A Money Coach in Canada

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Love and wealth Photo credit: Selva

A story.
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There was an executive who was financially set – he was textbook Financial Planning 101. His employer provided a great pension (defined benefits, even), his financial advisor had multiplied his RRSP investments, and he owned his penthouse condo in Coal Harbour outright. Then the company wanted to replace him with someone younger who was more in touch with the online market, so they gave him a kick-ass buy-out plan. The golden handshake. As in $1M if he signed the Non Disclosure Agreement and would go away quietly anywhere but to a direct competitor.

After the initial shock passed, and some C-suite-level outplacement appointments, it was time to deal with reality. He thought to himself, “What shall I do with the $1M? My RRSPs are maxed out. I have my pension. What to do now with my life, and what to do with this $1M, what to do…” Finally he came up with a plan. “I know. I’ll buy the condo on the floor below and renovate so I have double the space, and I’ll finally buy that place in Bali I’ve been dreaming about.” Plus, his financial advisor helped him find some legitimate off-shore investments so he could save on taxes.

This made him happy. He said to himself, “Look at how well I’ve done for myself. I put myself through university, I’ve worked hard, I was disciplined with my savings and investing since day 1, and now it’s time to enjoy the good life. I sooooo deserve it after such a stressful career. I won’t return to work; I’m set for life at this point. Now, it’s time to eat, drink and have a great time.” And immediately he went out to buy the best golf clubs he could find and headed for the greens.

But just as he reached the 9th hole God said to him: You Fool!!!! Tonight you’re going to die of an aneurism and then who is going to get all that you have (so thoroughly) prepared for yourself?
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So much for the protestant work ethic, eh?

You may recall I’ve started a series, somewhat lite and somewhat maybe not, about the “7 deadly sins” and the “7 virtues”. The story above was originally told by Jesus (who had a lot to say about folks and their money) and my hunch is that it gets at the deadliness of pride. Not as in healthy pride over a job well done, or an appropriate inner sense of confidence, but this kind of pride:

As I mulled over the story above, here’s what I noticed. The man’s not being condemned for having been successful. The investments and the condo are not the issue. He’s being called a fool because he focused solely on his own good life without acknowledging that he’s part of a larger context. In fact, nobody else at all factors into his thinking.

  • It doesn’t occur to him that he was wealthy because he was born in Canada instead of Rwanda.
  • It doesn’t occur to him that his shrewd intelligence was a sheer gift, further enhanced by an affordable (in his day!) university education.
  • It doesn’t occur to him that his inner drive to work hard and succeed was due in part to a whole set of experiences in his youth which led him to believe, deeply, that success was achievable.

And ultimately, it doesn’t occur to him that he and his money had and should have any kind of connection to anyone besides himself. His pride led ultimately to a fundamental isolation. Scrooge, redux (or vice versa more accurately).

What a contrast to the joyful and life-giving generosity of the likes of Warren Buffet who is giving his fortune to charity as he himself lives on a salary of $100,000.

The point for you and me is: We too are also in the process of building up our wealth. To get quite personal, as I’m in the highest earning bracket I’ve ever been in, and as my own portfolio has plumped rather nicely, I’ve noticed just the subtlest creep of pride, as if somehow I deserve my current (operative word) blessings, rather than, well, happened to seize a few good opportunities that presented themselves. So the question is, will I, will you and I, take care to tilt in the direction of integration with our larger contexts, perhaps even a Higher Power, in happy generosity? or will we congratulate ourselves as our nest eggs grow even as we imperceptibly detach from the global, human, world we inhabit?

teetering on the edge
Photo Credit: Dr. H (Creative Commons license)

Most of us have heard of the Seven Deadly Sins. (Pop quiz: see if you can list them!). But the seven virtues? Not so much. I guess a plotline about seven virtues isn’t quite as gripping as the other.

I’ll get to those sins eventually, but today wanted to reflect on an unsung virtue as it relates to money: Temperance.

What place does the word temperance have in our cultural lexicon? Does it have any place at all? And what place does it have in connection to how we handle our money?

