Iroquois Valley Farms | Farm Manager, Northeast Community Development Manager
Sally is Northeast Community Development Manager, and a board member, at Iroquois Valley Farms, a food and farmland impact investment company that provides land access for organic farmers. Sally was an early promoter in the local foods movement in the Northeast, connecting chefs with farmers, and setting up farmers markets in Vermont. Sally is a farmer, entrepreneur, and conservationist. She serves on the board and investment committee of the Cleveland H. Dodge Foundation.
Someone you know has received a windfall of money, maybe $50,000, $350,000, or $5 million. It’s exciting! What a wonderful life-changing experience. Lucky dog, wish it was me!
This is the emotion and experience of a windfall, yes? Well, not quite, or at least, not fully.
The reality, from my personal experience and in my work with clients, is that these windfalls are usually tied to sad or traumatic events: the death of a loved one, a severe accident, or the upheaval of a new and unfamiliar life after divorce. This leads to a common situation that I short-hand as “the reluctant inheritor” (since the most common large windfalls occur after the death of a parent or grandparent).
The reality of this experience is that it comes with complicated emotions – like guilt, responsibility, and overwhelm – that are tough to talk about in our society.
We all have some money goals that leave us overwhelmed, drained of energy. So we push them aside, but the longer we do so, the more this disconnection tends to fuel a feeling that we just don’t know how to tackle them. But it’s important to get past these feelings, and find your way forward into these difficult topics; I’m going to share three “bigger picture” framing ideas that can be applied to many of our inner challenges.
One of the biggest uncertainties for many of us is planning for retirement. How will we live in our elder years? What choices will we have? What will our lifestyle be?
It’s just numbers, right? It should be pretty black and white. Well, not always….
In my financial planning work with clients, we go through a process of exploring their goals, getting clear on what they really want, and then creating specific action steps to move toward those goals.
When exploring goals, there are three common questions that arise for many people:
Should I rent or buy?
Should I pay off my mortgage or build up my investments?
Should I pay off my student loans or save for a longer term goal, like retirement or a down payment on a house?
The tough love financial guy, Dave Ramsey, usually has a black and white point of view about such questions. There is one right answer: “Duh! Of course you would do it this way.”
My personal experience, and my experience working with clients of different ages and in different financial situations, is that the financial planning process is full of grey areas. There isn’t a black and white, “of COURSE you would…”, answer.
Many of you have probably given thought to the culture we are in today. A culture of wanting, getting, and having things—most of which take money. A culture of the newest phone, a bigger TV, and amazing restaurants. We’re all immersed in this culture, to varying degrees. It’s so easy to find ourselves pulled into wanting things … to feel better, be better, or to present ourselves better in the world.
This energy of wanting is all around us. We are fish, and the water is our culture. Most of the time we’re likely to be swimming in our wants and desires unconsciously. As I work with my clients on their mindful money paths, and while working on my own, I’ve found that two key steps can be powerful in shifting into a new space, creating a more healthy culture around oneself.
The first step is ELIMINATION. The second is INVITING IN.
Elimination begins with developing awareness. The fish must first be aware that they are surrounded by water. How subtle the culture can be—the allurement built around these desires to have things, to get things, reinforced by the media we take in (online, magazines, TV) and by the conversations that come in and out of our days. Though I don’t consider myself to be deeply immersed in our consumer culture, I still notice the ways it calls to me a daily basis, telling me my life can be—should be—different, better, more.
This Elimination step is not about living an ascetic life of self-denial. It is about consciously creating a life that is authentic and meaningful to you. What are your true priorities and values, and how does this guide your money choices? It’s an ebb and flow—a continual upward spiral of awareness. Sometimes I’m better at this than other times.
Once you develop this awareness, then it’s time for some good ol’ action. So what are some simple steps to eliminate some of the consumer culture that surrounds you?
Let’s begin with a free association. Pause for a moment; write down what comes to mind when I say the word “money.” OK, done?
Based on my own personal relationship with money, and my work with hundreds of people over the last decade, I’m guessing many of your words have a negative connotation. Not all of your words, I’m sure, but some. The darker thoughts seem to be ingrained in us to some degree. Judgment. Shame. Heart is racing, feeling anxious. Anger toward oneself, and toward others—even your most beloved—about how their behaviors impact your financial wellness.
Perhaps since the dawn of money, humans have had a love/hate relationship with it. Money is one of our most enduring sources of personal stress. Even with the work that I do, helping others with their relationship with money, I have my moments of struggle with my money friend. The doctor still needs a doctor, right?
We have begun to bring the sacred back into parts of our lives where it was once lost. Mindfulness, as taught Thich Nhat Hanh and others, is a way of being in the moment: conscious and connected, aware. Books and articles abound with discussions of applying mindfulness to the core areas of our daily life. For example: eating mindfully supports our health and connects us to the wonder of our food. Sitting down together with those that we love, we give thanks and bless the food and those who have provided it to us. We think of the farmers and many others who are part of getting the food from seed to our table. We celebrate and quite naturally find the sacred in this practice.
As we begin this new year of 2014, I am inspired to build the same type of mindfulness practice with my relationship with money.
Each year, Natural Investments is committed to donating 1% of its earnings to local, national, and global organizations doing work that creates positive change in the world. There’s a richness to the stories of these organizations—and we’d like to share some of these stories with you, since you’re a part of this positive impact as a client of Natural Investments.
Each Advisor is able to direct how their part of the 1% will be donated. Just Money Advisors, NI’s Louisville based office, has a team of four. The four of us had an equal weight in the decision, and chose six different nonprofit organizations. We were all excited to call the organizations and let them know that we had a gift for them. Each one of them warms our hearts and stokes the fire in our bellies as a part of the change we want to see in the world.
The story of Project Warm begins with the dedicated leadership of its Director, Frank J. Schwartz. Frank began as a volunteer with Project Warm in 1982, at a time of high unemployment and high utility costs. Volunteers, often laid-off workers, were trained to do simple energy repairs at the homes of seniors. After working on three additional homes they were eligible to receive the same set of weatherization and energy efficiency materials they learned to use. For many years, Frank was the volunteer coordinator for thousands of community volunteers coming through Project Warm. Later, Project Warm instituted community based energy education and he became the education director as well. Frank is known throughout Louisville for his dedication to Project Warm—and for his commitment to living a life that reflects his values of living lightly. He has been an advocate for energy conservation on the household and community levels, and works in the trenches on behalf of affordable housing.