifeline. And not to sound too much like a Rolling Stones song — you don’t always get what you want, and it’s far better to get what you actually need.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think it might help people?

I’m so glad you asked! Yes, I am so excited about Ascentim’s signature G.R.O.W. Finances course that I launched earlier this year. It’s a 4-part series designed to teach basic financial literacy skills, including how to get out of debt, retain more income, organize and protect assets, and find financial freedom. It’s all the fundamentals that everyone should know but far too few people are prepared for. I’ve been teaching it as a live online class, but we’re going to expand in 2023 to offer on-demand classes. By making it more convenient and accessible, we can help more people get on their feet and feel less stressed about their financial future.

Ok, thank you for sharing your inspired life. Let’s now talk about stress. How would you define stress?

Simply put, I would define stress as the emotional strain and mental pressure caused by adverse, difficult, or demanding conditions. It’s our body’s natural response to situations we perceive as harmful and it impacts all of our systems — the physical, mental, and emotional. Some of us handle stress better than others; however, prolonged stress can have significant impacts on our well-being. The strain and the pressure can sometimes seem overwhelming.

In the Western world, humans typically have their shelter, food, and survival needs met. So what has led to this chronic stress? Why are so many of us always stressed out?

Despite having our needs met and enjoying many luxuries, life is just hard when there’s so much to process. Starting with our worldview and everything going on in the environment around us, compounded by the issues we have in our personal lives with relationships, jobs, and, yes, money. Then amplify it by about 1000% with the constant connectivity associated with technology and social media.

Today’s environmental factors alone are enough to stress anyone out. The insane polarization in politics, racial and social injustices, climate change, brazen economic inequality, the horror of gun violence, and the fact that we are still living through a pandemic, unlike anything we’ve experienced before. On top of ALL that is inflation and its effect on what we’re talking about today — financial stress.

The fact that these messages bombard us in news feeds, emails, and social media 24 hours a day makes it impossible to shut them out and it’s a recipe for chronic stress. I firmly believe that if more people went on a social media diet and disconnected from their devices regularly, we would be happier and healthier.

What are some of the physical manifestations of being under a lot of stress? How does the human body react to stress?

My very human body does not respond well to stress. Many years ago, during a period of prolonged tension when I was struggling financially and faced turbulence in my marriage, my hair began falling out. In clumps. It was alarming. I went to my doctor, had all kinds of tests run, and they found nothing wrong with me. It was the stress.

Everyone’s stress response is different and as unique as the individual. The most common symptoms of stress are insomnia, tension headaches, chest pains, upset stomach, and weight gain/loss. Because stress can also affect the immune system, some may experience frequent colds. It’s helpful to understand your own body’s natural stress response so you can recognize it at an early onset and do what you need to do (run, walk, yoga, massage, journal, take a day off) to alleviate it. Now, when my hair starts to fall out and the number on the scale creeps up, I call my therapist ASAP!

Is stress necessarily a bad thing? Can stress ever be good for us?

Great question. In fact, there is one type of stress, eustress, that is good for us. It’s literally the opposite of the word distress. Eustress is the name of the short-term type of stress that we feel when we’re excited, maybe stretching ourselves outside our comfort zone. It can motivate us and push us to do our best, try new things, and seek out positive experiences. This is a specific kind of short-term stress. It’s designed to get us over the finish line in a race, through final exams, or in front of a microphone to give a speech. It’s very different from the kind of prolonged negative stress we’re talking about today.

Let’s now focus more on the stress of a challenging economic time. This feels intuitive, but it is helpful to spell it out in order to address it. Can you help articulate what causes financial stress?

I can, because I work with people undergoing financial stress every day to give them the tools they need to overcome it. But let’s start with a pretty startling fact: according to the American Psychological Association’s annual Stress In America survey, “Inflation was reported as a source of stress for the vast majority of adults (83%), and the majority of all adults also said the economy (69%) and money (66%) are a significant source of stress.” That is a whole lot of people who don’t feel financially secure.

That’s really what is at the heart of financial stress — it’s an insecurity that we won’t be able to afford the things that we need to take care of ourselves and our families. It’s the fear of losing what we do have — our home, our car, our job — because we can’t pay our bills and we don’t have a safety net. In today’s economy, that’s all compounded by inflation (and hearing about inflation in the news 24/7) and concerns about the economy. People are living with high burdens of debt, and insufficient income and they’re not sure if they’ll ever be able to buy their first home or put their kids through college. Will they be able to retire someday? All of these things are the culprits of financial stress.

Personally, though, I think the biggest culprit is not having a plan for how to deal with it. That’s really where I step in and help people figure it out so they can move forward with more confidence and less financial stress.

Here is the main question of our interview: Can you share with our readers your “5 Things You Can Do To Reduce Or Eliminate Financial Stress?” Please share a story or example for each.

