A Money Coach in Canada

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Women, I’m agitated.

A g i t a t e d.

And my bottom line, which I’ll get to, is: It’s really, really, really important that we, as part of our definition of being self-possessed women, have our collective financial acts together.

What happened was this.

For lack of an iPad or magazines, I watched Dr. Phil on the flight down to Vancouver and my stomach has been quietly churning ever since. It featured a young woman, now 23, who had videotaped her father, a Judge, whipping her with a belt under the guise of “discipline” when she had been 16.

This was in 2004.
Not 1955, 1765 or 1800.
2004.
2004.

It was a barbaric, violent act against a woman to begin with, but two further aspects have me nearly choking down vomit.

1. The first was the mom, who later was clearly remorseful, but at the time, do you know what she said to her daughter? What she said was: Lie on your stomach and take it like a grown woman.

WTF?

WTF?

WTF TAKE IT LIKE A GROWN WOMAN? What’s that supposed to mean? What?

2. The second thing that sent me over the edge is that a sizeable portion of the online commenters not only thought it was ok, “kids these days need discipline”, but thought she was in the wrong for posting this and shaming her father. I know, I know, I know that online commenters tend to be the oddballs of society with time on their hands — or so we should hope, anyway, judging by the quality of most online comments. But still!

So in 2004 we have judges who think it’s ok to whip their teenage girls and mothers who think women should lie on their stomachs and take it, and a whole lot of folks who think that it’s justified to use height, weight, strength, belts against 16 year old girls. In North America.

I’m obviously not ok with it, and I’m hoping to hell you’re not ok with it either. Not at all ok with it. I hope society steps up, and with due process, seriously sanctions the father, the judge. I hope society overwhelmingly condemns this act.

But I doubt it will.

I doubt it will, because women are still not equal, or perceived as equal, or perceived as powerful. If we were, would a man dare to treat a woman like that?

Which brings us back to us women and money.

Being organized with your money isn’t about that great holiday. It’s not about feeling good about yourself. It’s sure not about buying Fluevogs (which is not to say I don’t!)

BEING ORGANIZED WITH MONEY IS ABOUT POWER, AND DON’T ANY OF US FORGET IT.

Our place in the world – such as it is, and after engaging in this episode I’m wondering if we’ve come that far after all – has been, and will be, hard-won. It’s been won by women courageously facing scorn and criticism and derision (not unlike that heaped on #occupy folks) who persevered in insisting women should vote, even at the cost of being brutalized in jail. It’s been won by women who wore themselves out being both moms and career women. It’s been won by women who endured harassment and quietly continued to do good work despite a hostile environment.

We’ve come this far. Let’s not fuck it up by complacency! And since money is power (witness who drives public policy), all I can say is that we women need to get very serious about our money, get serious about being savvy, and get serious about using our money to shape our society. Until we do, it will still be ok to whip young, vulnerable girls with impunity.

Forgive me in advance for how uncharacteristically direct I’m about to be below. Here goes:

1. If you’re not spending time to effectively manage your day-to-day money, your priorities are out of whack, and you’ll soon be out of the game if you’re not already.

2. If you think money is not important, or something you are too good for, you are kidding yourself. Money is a powerful energy and if you’re not in control of it, it’s probably in control of you.

3. If you think managing your money is about “creating the life you want”, your vision is too small.

Last, a confession. I’ve grown complacent myself. Over the past couple years, having significantly more than enough for my needs, I’ve been lax on my active management. Oh, I’ve set up auto-donations to causes, I seek out fair-trade/organic, a blend of truly worthy and feel-good, but I’ve lost sight of the Mammon aspect – that money is power. And I can wield it. And I’d damn well better.

And I will. Over the coming weeks, I’ll post (amongst others) what I am personally doing to make my own finances even more robust and, God willing, effect social change.

Photo Credit: European Parliament

Word. The particular story and thoughts that follow derive from my faith tradition, ie., Christianity. I’m writing with my fellow Sojourners in mind, primarily. Those of other persuasions may also connect to the broad theme of the post (and I hope you do).

*****

The question was so loaded it was life-threatening and Jesus knew it.

“What do you say, Rabbi?”
“Is it lawful to pay this tax to Caesar?”

