A Money Coach in Canada

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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).

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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

The snow’s sad drift.
A bed unmade.
Doleful dishes strewn.

My melancholy’s showing.

Everything wrong threatens permanence: We’ll never get better, our global inequities, and neither will I have a fully funded pension and more than 3 weeks vacation when I can mentally let go of my business responsibilities. ever.

Everything right seems of no consequence: My earning power is at its peak but the world is teetering on economic collapse, if climate change and peak oil doesn’t shatter us, every last one of us, first.

Snow sadly drifts.

Why would any thinking person make a bed, clean the dishes, cozily simmer soup in such conditions?

Why would anyone download their business receivables from Paypal and tally up their net revenue and press Send Money to the psychologist who contributed a module to the program,and also press Send Money to the firm that created the site?

Why would anyone respond graciously to an email query laced with tone?

Why would anyone continue saving $50/paycheque for that 6-months-in-Detroit (yes, Detroit) for an unorthodox 50th experience? It’ll never happen.

Snow sadly drifts.

But quietly I root into resources, inner and outer, that pacify. For me:

  • last of a dying breed (see?  even here my melancholy’s showing), a mainstream-religion-member and believer, I content myself in trusting that Another has much more at stake than I do in the wellbeing of planets and poverty-crushed souls
  • and the psychologist and the firm, for them I give calm thanks:  they were good to me.  they were good to me.  So I will gather my energy, enough energy to press Send Money.
  • and the savings, all my little stratagems to realize my desires, created in better moments, these carry on with or without me (thank you, auto savings plans) and they may not reach their goal, or they may.

The snow drifts.   The bed gets made.  The dishes can wait til tomorrow.  I watch a video about Detroit.

Photo Credit:  Opaline Fracture

If there’s one passion fueling me in my work as a money coach, it’s this:

I believe our culture has gone wildly astray in our relentless pursuit of More Stuff, I believe that our planet and our we ourselves are increasingly damaged by it, and I believe it does not have to be this way if we learn to take a pause, collect ourselves, and re-imagine money and meaning.

My ultimate hope for my clients is that as they get a handle on their finances, and grow in confidence about their money, they will use the power of their dollars to make change in the world, possibly in a way that even governments and politicians won’t.

Posts in June on Wednesdays and weekends will hone in on this. Some posts will be how-to’s, while others will be more theoretical. My hope is that you will join me, and also teach me in your comments, in learning to re-imagine money and meaning.

photo credit: CyboRoZ

Using self-discipline to change your money habits will not work as well as another approach.

There is growing evidence that playing to our strengths leads to greater success and happiness than trying to compensate for our weaknesses.

You may recall that last weekend’s post underscored the need for the rational part of our brain and our instinctual side to work well together, if we want to achieve long term success in changing our money habits. Another way of saying it is: don’t over-rely on your rational side (“I can’t afford this”) to constantly whip your instinctual side (“but I want it”) into submission. Why? Because sooner or later your instinctual side will rebel and your rational side will fatigue and out will come your credit card.

The strategy of using will power is also weakness-based. It focusses attention on the undesirable behaviour. An unintended consequence can also be a hit on our self esteem: I’m someone who can’t resist a sale or I am someone who can’t say no to anyone.

Are you ready to get hardcore with me?

Here’s an alternative approach. Clearly define your strengths (with the help of others – more on that shortly), root yourself deeply into a composite of your strengths, and bring them to play vis a vis your money habits.

On Saturday, I’ll provide an exercise to help you do just that.

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I remember when I didn’t hope for much at all, financially. I’d read about folks who put $500/month or more away into their RRSPs and they seemed so very far away from me. Who were these people, I wondered, who had $500 a month to spare?

For several years during and after University (grad ’93), I experienced frustration: I was bright, educated and capable, yet somehow the life that included $500/month RRSP contributions (and the sophisticated condo and the great wardrobe and the espresso machine) seemed as far away as the moon. Looking back, I now realize we early Gen-Xers genuinely did have a rough go of it – the baby-boomers really had crowded us out as we tried to find our first McJobs; we graduated with particularly steep credit card and student debts; and on top of that Vancouver’s real estate went nuts so it was really hard to even start on that core asset.

I didn’t even know how to hope for much.

And then through a set of events most readers know, I had a turnaround. It wasn’t high drama, but it was a determination to shift things. And they did over the past 1.5 decades. They did.

Here’s one goal I’m still working on: financial independence. I have a figure in mind that I need and it’s a figure that at one point felt impossible. It no longer feels impossible – this money coach is a chunk of the way there!

All I’m saying is this, to those of you who feel stretched, who struggle to make ends meet or who are fatigued of trying: don’t give up. Give yourself permission to hope – and keep hoping. We need to live our lives, day by day, with an underpinning hope. I’m not talking magical thinking here, I’m talking hope.

It’s the first week of Advent, the week of Hope. Religious or not, I encourage us each to lift up our hearts, strengthen our spirits and live out of hope.

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