“If you want something, then you need to earn it.” is the money message embedded in my brain since I was old enough to want something for myself. I sold soft pretzels most every weekend at a suburban shopping center when I was 11, and I launched a party business, employing classmates and friends, at 15. While the majority of my career was in nonprofit leadership positions rather than in pursuit of a larger paycheck, the constancy was full-time work and financial independence.
Recently I was recounting a trip to Australia from thirty years ago (that I paid for with money that was left to me by my great grandmother who loved to travel) to my father. I was reminding him that I ran out of money when I got to Tahiti. I slept on the airport floor for two nights instead of exploring the island and then headed directly home, all the while realizing that I was in Tahiti. He looked at me and said “I would have given you the money”. While staying in Tahiti for a few days when I was 20 would have been magical, asking my parents for money never struck me as an appropriate request .
It’s important to know what money message that we carry around and how that impacts the decisions that we make in how we live our lives. By increasing our awareness of our own story, we can let go of the message(s) that no longer serve us, and proactively decide what money message we want to live by, pass on to our children, and communicate to others. Our approach to money affects how we live and how we give. I still live within my means at all times, but perhaps knowing what I know now, I would have found a way to explore the island, or at least left the airport.
Moreover, my family and I find ways to have purposeful discussions about our allocation of resources, considering our various needs and wants, as well as our desire to be charitable and to pursue impact and change in our community, country, and world. While we certainly haven’t mastered this, we have intentionality around our spending and are trying to strike a balance between what’s enough to support our needs and desires and what’s needed to support the world we want to live in.
I recently worked with a couple who wanted to create more focus with their philanthropic activities. One partner in the relationship was conditioned with the message, “You don’t talk about money” while the other partner had “never spend the principal, live within your means, save for a rainy day” hard-wired into his daily life and actions. As they began talking about their emotions around money (and seemed surprised at what they learned about each other), they wanted to share their aspirations for the message that they wanted to convey to their children. Collectively, they wanted their daughters to understand that “Money can’t buy happiness” and “It’s your responsibility to give back”.
Talking about their deeply embedded money messages helped them to gain more clarity on the values that they wanted to impart to their children as they began to get strategic and purposeful about their philanthropy. Are your values aligned with your money messages? In order to get clear, answer these questions:
- What’s your money message?
- Where does it come from?
- What does it mean to you?
- Is it the one that you want to communicate to others?
- What would you do differently in order to change it?
While our money messages are deeply embedded into the fiber of our being, awareness is the first step to consciously creating new pathways to a desired money message that guides our living and giving.