The offence of the tribute tax went deeper than just having to cough up money when you were already the oppressed. The currency in which the tax had to be paid inherently served as imperial propaganda before the age of advertising: Its imagery of Caesar made devastatingly clear who had the power and who was the vanquished. It was scorchingly and humiliatingly personal too, an item you held right in the very palm of your hand.

You have the coins and it means you are colluding and integrating with the Empire and the cult of emperor worship. You don’t have coins and you are outside the economic system and you probably don’t survive.

To be asked by the religious leaders “Is it lawful [by God as the Hebrews understood him] to pay the tribute tax?” is damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Answer “yes” and as a Jewish Rabbi you are now colluding with the Romans against God’s people. Answer “no” and the politicos in the crowd who helped frame up the question would legitimize killing you.

You know how Jesus answered the question. He first asked them to produce a coin (think of the implications of that), then asked the counter-question, “Whose image is on this coin?”. If you don’t know the rest of the story, it’s here.

What does this story say to us, two thousand years and a few cultures later?

Our coins, of course, are different. “In God we Trust,” some even read. Nonetheless coins, currency, money, are a construct of the empire (or world, if you prefer) in which we live. This empire does not crucify people or crush dissidents by leaving corpses rotting in our streets as a message to our families and communities or fund circus-spectacles featuring grotesque slaughters of men and beasts. But it is other. It is a construct. Unlike water, air, grain, milk, items all freely given to us as the necessities of life, money is a medium we humans created.

For some time now money hasn’t even been coin per se, nor even a representation of coin, but rather electronic blips and bytes representing ideas so complex and convoluted and separate from pretty much everything we know and understand that, frankly, we’ve pretty much lost track of it. It represents empire.

I argue this then. A healthy (holy?) stance towards money involves an internal distancing from it. I don’t mean negligence. I don’t mean rogue attempts to bypass currency with bits of silver or gold. Like it or not, we are as integrated with our empire as the Jews were in the Roman Empire. But let’s understand that money is no less a thing of “Caesar” now than back then.

Questions.

What does it mean when we assert our right to our “hard earned money”?

Are we consorting with the empire?

Photo Credit: HowardLake

By all accounts it wasn’t fair.

The men had arrived at 5:30 am, the frost still biting on the ground, coffees in hand.   They formed a rough line along the sidewalk, standing facing the street.  Mostly, they were the illegals.  At about 5:40 the first trucks began to appear and man by man they were called over to jump in the back of the truck.  By 6:15 only the motley were left – one with an obviously gimped leg, another whose bleary eyes betrayed the night before, another who just looked too damn timid for the hard work of the fields.

The trucks dispersed across the land to the vineyards where the men expertly got to work, picking, picking, picking.  First the sun warmed and cheered the morning.  By mid-day it was merciless and water breaks were an unwelcome intrusion, but necessary to keep up the relentless pace until sundown.

At 4pm, something unexpected happened.  Another truck arrived, carrying the men who had been left behind in the morning.  Those leftover men got a quick tutorial from a supervisor, and joined in the silent work.  During the next quick break, word got out:  the landowner had a larger quota than usual to supply to the chain store the next morning, and needed the berries picked asap.

Finally 8pm came, and the men lined up for their money –  cash, of course.  The gimped-leg man was first to be paid and word spread like wildfire that he had received a full days wages.  Same with the timid man.  That’s when the rumours flew: The daily rate had jacked up.   The crew of  leftover men received the usual full days wages, but in fact it was only half-days wages because of the new rates.   So those who had started in the early hours of the morning would be getting double their usual today.

As news of this spread down the line, each man immediately calculated what they would do with the extra money and started the math:  What would they make this entire week, then?   For some, it meant something as earthy as a whole lot of booze.  For others, it meant getting some better boots.  Some of the more sentimental among them thought of surprising their children with gifts.

But it didn’t work out that way.   Not at all.  When the first labourer who had started with the early morning crew expectantly held out his hand, he received the same amount as usual, that is to say, the same amount those who had started at 4pm.  received.  He stood there a moment longer, looking at the boss.  The boss shrugged and turned his body to the next man waiting his pay. Same thing.  The usual amount.  And just as quickly as the excitement had built down the line, the disappointing news spread.

Strange how what feels normal and fair at the beginning of the day can be a real letdown mere hours later.