I don’t know about you, but it’s not a word I’ve ever used in conversation. It calls to mind bans on alcohol or the name of a Puritans’ daughter (who probably sewed really well).

But I wonder if we wouldn’t be better off – both as a society but more specifically, our bank personal bank accounts! – with reclaiming the word, and more importantly, the notion, in our collective consciousness.

Here’s perhaps a fresh look at the word and what it has to say about our financial life.

Plato looked at it this way: Temperance is used to control the desire to go against one’s free-will. (The Republic 430e) I’m guessing that most readers know, as I have in my bad-old-days, that slightly sick feeling of having over spent despite our better judgment. Not only do we have to deal with the financial consequences, but we also experience a sense of failure at a deeper level.

The Greek/Stoics word for temperance, sophrosyne, includes Soundness of Mind in its meaning. In other words, part of maturing as a human is being not driven (by, say, marketing) but to be guided by our reason in our choices. Many Greeks considered temperance to be integral to wisdom and to a good society.

Likewise, Romans such as Cicero and later Machiavelli understood tempermentia as the antidote to tyranny. A just ruler was a reasonable one, not a capricious one ruled by their mood. Julius Caesar probably practiced temperance; you can bet Nero didn’t.

For both the Greeks and Romans it was not some emasculated character trait to roll our eyes at, but a strength that led to freedom.

The million-dollar question for each of us is: what are the tyrannical forces that exert themselves on our spending? They can be external (society’s expectations, for example) or internal (eg. need to feel good).

And, how can temperance, a higher and stronger force, create freedom for us?

Remember that delicious movie, The Devil Wears Prada?  My favourite scene was the one where Miranda scorningly points out that while it may be politically correct amongst intelligentsia to dismiss fashion, at the end of the day, the colours we all select from our re-used, recycled clothing were determined months and months before by the fashionistas.   We think they don’t impact us.  But they do.  Except we end up wearing just the yucky shades of the colours they’d promoted.  I’ve had a lot more respect for the fashion industry since watching that scene!

Now that I work for government, I’m increasingly aware that government has a similar effect.  Behind the scenes (or sometimes not!) it sets policies that ultimately determine things that matter in our every day life.  Things like if tuition is affordable, if we have generous access to the internet, if more green energy options will be available, if we can book an appointment with a physician:  Or Not.

Who is in power affects us more than is readily apparent.  But it matters.  Most people will know by now about the prorogation issue. Those of us who are part of the facebook group have been challenged:  Are you just willing to click a group link?  Or will you do more?   I’ve done, and will do, more, and today, I challenge you to do the same.   Join me in putting your money where your political mouth is.

Believe minimal government is the best?  And that the government should primarily concern itself with ensuring Canada has a free market?  Give some money to the Conservatives to help them stay in power.

Believe, like me, that business is awesome, but the only good business is one that benefits people and the planet as well as makes profit? (or at bare minimum, genuinely and completely mitigates any negative impact it has on people and the planet)?  Support the Green Party.

Believe that gov’t should be more than bare bones, but rather, a coming together of middle-of-the-road Canadians, to help shape how we want to Be, as a society?  Donate to the Liberals.

Believe that the people who truly make this country work are those who day in, day out, perform the sometimes mundane tasks that create the economy in the first place?  And that we all benefit by helping people who can’t/don’t help themselves?  Donate to the NDP.

I just did.  It wasn’t anything my bank account can’t handle. But I did.  I put my money where my political mouth is.

And when you’ve done that, come back for a revisit of the fabulous Meryl Streep:

So having tweeted and facebook statussed Copenhagen multiple times daily, I was increasingly uncomfortable with the fact that I’m flying to Vancouver for Christmas.   Emissions, much?  (well, 0.7 tonnes to be precise)

Fortunately my friend and former colleague Lucinda pointed out that I could purchase carbon offsets through Offsetters.ca.

They have a handy calculator and payment system – it took me less than 5 minutes to complete – and to my surprise cost only $20Cdn.   The money will be used to install a Windfarm near Marmara, Turkey.

I dearly hope there comes a day when travelling doesn’t pollute, or at least not nearly so much, but until then, I’m happy to cough up a little more dough to deal with it.

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