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Money is Not a Numbers Game

As a financial advisor with a background in psychology I can tell you with confidence, that money is not about the numbers.

If wealth was about numbers our richest citizens would be accountants and math professors. And though a few of them are billionaires, they would certainly not be the major players on Forbes annual list.

I have spent my career studying the question, ”Why are some people rich and some people poor?”. And this quest continues to both inspire and perplex me. And even at this stage of my professional journey, I am more confident of my ability to say what money is not.

First of all, money is not real. It is a representation. Not to get too esoteric, but money in and of itself has no intrinsic value. A carrot has intrinsic value. A goat in Peru as well as a chef in Paris can recognize that a carrot is to be eaten. However, if you drop a loonie in a kitchen with that same chef or the field where the goat is now happily crunching away, they would both be flummoxed. Money has to be assigned its meaning. And that meaning is highly dependent on the personal, environmental and cultural context it is placed in. If you were to drop $20 at the corner of Main and Hastings in Vancouver or at the bar of the members-only Terminal Club, the currency would be equally understood but the perceived value of that $20 would be potentially very different.

When there is conflict about finances it must be recognized that the conflict is about what the money represents. And determining this value system can be tricky. People often say that they value money for one reason but have unconscious needs or beliefs operating below the level of their awareness. This is also why discussions about money are often laden with strong emotion and stress.

I facilitate these discussions on a daily basis. At Sophia Financial, where I work, our philosophy is that, “we believe that people should boss money around and not vice versa”. But that is an ambitious objective. Because we must delve and dive patiently, tenaciously until we discover what money really means to each person, couple or family. At its very core, money is a form of energy, or in blunt terms, power. Whoever has the money has the power. It buys our survival and can protect us from our deepest fears. We all have a history with money and a current belief system about it. As does our culture. We may say it does not matter but the world will quickly disavow us of that notion. Just try paying a mortgage or feeding your family without it.

So, whether we are professionals in the domain of money management or we are in the throes of a negotiation about it, we must be very respectful of the shapeshifting nature of money and the people discussing it. When people are angry and tearful they are most likely not talking about the numbers on their pension form or the cost of tuition, they are associating these numbers with deeply held beliefs and strongly anchored feelings. Acknowledging this complexity will go a long way to successfully negotiating healthy, positive agreements.


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