HOW we handle our money can demonstrate our belonging to each other. Does our money bind us together or separate us? Do we use it to express our common life: our compassion, love, and generosity towards one another? And what about our moral imagination — does it find expression through our money?
Money pervades our lives; so it can be hard to know where to begin. In my work helping clients to understand their relationship to wealth, I encourage them to reflect on how money affects them. Do we feel afraid and live from a place of scarcity? Are we envious, comparing what we have with what others appear to have? Or do we feel relaxed and confident that the universe is abundant and that we have plenty to sustain us?
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with money or significant wealth. After all, money is simply a medium of exchange and, we hope, a store of value. But most societies imbue it with meaning and power that far eclipse its real purpose. Our culture encourages us to be fascinated and consumed by money, and we idolise the very wealthy. Everywhere we turn, we encounter invitations to acquire and spend. Money is often endued with godlike, ineffable qualities that elevate it to a level on a par with birth, love, and death.
While seeming to give us so much, money may inhibit rather than facilitate our lives and loves. We may use money to rank ourselves against others, to measure our importance, and to determine whether we will be provided for and safe until we die. Money per se does none of these things, and yet we often confuse money with the meaning we attach to it. Our genuine safety is not among our financial assets, which can vanish in the flash of an eye; we know from the daily news stories how quickly everything can be lost in times of war, corruption, and famine.
Most of us are understandably concerned to be responsible and to ensure that we have the resources necessary to support ourselves and our loved ones for the duration of our lives. The world is as uncertain a place as it as has ever been, and the scale of such necessary resources seems to grow exponentially. Few of us are convinced that we genuinely have enough. The more we have — which raises our lifestyle expectations — the more we seem to want and need.
WHILE there is much that money cannot do, there is an often hidden way in which it can be a great gift to us; our relationship to, and behaviour with, money, can reflect for us, if we choose to observe it, the core beliefs and values that shape every aspect of our lives. I encourage my clients to look in the “money mirror”: observing our financial selves tells us a great deal about who we are as we seek to answer the questions of life. As a result, we may choose to adjust some aspect of our financial behaviour.
Some of the questions to ask ourselves include: In what ways does money affect my relationships? How do I use money? How do I communicate about money with family, friends, and colleagues? How do I negotiate and resolve conflicts over money? With new awareness comes the ability to make conscious, considered choices. We can decide what practices we might like to start, stop, continue, or change, and whether we need help to do this.
When we act consciously, we are choosing the direction of our lives, and are no longer driven by unseen forces and emotions. We have put money back in its proper place, where it does not possess or define us. We want to ensure that it stays in circulation so that it remains a gift to us, and others also benefit from it.
PUTTING money in its proper place requires what I describe as financial “EQ”, or emotional intelligence: understanding our feelings, beliefs, and expectations about wealth, as well as communicating and interacting with others who may have different feelings, beliefs, and expectations. It needs both self-knowledge and interpersonal skills.
One exercise that can help us to develop our financial EQ is writing a “money autobiography” to describe how our relationship with money has evolved. This can be valuable, whatever our level of financial resource. Our money story is inherited. It often goes back generations, and it will reach forward to affect our children and beyond.
Writing down this story is an opportunity to reflect on our life from the perspective of money: to identify the defining moments, to explore different patterns that emerge, and to learn from them, so that we can move to greater freedom in relationship to our money.
To a horizontal narrative, which simply starts when we were born and follows the timeline of our life, I prefer a “vertical narrative” that focuses on pivotal moments and what they meant for us. Once you identify a thread that has meaning, follow that thread.
One of my own significant threads was a desire for financial independence. But reflection allowed me to see the larger picture, and recognise the need to temper my independence with the knowledge that we are all inextricably dependent on one another. It is a good idea to save your money autobiography so that you can assess progress, and review and revise it every so often to see what changes for you over time.
Money is a master teacher, but it is not all-powerful. If we put money at the centre of our lives, and trust in it to meet our needs, our real desires will go unmet, and we will lose sight of what it means to be truly wealthy. As we reflect on the underlying nature of money, and accept its limitations, and learn from the experiences of life, it becomes easier to trust in God in us and in our relationships with others.
Diana Chambers is a family wealth mentor and the author of True Wealth: Letters on money, life, and love (Altitude Press, 2016).
Edd Parker, Head of Research, Development and Innovation at the debt-counselling charity Christians Against Poverty (CAP), spoke to the Church Times about how the charity helps to develop people’s financial “EQ”
CAP Money is a three-week course that serves 10,000 people a year — people of all incomes. One of the areas that we work on is breaking the psychological habit that we all have of distancing ourselves from what we spend, which happens increasingly through card payments, and particularly now with contactless technology.
Adopting a living-on-cash rule makes us think about the value of money and what we are buying. Handing cash over and getting less back means that we experience the loss — the pain — that we inoculate ourselves against by spending continuously on a card.
We also run “lifting pressure” sessions within the course, which help people to understand where the pressure to spend is coming from: whether it be societal pressure to buy things, or the need to service a debt, or family pressure.
I remember one man who identified that he was being pressured by his parents to spend money that he didn’t have because they had a higher income. He ended up talking to his parents about it, which made all the difference. Communication about money is vitally important, but having an open conversation about money is one of the most difficult things to do.
Our courses also look at scripture, and talk about what it means to be content, and the fact that there are poor and rich people who are happy, and poor and rich people who are deeply lonely. We will organise a day out that costs nothing, perhaps to the beach or a country park, to reinforce the idea that you don’t have to spend money to be content.
We also encourage people to look at their life and sort the things that they spend money on into two piles of “needs” and “wants” — from rent payment to meals out, phone bills to cycling equipment — and this is very revealing about what is important to people. Conversations about how we get our sense of self-worth, and what gives us value, will often flow from this.
Ultimately, our aim is for people to come through, feeling that they are no longer a slave to money, or controlled by it, and that they can even use it to bless others. The truth is that 100 per cent of our money belongs to God, not ten per cent, as is sometimes taught, and our financial habits can flow from God’s own generosity.