Early in my career as an accountant, I mostly experienced what I call unconscious money cultures. Most people inside the organizations I was a part of — myself included — were playing out unconscious patterns with money, both personally and professionally. I never heard much about people saving, for example. If the topic of money did come up, it was usually in the context of complaining that there wasn’t enough of it. The professional environment stressed a single-minded focus on the bottom line that felt like being in a pressure cooker, with a lot of worry about how much the company was profiting (or not).
On an individual level, even though I oversaw multimillion-dollar budgets, my personal financial life was a mess. I was struggling to make ends meet despite my degree in accounting. I eventually had to file for bankruptcy. Humbling as it was, that painful process sent me on a quest to face my challenges with money. Along the way, I discovered a connection between my personal struggles and the attitudes toward money in the larger culture around me, including professional environments. In understanding that connection, I also began to see a powerful opportunity for businesses to thrive by deliberately creating a conscious money culture.
In my work with business owners, I’ve identified five tenets of conscious money culture. When an organization is operating in accordance with these tenets, its leaders take responsibility for consistently embodying them in the management of the company and operating accordingly with their own personal finances. It’s also important to provide opportunities for employees to have access to money wisdom that will optimize their personal financial success and contribute to the overall financial health of the organization. Supporting employees’ efforts to get out of debt, increase their savings, buy a home, or achieve other financial and life goals can free these employees to be much more productive at work.
I’ve been implementing these tenets with one of my clients, a law firm, for the past two years. They have continued to increase their revenue goals every three months — and hit them 95 percent of the time. The company is profiting so much more than before that it has the happy problem of needing to change its tax structure. When we first started this financial immersion process, the firm’s owner had significant personal debt and no savings. Now she has accumulated a large nest egg and has no debt personally or in her business. She has implemented a bonus structure for her employees, is contributing to their retirement accounts, and increases their benefits every year. The employees talk about money with more confidence and less stress, have accumulated more savings, and have many more tools and techniques to use with money. It’s exciting to witness what’s possible when money is discussed openly and honestly within an organization and to be a part of changing how we relate to money in business.
To start creating a conscious money culture in your organization, follow these five tenets.
1 // You must invest in the education of the whole.
To have a conscious money culture, everyone in an organization must have access to education on personal finance. More and more companies are recognizing the value of offering meditation and yoga to their employees, but personal financial training is equally crucial to equipping employees with greater confidence, empowerment, and stability. The most effective program is to hire a financial coach to offer a personal-finance training program.
While not everyone may initially be motivated to learn about money, as people gain access to tools and techniques, they begin to have a stronger sense of what their future with money can look like. Employees’ emotional wellbeing increases as they become more in charge of their financial life, going from feelings of financial stress and struggle to accessing new levels of hope and inspiration. As greater ease sets in, internal space and resources free up for creativity and innovation.
2 // Mindset is what matters most.
I meet a lot of people who believe that simply having more money will contribute to a greater sense of wealth. There are others who think that if they just had a budget, it would solve all their problems. But unless you also address your mindset, neither a budget nor an increase in resources will make much difference. This is one of the most profound lessons I learned in my personal journey with money. As an accountant, I had the practical tools, but it wasn’t until my mindset shifted that I started to be able to implement all of the knowledge I had about budgeting and accounting.
The mindset of the owners and top management in a business is essential, since they are influencing the money culture of the organization. But for the whole organization to implement practical financial tools in the most successful way possible, money mindset-shifting also needs to happen at the employee level.
There are a multitude of practices out there for starting to dig into the rich territory of how the mind relates to money. One question I ask clients is “Where do you notice the most fear with money?” In other words, what keeps you up at night? Is it the fear of not having enough to pay all the bills, fear of making the monthly payroll, fear of not having enough set aside for retirement, fear of owing more tax than you thought you would, fear of not hitting your income goals?
These fears indicate where the mind has created a pattern, like a record groove that plays over and over again. These kinds of fears tell the story of “not enough.” Until that story is consciously addressed, it will continue to play out repetitively in a person’s financial life.
3 // Generosity unlocks prosperity.
To increase financial success, give some away. This is important because it creates an attitude of trust — trust that there will be more money, trust that there is enough money to go around, and trust that generosity creates a deeper sense of fulfillment. If we are hanging on to money out of fear there will not be enough, that’s called survival consciousness. No matter how much money we accumulate, if we are only operating from survival consciousness we will never feel wealthy. Instead, we need to cultivate a sense of abundance in order to thrive.