As the men clustered back to the waiting trucks, their tones were bitter.   And their tones were overheard by the landlord who had just driven in to review the day’s harvest.   Seeing the resentful looks, he approached one threesome and asked what the problem was.  Two of the men just looked at the ground but Joe spoke up:  We worked all day for you.  From the cold morning through the heat, all day into the evening.  But your boss gave us only the same amount as he gave the crew that arrived at 4pm.

A flash of understanding and some anger crossed the landlord’s face.  “What is it to you, what I paid them?  Did I cheat you?  Didn’t you agree to the wages at the beginning of the day?  Aren’t those very wages now in your hands?”

The men still looked at the ground, saying nothing.

“Look,” the landlord said, “It’s my money to do with as I please.  With that last crew, I wanted to make sure they could feed their kids tonight and pay their rent – it’s rent day, remember?  Are you angry that I was generous?”

End of story.

Questions:

  1. In what ways are you resentful of those who seem to have gotten a better deal than you?  (I ask myself this too).
  2. In what ways does our culture set us up for this resentment?
  3. How would it benefit you to instead by content with what you have?

I grew up with a keen awareness of what we could not afford. This was exacerbated by living a lower-middle-class life in Canada’s highest-per-capita income city and also by the fact that my two best friends during my formative years were in decidedly different socio-economic demographics (not that it was ever, not even once, flaunted).

The kinds of holidays, the size of homes, the clothing, the bedroom decor, even the refrigerator contents –  I knew what we could not afford. Most of the time it didn’t bother me, at least not consciously.   But still, I knew.   And over time, and combined with some other life circumstances, I developed what I’d call a poverty mindset. A poverty mindset is one whose default is “only just enough, if that”.   It is one that is quietly (or not)  suspicious of wealth and wealthy people.   It is one that either desperately pays attention to managing money, or avoids it altogether.

A poverty mindset kills the joy and good energy around money.

Long ago, I loosened this stranglehold mindset, and now money, and my mindset around it, means something entirely different.  Night and day different.  I’ll post about my new mindset later, but in the meantime,

Here are two techniques that helped me break out of that mindset. You can do it too, and you can help your kids do it.

1.  Replace “I can’t afford it”   with “How can I afford it?”

Do you feel the difference?  The former stifles all possibility.   The latter opens up possibility and invites creative response.  It creates options.

Bonus:  this one is a great one to use with kids and helps them inculcate a mindset of financial possibility from the get-go.  Next time they ask for something, ask them to come up with ideas on how they can afford it  (emphasis:  how they can afford it).

2. Cool visualization exercise – the dissolving flower / cloud

If you suffer a poverty mindset, there are probably a number of  unhelpful beliefs and feelings towards money riddled throughout your mind and heart-of-hearts.   These will be influencing all your approaches to money.  Here’s what to do with them.

a. Sit somewhere quietly, close your eyes, and take a few deep, full breaths to centre and focus yourself.

b. Visualize either a flower with many petals or a cloud floating in front of you.

c. Let each unhelpful belief come to the surface of your mind, then take that particular belief and place it on a petal or the cloud.

c. Do this for as long as the various beliefs or thoughts arise, each time placing it on the petal or cloud.

d. Then allow that flower or cloud to float away from you further and further into space and (important) as it floats away, visualize it dissolving.   The petals gently separate from the flower.  And then each petal and the core begins to simply, softly dissolve into nothing as it continues to float away into infinite space.   I you visualize the cloud,  imagine it gently pulling apart from itself into smaller and smaller drifts as it moves further and further away.  Each flower or cloud becomes nothing.

e. Re-emerge to your day, open your eyes, take a deep breath and experience the lightness and freedom after the release that will have occurred.

Do this exercise as often as you need to.  And if you embrace these exercises, I’d love to hear how they play out for you, so pop back and leave a comment.

PS – if you want to start managing your day-to-day money effectively, my online program will give you a solid foundation.  Even if things are a bit tight for you right now, it will help!  And it’s affordable for just about anyone, at $25.

update: for a recap of all Sept Money 101 posts, click here

Photo Credit: lalunablanca

Do you speak up on the job? Or do you keep your head down? While you might quietly believe something going on is wrong do you prefer to just keep doing your job and let The Others deal with it? Most people do, I think.