In all things, our beliefs are the seeds from which our reality grows. That’s why I wholeheartedly believe that building a healthy money mindset is the best way to reduce or eliminate financial stress. How do you build a healthy money mindset? It’s not as complicated as you might think — these five steps will help get anyone started on the right path:

Step One — Know Your Numbers: If you don’t ever look at your bank statements because you’re afraid of knowing how much you spent last month, that’s a problem. You can’t afford to be afraid to look at credit card statements, student loan balances, and other debt. I always tell people that burying your head in the sand is not the answer. You cannot conquer what you’re not willing to confront. Information is power, so arm yourself with these critical numbers: disposable income, total debt, net worth, credit score, debt free date when loans will be paid off. Once you have collected all your data, you’ll be better equipped to set goals and start planning.

Step Two — Create a Budget: Your budget is a friend, not an enemy. People tend to think of budgets as restrictive because they limit how much you can spend on one thing in a set period — x amount on groceries, x amount on entertainment. I take a different view and I challenge my clients to see their budget as liberating instead. This is your plan for moving forward. This is you taking charge and giving your money an assignment. As I often like to say, if you tell your money where to go, you don’t need to wonder where it went. Instead of being surprised at the end of the month and letting your dollars go where they please, you should be directing the flow with a firm hand.

Step Three — Pay Yourself First: You absolutely need to build up some savings, a cushion, an emergency fund. Too many people will say to themselves, “I can’t afford that.” Too many bills, too many obligations. The surefire way to make sure a little bit gets put aside each month is to pay yourself first. Just like taxes come out of your paycheck before you even see it, you need to automate it so that a certain portion of your income goes directly into a separate account. This eliminates the temptation to spend it and keeps that money safe where it belongs, and you won’t even notice it’s missing. Ideally, I like to see my clients set aside at least 10% of their paychecks.

Step Four — Reduce or Eliminate Debt: This needs to be a part of your budget and your financial plan. A key factor in financial stress is that we are not keeping enough of what we earn because so much of it is going to service debt. If we can get a handle on that debt, everything else gets better and we can breathe a little easier. Plus, it feels SO good when you finally pay it off.

Step Five — Ask for Help: Feeling alone in your financial stress can amplify it. Don’t make the mistake of being too embarrassed to ask for help, especially if you’re in over your head. Just about every person on the planet has made mistakes when it comes to money. Help can come from a few different places. It could be someone like me, a financial coach, planner, or advisor who can teach you how to manage your money. It could also be an accountability partner — someone you trust enough to share information with, someone you can talk to who can maybe offer some guidance or just check in with you periodically to help you stay on track. Finally, talk to those creditors. They may have programs that can help you pay down your debt, consolidation or refinancing opportunities or other useful resources.

Taking action is a great way to combat financial stress. So much of that stress comes from simply not knowing where to start. Now you do!

Can you help address some of the potential obstacles that get in the way of implementing your ideas? What can be done to clear the way and remove those roadblocks?

Having a healthy money mindset is key. Many of us didn’t grow up learning the do’s and don’ts of finances, so we might have some bad habits to unlearn. Fear and embarrassment can be major barriers if we aren’t willing to admit there’s a problem in the first place, either to ourselves or to someone who can help. And the people you surround yourself with can either be helpful or harmful. If your friends or family sabotage your success, like doing expensive things and coaxing you to come along when you can’t afford it, that can really set you back. When you consider a life partner, be sure their financial goals and how they manage money are compatible with your money mindset.

Thank you for that. We are nearly done. Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that have inspired you to live with more joy in life?

My experiences have taught me how to find joy and inspiration in many different ways — spending time with friends, listening to music, reading books, and admiring nature’s beauty. So it’s hard to narrow it down. One book stands out to me right now, however. That’s Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom by John O’Donohue.

The meaning of anam cara is soul friend. As with a loving friend, the words of wisdom in this book give me a sense of belonging while teaching me to see the world and myself in a new, glorious light. I highly recommend it!

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I truly believe I am starting my own movement through Ascentim’s G.R.O.W. Finances course. It’s so important that people know they really can take control of their finances. As I said, a lot of us don’t get the right financial education from our parents or our schooling, and this is especially true of underserved communities where there isn’t as much generational wealth. I’m on a mission to improve financial literacy, with the hopes that this generation will teach those who come after them. I hope that it changes our culture so that we talk — and teach — more openly about money and the fundamentals of financial literacy. I want to give people a simple process to follow that alleviates all that stress and strain we feel when it seems like our finances are controlling us, instead of the other way around.

What is the best way for our readers to continue to follow your work online?

I love making new connections! I’d be delighted if your readers connect with me on LinkedIn. They can also follow Ascentim on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.


  • Savio P. Clemente

    TEDx Speaker, Media Journalist, Board Certified Wellness Coach, Best-Selling Author & Cancer Survivor

    Savio P. Clemente, TEDx speaker and Stage 3 cancer survivor, infuses transformative insights into every article. His journey battling cancer fuels a mission to empower survivors and industry leaders towards living a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle. As a Board-Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), Savio guides readers to embrace self-discovery and rewrite narratives by loving their inner stranger, as outlined in his acclaimed TEDx talk: "7 Minutes to Wellness: How to Love Your Inner Stranger." Through his best-selling book and impactful work as a media journalist — covering inspirational stories of resilience and exploring wellness trends — Savio has collaborated with notable celebrities and TV personalities, bringing his insights to diverse audiences and touching countless lives. His philosophy, "to know thyself is to heal thyself," resonates in every piece.