The "B" Word I Loathe
Many of you know I loathe many of the “b” words (I don’t need to name them, do I?). And I get really super-charged about the word “budget”. It seems just like a diet. Something that is a short term fix based on self-denial and to some extent personal brutality. It often arises from a sense of guilt or disgust. What can really be gained by such a stringent and cruel act of self-management? Short term everything works well. But long term it is simply ineffective.
So we opt for a “c” word. Cash flow. Connecting cash flow with our souls and our life. The feminizing of discipline. Money in. Money out. Deep breath in. Deep breath out. The movement of your cash is the foundation upon which all aspects of your financial life evolve. It relates to your net worth in that every little decision you make at the cash flow level is enumerated in your net worth. Your net worth (the sum total of your assets minus your liabilities) is a fairly accurate picture of your decisions over time. It is a report card. A summary of your financial life story.
Cash flows forever. Every day money moves in and out. It is not an area of your life that gets “solved”. You don’t “fix” it. It is an ongoing, ever-present element of living in our culture. Money is the currency of exchange. It allows you to purchase the things you need and want. Or not. Which is where the problem comes in. I think cash flow can have many different faces. Each person wears cash flow just a little bit differently. The idea is to find a way to think about it, act with it and track it that fits your unique personality, goals and life style. It is you.
The flow of your currency mirrors the flow of your life energy. Strange way to think about money, isn’t it.
I am currently teaching a class called Cash Flow Connection. It is the first time I have taught it. I invited twelve women to be in my pilot group (aka guinea pigs). Twelve intelligent, professional, successful, loving and very attractive women. In my mind, they are all winners. And they are all leaders. (They are not so sure of this, but I am). Each one of them has a truly unique life story. Some come from places far away from here. A few have been bankrupt. A couple more are in the process. A few are married, one divorced and two are widowed. Three have never married. They are all different in many ways. And yet, they all are enormously gifted and every one of them has a serious cash flow issue. I brought them together because I felt they shared three primary characteristics: a significant capacity for growth, a desire for change and a willingness to look at the deeper elements (some, quite shadow-ey) of their relationship with money.
Every behaviour we exhibit is preceded by a pattern. Isn’t that an impressive concept? It’s so clean. So clear. Just dealing with the behaviour is rarely enough to shift it. Only when it is a temporary blip on our life radar will that approach work.
But when you begin tracing the behaviours back to their roots we can really get somewhere.
For some people, cash flow is a powerful metaphor. It shows them how they respond to stress. Or criticism. Or a sense of inadequacy. Or for some, success or happiness. For others, it is about never being good enough. For some it is about status and achievement-or pretending to have those things. It can be tracked back to some elemental stories that are told in our families and in our culture. And although I am of course fascinated by those stories, I am more interested in approaching this in a Buddhist kind of way. Here. Now. This. What information is accessible to me today in my behaviour? And how do I feel about it?
One of the first things I wanted to do in my class with my students was to begin coaching a sense of reliance on internal guideposts. Finding the weather vane of their own emotional responses. What makes us sad? What makes us feel a sense of futility and then how does money relate to those feelings? I am of the mind that it is in the everyday experience of cash flow that we can elucidate these often hidden aspects of self. Definitely more for some than others, but it is always interesting.
Last week, I had a woman in my office, who was in grief because after working for 35 years at a company doing work she couldn’t stand so she would have a pension, has discovered that she is bereft and dissatisfied. It was not a good trade. Her retirement life is empty. And her work life was vacuous. She thought she would be joyous and happy the moment she left that stink hole. But instead she is lonely, unsettled and depressed. She can’t believe that it is all over. And she can’t believe she wasted so much time! So her answer to this was to go through $245,000 of her retirement savings over the last 18 months. This is someone who was accustomed to living on $45,000 a year. She kept trying to fill the hole in her heart and soul with stuff. Before she had filled it with a dream. Retirement. Now that it is realized she doesn’t know how to cope with its less attractive reality. She has to fill the longing left by her lost expectations with a dream that came true but not in the way she had fantasized. It’s like trying to lose weight by eating cheese puffs. It’s a great idea but it does not work. Although one can temporarily be quite happy experimenting! Yum.
We can spend to fill gaps. We can spend to distract, we can spend because we are asleep, we can spend to soothe loneliness. It can temporarily do a great job of assuaging the savageness of our own experiences.
But we all know what happens after this. The reckoning. The binge is over. We are in debt again. Or our pants don’t fit. We are hiding clothes from our spouses and trying to take back purses we don’t even like for a refund. Now our time and energy gets all mucked up. It felt so good the day before. Just like that second bottle of wine. Seemed like a good idea at the time. Then I got up at 6 am this morning with a splitting headache wondering, what was I thinking?
So how do we move through this?
It is impossible to wrestle with cash flow if you are asleep. We have talked about that. It is ineffective to deal with money issues by dieting/budgeting. We need to reflect. The “r” word. Next to respect, it is a biggie.
We have to slow down our thinking. Slow down our behaviours. We need to pause. Think. Reflect so we can start to unravel the pattern. And once we start it will lead us to all kinds of revelations. Some of these patterns have strings which are very long. And some are tricky to un- tie. And most will take patience as we discover, unravel and resolve.
I am not a big proponent of always talking about our parents and what happened in our homes. We are all messed up by our families. And then we have children and mess them up in some variation of the form we were screwed up in. Just look at yourself, your feelings in this day and time. That is enough of a mystery. All of the information for healing is available, all the time. Always. Just not effortlessly. We manage to cover up the really good stuff with layers and layers of defenses. Those defenses served us well. They were adaptive and functional. Your psyche thought it was doing a good job of keeping you safe by having you overspend instead of murdering someone. That is good. But now you are ready to get to the bottom of this. Because the behaviours around money and the patterns that preceded them are now disconnected from what serves you. They really don’t work anymore.
When something is dysfunctional a sane person stops that behaviour. I don’t know how you are going to stop it if you don’t slow the bus down. And many women are absolutely married to their busyness. Which is in itself a coping mechanism for dealing with our fear about what meaning lies beneath our daily life. And I am quite matter of fact about this. Big deal. The coping mechanism now causes you more pain than the revelation of the issue or screwed-up-ness that caused it.
- The first step out of a cash flow problem is to slow down.
- The next is to breathe into the moment and become aware of yourself. Your feelings.
- The next is to reflect on what it is like to be you. I think writing some of this stuff down is helpful as it helps us eventually to work out patterns. But it is up to you.
- Then I want you to sit in quietness and look down into yourself…either through mediation, silence, breathing exercises or a form of prayer. Let your wisdom emerge. If you do this alone for 20 minutes once a day for a week, your cash flow pattern will change. Not permanently altered but the seed will have been planted. I promise.
Where to go from here?
Learn more about Cash Flow in our Financial Planning curriculum.