At an organizational level, more and more companies are starting to donate a portion of their profits to nonprofits, through foundations, programs like One Percent for the Planet, or just by giving to local charities. Those commitments are an important start because it helps us as humans learn the value of sharing resources instead of hoarding them.
Practicing generosity within an organization can’t stay limited to just giving away one percent and calling it good. First, if we are talking about powerful generosity that creates a deeper sense of contribution and fulfillment, the amount should be closer to 10 percent. Second, to enhance this practice, employees need to be included in the sharing of generosity, perhaps by being involved in deciding where money is donated. Owners demonstrating generosity to employees through profit-
sharing and other employee benefits that contribute to creating a better life for everyone in the company can also be a way to model this way of life.
An easy way to start practicing greater financial generosity on a personal level is by opening a checking account just for philanthropy and putting a percentage of your income in to give to the people and places that are most important to you. That is what I have been doing for the past 12 years. As you try this in your personal financial life, strive for the 10 percent mark — 10 percent has been used in many spiritual traditions as the reference point for healthy giving.
4 // It takes help to see your own money shadow.
The money shadow is what we believe about and do with money unconsciously without even knowing it. It’s difficult to see on our own, like trying to look at your eye without a mirror. It’s what we have been programmed to believe and do without question. For example, if a parent who raised us worried there was not enough money for food and it was too expensive, it could cause our adult self to rebel against that and spend far too much on food, or be overly and unnecessarily cheap with food and end up getting sick as a result.
Starting to face your money shadow usually requires reflection from other people because we have hidden it away from ourselves in the deep, dark crevices of the unconscious mind. It also takes courage to face your own money fears by seeking out and facing your money shadow and shining a light on those darker corners.
It is very wise for the owners of a company to be looking at their own money beliefs and to seek training in the art of financial literacy and financial management. It demonstrates leadership in having a healthy relationship to money. There are a multitude of books out there to help start this process. My favorites include “The Energy of Money,” written by Maria Nemeth, and “The Art of Money,” written by my previous business partner, Bari Tessler. An even smaller first step is to simply write out an intention to get help with improving the money patterns you can see in yourself that you don’t like. However, it is most effective to hire a financial coach or financial therapist to address these “little devils,” as I call them, because they are insidious and sometimes subtle.
5 // Conscious money culture is an ongoing practice.
Having a money practice is similar to having a yoga or meditation practice that cultivates a conscious state of mind and state of being: consistency matters. You don’t just do it once and then you’re done. When I work with my clients, we include regular money check-ins within the organization. These check-ins can happen monthly or quarterly. Hearing about how others also deal with financial challenges helps create a supportive environment that releases the shame and promotes confidence and empowerment with money, and that has a positive effect on the organization. Having somewhere to share financial successes is incredibly uplifting and generates a lot of hope and possibility with money, along with building self-esteem.
Whether the culture around money is intentional or not, the money consciousness of an organization affects everyone who interacts with it. Because money usually isn’t discussed beyond a superficial level, many people have a sense of shame about their financial life. And where there is shame, isolation follows — hardly good conditions for change or progress. But it doesn’t take a lot for change to happen within a company’s money culture; it just takes valuing and investing in money as a topic worth talking about. With clear intention, proper training, and leadership starting at the ownership level, worry, fear, and concern about the future subside and more inspiration and creativity become available to fuel our work. Because of the interconnected nature of consciousness, the more people in an organization who are in a mindset of success, the more financial success the organization can generate. Individual consciousness begins to move from a focus on “I” (how do I get my own needs met?) to “we” (how do we create collective success where everyone benefits?). Unleash this power in your own organization, and watch the benefits unfold.
Exercise: Write your money story
Starting to address your money fears takes courage. One of the tools I use with clients to understand their mindset and patterns with money is asking them to write out their money story.
Start by recalling the first experience with money that you can remember. This could be receiving money from a family member, asking your parents for something and being told there was not enough money, or maybe the experience of getting anything you asked for. Write what you remember about the events, and then how you felt about them. Next, chronologically write about the major money events in your life and the feelings they evoked. Ask yourself how your parents talked about money: positively and optimistically, or negatively and based in fear? What messages about money were they communicating to you? This process will begin to bring into your awareness the past events that are influencing your current money mindset.