Introduction: A bit overdue

I was raised by a teacher and a social worker, so when I decided to study personal financial planning I felt as if I was turning my back on my family’s entire cultural identity.  As a child, my parents taught me about the injustice they saw and experienced each day as the lower classes (us, and the people that they served at work) were left behind while the rest of society chased after industry.

My grandmothers, on the other hand, were both trust-fund babies – daughters of men of science who made great advancements in the film and energy industries.  The money my family had in previous generations served as a thorn in my parents’ side as they watched their mothers dwindle away in loveless marriages, and yet cling to the ‘society’ that money allowed them to keep.  Remember, they were women in the 1950’s – not a time of great tolerance for ‘subversive’ women. By the time I was born, there was a clearly defined culture in my home that assumed money was a necessary evil, but was not something we were permitted to desire, respect, or focus our attention on – if we were to be ‘good’ people.

It is no great wonder, then, that I was a financial mess well into my twenties.  I had no financial training, but what’s more I had been indoctrinated into the message that so many of us hear, “You either care about money OR you care about people.  Your choice will define who you are.”  It was this message that blocked my way to personal financial progress for many years.

At 27, I held a degree in Mathematics, so I couldn’t blame a lack of ‘number sense’ for my financial disorganization. I wanted to get control, but it wasn’t a budgeting class that I needed, it was a new way of thinking about money. Only when I was exhausted from the strain of financial worry did I finally defy my family culture and take the plunge into financial education.  The personal journey I took from hand-to-mouth living and massive credit card debt to becoming a financial counselor and educator is just as important as the financial skills I’ve gained along the way.

I had to challenge one of the most basic messages I’d ever been taught.  I had to decide to believe that I could care about people AND still care about money.  I believe firmly that we cannot create lasting financial change in our lives without personal reflection on how our money attitudes and habits were formed.  It is my experience that drives me to reach out to others.  We have a culture that marries financial success with personal value, yet many hard working people will die of starvation this very day.  It is my opinion that financial education must address the human side of money if it is to make any deep or lasting impact. Not everyone will become a financial expert, but I work hard to both teach and empower people to have a stronger, healthier relationship with money so they can work with all of their resources to create the world they wish to see.

Because we each have a unique personal history, this type of introspection is not easily taught in a classroom or consulting format.  Couples facing bankruptcy in their mid 50’s through debt or business investments that didn’t grow as expected need more than a budgeting course.  Teenagers looking to find their place in the working world need something better than “Spend less than you earn,” to guide them.  I have little confidence in traditional money management classes to create lasting change in people with destructive spending habits.  Those who need it most are usually the least likely to listen.

However, as I have worked with the community over the past 2 years, I have seen teenagers, young adults, business owners, and couples connect deeply with the topics I raise.  The sense I have overwhelmingly received from clients and students is a sense of relief that they can finally talk about money in a way that is relevant to them.

I am especially grateful for the tears that near strangers have shed when speaking about their feelings of failure, inadequacy, and helplessness when dealing with money.  I take care to connect with people where they are at, and empower them to take the next step toward financial freedom by looking deeply into how they got where they are – not just through circumstance, but thought, attitude, and emotion.   I believe that we need to consider the whole person when talking about a financial plan.

I hope that my future studies will serve to put science behind my theories as I test my hunches against the scientific method.  My greatest fear these days is that I’ll find out I’m completely wrong, and I’ll be back at square one.

And who are you – reading this?


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Graham Morehead
    Feb 07, 2011 @ 07:31:57

    There is no way you are “completely wrong.” What you say makes sense and was clearly learned through many difficult experiences. I really look forward to seeing your theories formally defined and tested.


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