I remember growing up in a loving family where our basic needs were met consistently, and where we heard, also very consistently, “there is no money”.Watching the acquisition of high-quality material possessions at huge cost, because “the more you pay, the better the quality and the longer stuff lasts”. Only to see this followed by conflict and stress caused by living on revolving credit, as expenses often exceeded income, and again hearing “there is no money”. In my high school years, I tried to start a small business, running errands for fellow students in my boarding school. Some made use of the service and seemed happy to pay. But when I started getting criticized for “being greedy” and wanting to earn money, my desire for acceptance quickly undermined my entrepreneurial spirit and I rather discontinued the service offering. With pocket money noticeably less than my peers’ I embraced frugality and “there is no money” promptly turned into my mantra too. My grandparents were savers, and regularly encouraged me to save for “one day”. I was particularly good at saving and somehow managed to amass quite a bit of money in my notice deposit account by the time I’d left school. However, because I had no clear sense of purpose or goal for that money, it was difficult for me to maintain boundaries and I ended up giving it away to help meet a perceived “need”. This left me with feelings of resentment and futility afterwards, and a lack of motivation for saving so consistently. Somehow, I had internalised the belief that the flow of money is finite, and once it’s gone, it’s gone... As I got older, shame and embarrassment became part of my confounding mix of emotions around money when early in my working career I noticed that my clients with comparable tertiary qualifications to myself were earning significantly more than me. I repeatedly questioned my worth and the value I could possibly add to others if my income didn’t match the going market rate. Yet at the same time I detested the commission driven product sales model on which the financial services industry was built and saw the commission clawback system as a huge trap, not a structure leading to freedom, financial or otherwise.
To complicate matters further, I was reminded regularly to “Seek first the kingdom of God and everything you need will be given to you”, and that “The love of money is the root of all evil.” Not wanting to offend God, I decided that avoiding money outright and trusting that God would somehow miraculously provide, might be the easiest way. I experimented living with this attitude for a while but was soon confronted with the reality that there is a very real and close connection between personal responsibility and God-provision.And, in any case, how do you avoid money when the entire social system in which you live and work is built around money as an exchange for goods and services? In an attempt to figure out how much to pay myself early on after starting my business, I remember drafting a personal budget. There was provision for giving, short-term savings, medical aid, insurance, retirement savings – a model budget which ticked all the financial planning boxes. And such a huge disconnect between my business turnover at that stage, and the total at the bottom of the spreadsheet, that I closed the spreadsheet in absolute terror and, with an anxious, pounding heart, rather went and worked in the garden. I remember looking at that number and feeling totally overwhelmed, defeated, worthless and incapable of shifting my situation. Instead of inspiring and challenging me, spurring me on to action, that number paralyzed me. In spite of all the learning I had done and experience I had in helping clients structure their own spending plans to live within their means and pursue their goals, I felt completely ill-equipped to help myself. And I felt much too embarrassed and distrustful of the financial services industry to approach another financial planner for advice. I was exceedingly lucky at the time to be doing some leadership training with a change management consultant, who offered to mentor me for a while. The process helped to unpack some of my issues around “imposter syndrome” and to start learning how to strategize and set manageable and measurable goals for myself and my business.
But still I found myself with this love / hate relationship with money, a lot of confusion about how to deal with it in my own life, and no clear understanding of how my emotions and belief systems around money led to self-sabotaging behaviour and perpetuated the “there is no money” cycle. It took a long time of examining my beliefs and emotions to start feeling as if I was making progress.Before I got any of this solidly sorted out, I got married. And life just went to a whole different level of “interesting”. For now I not only had to negotiate my own feelings around money and acknowledge my trust issues where money was involved, but make allowance for another human being who also had trust issues, also had self-worth and impostor syndrome issues, and also had “there is no money” mantras running through his head. I remember myself saying repeatedly “I don’t want our kids growing up with this poverty mind set of “there is no money” – we’ve got to learn to do better”. Yet, it wasn’t easy or simple. And I don’t think we’ve arrived just yet! We are lucky in the sense that we share many of the same values around personal freedom and time. We have experienced many God-provisioned miracles along the way, to the extent that I have sometimes commented it feels to me as if I live in a parallel universe where money and the cost of living are concerned. (The reality is that there are a lot of “parallel money universes” in our vastly unequal society, and we need to be sensitive to that and mindful as we journey alongside others in our communities.)
Yet, we still need to navigate our path through a world in which things cost money, sometimes a lot of money. Sometimes more than what we in our default reaction think or believe we want to pay for goods and services. And so, we are confronted with our issues and we need to re-examine our values from time to time. We need to remind ourselves regularly that there are strategies we created together in the past which helped us negotiate these hurdles. Strategies that have proven valuable and timeless in their transferability to different scenarios.We find it helpful to regularly relook our belief systems around money, to notice when we have an emotional “knee-jerk” reaction to something money-related, and to get curious about it. To adopt a stance of “friendly curiosity”, not judgement, about how we use money and feel about it. And to remember the help and guidance from the many people who have helped coach us along the way, without whose input in our lives we might still have been stuck. It is an ongoing journey. One in which we feel a little bit freer every step of the way. It is so worth it! ----------
"Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better." - Maya Angelou
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