Living Intentionally with Our Wealth
Updated: Oct 27
Growing up in Colorado, I've always been in awe of the power of nature. If I crane my head just right, I can see the massive Rockies from my office window. Winters are spent skiing down steep mountains, and summers are spent camping amongst the aspens and the evergreens. I remember one summer as a teenager, my church youth group went white water rafting, and on a particularly wild rapid, my awkward teenage self came loose from the boat, and I suddenly found myself being tossed in the water by a powerful current. Fortunately, my dad was a chaperone, and his fatherly instincts quickly kicked in and yanked my freezing, choking self out of the river before much harm was done. Still, the inertia of the water and my memories of being carried along with it have stayed with me to this day.
In the early spring, the snow melts off the Rockies and dumps water into streams and rivers that then gains momentum as it races toward the Platte River. Signs warn visitors to stay out of creeks lest they get caught and dragged under the current. This past week, I was researching for a presentation I'm preparing to give at my alma mater in Malibu about personal finance. The theme of the class is living with intentionality, and as I was preparing, I was reminded of one of my favorite quotes about money:
Money is like water. It can be a conduit for commitment, a currency of love. Money moving in the direction of our highest commitments nourishes our world and ourselves. What you appreciate appreciates. When you make a difference with what you have, it expands. Collaboration creates prosperity. True abundance flows from enough, never from more. Money carries our intention. If we use it with integrity, then it carries integrity forward. Know the flow—take responsibility for the way your money moves in the world. Let your soul inform your money, and your money express your soul. Access your assets—not only money but also your own character and capabilities, your relationships and other nonmoney resources. We each have the power to shift, change, and create the conversation that shapes our circumstances. The levers and dials of conversation are ours to use. When we listen, speak, and respond from the context of sufficiency, we access a new freedom and power in our relationship with money and life. ― Lynne Twist, The Soul of Money: Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Life
Lynn Twist is a philanthropist and speaker who has written extensively on what it looks like to have a healthy and meaningful view of wealth. I resonate with her comparison of money to water. Like water being pulled down a mountain by gravity, there is an inertia to money, whether we care to admit it. So much of our lives are influenced by our wealth, and it's difficult to escape that. The question remains: will we flow along with it, being swept up in its momentum and letting it overpower us, or will we guide it with our intention?
One of my favorite parts of wealth planning is working with families to define their intention for their wealth, which I've been thinking about recently in preparation for my conversation with a group of college students. Money is powerful, but it doesn't have to be bad. In fact, as Lynne shares in her quote, money spent wisely in the direction of our values can do a lot of good. Here are a few suggestions for intentionally engaging with our wealth and thoughts on how to put money back in its proper place for those of us who have felt swept up in its current.
1.) Buy Time and Memories
Money is not our only resource, and for those lucky enough to be blessed with an abundance of it, it can be helpful to consider what other resources we lack. My husband and I have come to lean into this as parents. We are both fortunate to be gainfully employed, but with employment comes a more significant time commitment and being away from our children. As we consider what we value – time together – we want to be intentional and creative about how we can exchange one resource for another.
So often, we connect money to the physical things it can buy us, and we don't consider the intangibles. Money can buy me a new pair of shoes. But it can also buy me a special memory with my daughter. A few weeks ago, I took my oldest to see the Taylor Swift Eras Concert movie (yes, that is a mouthful), and we decided to go all out. We bought matching outfits and red lipstick. I purchased a giant box of beads and string, and we made friendship bracelets for all of our friends. My spending was largely frivolous, but in the end, I got to sit and make bracelets with my daughter and hear about her friends and school and what she's excited to be learning and then spend several hours watching her and her best friend sing and dance along to music I grew up with. In our budget, the line item will probably show up as "Hannah's fun money for nonsense" (my husband tracks our discretionary spending), but for me, I spent money on a special memory that I will cherish for a long time.
2.) Consider Your Spending From An Outsider's Perspective (especially your children if they're younger)
We learn what people value by what they spend their money on. That can be fancy cars, lavish vacations, sporting events to support our favorite teams, fancy restaurants, or you name it. I remember fighting with my spouse about a designer purse I wanted to buy early in our marriage. We had only been married a few months and were still learning to express our values to each other, and I remember being so angry at him for telling me not to buy something I had saved up for. In the end, however, I discovered he was ultimately bothered by how others might perceive it. He didn't want us to come off as flashy and indulgent, especially to those who weren't as well off as we were. He was mindful of how we presented ourselves to our community and what our spending said about our values.
In the interest of complete honesty, this conversation has evolved for us over the years. There's a definite balance between treating yourself and being mindful of your lifestyle and what it says about you. This topic is particularly meaningful when raising young children. One of our family values is generosity, and we're aware of the fact that we don't just communicate that to our kids by talking about it but by following it up with our actions. And our hope is that our kids learn that we are generous because they see it in action. For those of our clients seeking to raise fiscally responsible kids in the face of a potentially large inheritance, there are many ways you can intentionally teach them about money. However, whether you're aware of it or not, the easiest way to prepare them, and one that will happen naturally, is in how you live and engage with your wealth.
3.) Spend Intentionally
There's a reason why stores make you walk past end caps full of little nick-nacks, snacks, and other items you don't need in order to check out. Our brains are wired for impulsive decisions and immediate gratification. But like many other areas of life, impulsive decisions rarely bring us lasting happiness. Buying something because it's on clearance or makes you feel good in the moment is an effortless way to get caught up in the momentum of money and suddenly get swept along by its current.
To this end, we are big proponents of open conversations and intentional goal setting, which go hand in hand when building and maintaining wealth. One of the primary ways we do anything with intentionality is by defining what we want to accomplish and inviting others into our journey. This is true of eating better and exercising to become a healthier version of ourselves, nurturing our mental health, and almost any other personal goal we hope to accomplish. People don't adequately save for retirement on accident or stumble into having a new skill. They work at it. They seek advice. They map out the steps they need to take to achieve their goal. The same is true of our relationship with wealth. If we hope to live intentionally with our money and maintain a healthy position of power over our finances, we must consider what our wealth is for and how we hope to wield it in the future and then share those thoughts with those closest to us who might also be involved in how we spend.
Our wealth will flow somewhere – it may flow into our unhealthy habits, to a hole in our mattress, or to taxes and heirs, or it will flow with our intention towards the things that matter most to us; how we direct that flow is up to our intentionality. If you'd like to learn more about guiding your wealth or potentially redefining your relationship with money, we invite you to check out some of the related articles we've written on the topic below or give us a call. We'd love to sit down with you and hear more about what legacy you'd like to build and how we can help you make it a reality.
Twist, Lynne, et al. Soul of Money Reclaiming the Wealth of Our Inner Resources. W.W. Norton, 2017.