A manager of mine once made the remark, “we’re all responsible for our own eco-systems”. I think she was fed up with the griping about the senior management team. And she’s right, I think. Our work is such a vital part of our life (it’s called a livelihood with good reason!) that we hesitate to rock the boat. Yet in my experience, not speaking up, not rocking the boat, will ultimately exact its own price.

The price could be your health.

The price could be your coworker who gets taken down. (Which at first may seem like a relief, * phew! It wasn’t me *, but once they are gone … who is left? What will the fall out be and how will it affect you? Because it will.)

The price could be the company itself.

This is on my mind particularly today because of news I hadn’t heard earlier which affects pretty much all of us.
Follow this trail with me:
The global financial crisis that has us bouncing around? That was triggered by the sub-prime mortgages debacle?Those sub-prime mortgage investment bundles were given AAA status by S&P and other ratings agencies.

They should not have been. (HELLO).

Apparently S&P staff analysts would challenge the ratings given by S&P to various investments and companies, but their managers would x-nay those challenges, and it’s thought that was because the managers didn’t want to piss off those companies, who were paying them for the ratings.

End result: Pension Funds, Banks, Mutual Funds and individuals bought those sub-prime-mortage ridden investment bundles under the impression that they were AAA quality. And we know what happened. The whole western world is teetering.on.the.brink.

It’s not hard to imagine how it could have played out in the cubicles.

One nerdy math-y person, James, does the spreadsheets and the numbers just don’t add up. In fact, they’re kinda damning. So he quietly goes into his boss’s office, “uhh, boss? ” and the boss hears James out, but is secretly irritated because he knows what his own boss, the Director, is going to say and he just doesn’t want to deal with it. Nevertheless, in a low-key way he presents the findings to to the Director who as predicted shrugs it off and tells the boss that they need to rate it AAA.

So the boss does, because he’s a chain-of-command kinda guy, and James is somewhat disgusted but he’s not one to make a fuss so he doesn’t. But his stomach starts to kinda hurt, even as he rationalizes his higher-ups decisions.

Down the hall, same thing happens to Sarah. Over lunch one day, James and Sarah get to talking and find out the same thing happened to Mike on the floor above. It doesn’t feel very good.

Word gets out. They all respond differently. Most just don’t want to think about it that much and they have a lot of other work on their desks to think about anyway. Some are disillusioned but they want the paycheque. Some shift the blame “upstairs” and don’t think about it anymore at all. And some … some are weasels who are more interested in their careers than their team so they just keep their ear to the ground and relay that info up the chain in the hopes that they will become part of the club upstairs (and lo and behold, some do).

And then there was Chris. Chris had seen the movie before and was fed up so he spoke just a little more loudly. And argued a little more with his boss. And didn’t let it rest. And it embarrassed his boss. And his name started being spoken of upstairs. And then one day … he was gone.

Message received. Message received by James, Sarah, Mike and all the others who had flagged that there might be a problem with giving AAA ratings to investments that in fact were set up for disaster. Message received that their livelihoods were at stake. Message received that their company was not in fact a place of neutral ratings, but was set up to ensure profits and bonuses for the people upstairs, the ones who held the analysts’ livelihoods in their hands.
They got it.

I don’t know how they (in this imaginary, for the record, world) reacted when things went all to hell. Did they lose sleep? Did they justify it to themselves (I imagine I would)?

For every Chris in different organizations, there must be, what, 250 folks who are passively or actively complicit?

Caroline Herron, a former VP at Fannie Mae spoke up. So did an interesting accountant dude named Roger Barnes. I wonder what their coworkers did?

Senior VP of Finance at Lehman Brothers pushed back over their accounting “gimmicks” in 2008 and lost his job. I don’t believe it was coincidence that he was downsized, do you?

Joseph Kus has something to say about Merrill Lynch’s breaches of FSA regulations. It sounds like his coworkers not only kept their heads down, but actively hounded him for his audacity.

My point? There is a cost to you and me, down the road, when we don’t speak up. When we look at our ricocheting portfolios or when our property values plummet, remember the folks to tried to speak up. Remember their coworkers who looked the other way because that was easier. And then consider your own workplace and those who attempt, perhaps with finesse or perhaps in a bungling-it-up way, to speak up. Are you supporting them?

Photo Credit: Truthout

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