Let's talk money. It used to be green paper and change in our pockets, then paper turned to plastic and now it looks an awful lot like my IPhone. More than ever before the "medium is the message". How we define money - share, spend, or save it – makes us a walking electronic billboard transmitting false advertising to ourselves, our family and the rest of the world.
According to research we are flooded with over 5,000 advertising messages a day. We absorb money messages from our family and our culture.
Since we're just one big money message there's no need to talk about it. In fact, we don't talk about money unless it is how to make it or lose it, how to spend it. We talk a lot about other people's money. But, we don't talk about our money.
Nathan Dungan, a respected speaker on the subject of money and our values, believes money can be viewed through the lens of transactions and interactions. Money transactions include cash management, retirement, wills, investments, credit scores and charitable giving. Each of these transactions requires management and decision-making.
Money as an interaction is how we connect our money decisions to our values. Dungan describes interaction with money as "the ability to talk openly and thoughtfully about money by sharing family stories, money mistakes and values."
It is our interactions with money that shape our transactions. Just learning about how compound interest works or the benefits of a tax-deductible charitable contribution does not help us understand how we make money decisions. We need to understand how we interact with money.
Nathan Dungan describes it as our money narrative, the stories, actions and values reflected in how we share, spend and save money. It includes how we mentor the next generation and our own personal brand of generosity.
Money messages have come to us over a lifetime, both directly and indirectly. They inform attitudes and behaviors like an underground stream that feeds a pond, but is never seen.
An exercise at a workshop demonstrated it. Cards with one sentence money messages were spread around a table and we were instructed to pick one that best described our family and money. Several individuals picked a card with the statement "Don't tell anyone we have money."
As explanation to their choices one person said his family inherited money through his mother but it was kept a secret so they would not be asked to give it away. The other one said their family actually had very little money compared to his school friends, but they behaved in ways that suggested wealth so it was necessary to keep the lack of money a secret. The secret lay at the heart of both family's actions and values impacting both individuals well into adulthood.
These stories, values, relationships, family and cultural heritage shape our money transactions. Our children absorb these messages like breathing air. Thus the messages transfer from one generation to the next.
Money ranks at the top of research lists about the causes of our stress. It isn't the hard cold cash, or the credit card bill or the paper a will is written on causing the stress, it's the money messages. Nathan Dungan says we have to spend time talking about it. He has designed an interactive experience called Money Sanity Solutions: Linking Money + Meaning (sharespendsave.com). He says the goal of the experience is to "help you think money, talk money and do money in brand new ways, especially in ways that link to your values." Check out Dungan's Money Sanity U, a virtual learning library.
Dungan emphasizes the importance of fostering financial literacy with kids. He says there is no wrong or right way to share, spend or save. But there is a better way to deal with money and that is to talk about it, share stories about what you've learned about it. If you're a parent the stories are food for hungry minds; if you're a grandparent the stories are priceless remembered and shared with the next generation.
Talking about money is the best way to link money messages to our values. Don't let money do all the talking; talk money.
Dawn Franks, CEO of Your Philanthropy offers high touch advising services to families, businesses and foundations to enhance the giving experience and maximize impact.She writes a blog, the YP Journal, at www.your-philanthropy.com. Comments and questions are welcome. Send to firstname.lastname@example.org.