Virtues in Action

What follows is a list of virtues and examples of why they’re necessary for our financial empowerment. These serve as our moral compass. What’s important is that as we go about our money lives – spending it, earning it, saving it, sharing it – we need to consider that how we engage with this material world actually has high-level implications. The more we can embrace this, the better off all of us will be. So, embody your virtues. Go around with them in your pocket and learn when to pull them out and how to wield them. View them as your magic powers against the onslaught of the forces of materialism and consider how to leverage them for the prosperity of yourself and the community.

1) Honesty – Speak the truth, as best you understand it. It is what you say it is. If there’s a mistake, fix it. Use legitimately the resources at our disposal, whether it’s photocopies at work, or your kid’s stuff. Ask for permission, not forgiveness.

2) Trustworthiness – If you say you’ll do something, it’ll happen. Nothing gains trust with employers and clients like when you come through. You can even under-promise and then over-deliver, which gives you wiggle room for when something doesn’t go according to plan. Can you be discrete, trusted with funds, goods, and services? Pay what you owe, when you owe it. Ultimately, this is what the credit bureaus set out to measure with your credit score: how well can someone trust that you’ll pay them what’s owed?

3) Generosity – Give freely without expectation of receipt. At the same time, be sure to allow others to likewise develop the quality of generosity. (So, accept it when it’s offered genuinely). Being generous helps you see how prosperous you really are. When great service has been rendered, tip or reward generously. It helps strengthen your sense of human to human connection.

4) Integrity – Be a pillar of virtue that can’t be corrupted. Be firm in your values. It can take a lifetime to build up a reputation of good character, and only the blink of an eye (or the post of a pic) to dash it all. You’re responsible for maintaining the dignity of your role, being a professional, being a parent, 24/7.

5) Benevolence – Be kind! Don’t be petty or a curmudgeon. Even if you have to say no, be nice about it. You can listen with sincerity and suggest other options.

6) Contentment – When did you last feel truly satisfied? (Just thinking this word is freeing and makes my shoulders relax a little.) Contentment is perhaps 10% material, and 90% spiritual. You can recognize when you have enough, when you have what you need, and you’re happy, in the moment, with that. It’s the antidote to a world that tells us there is more to want, more to need. We crave contentment intuitively. The idea of a tiny house, the simplicity of an Ikea store model, imagining you actually stayed to live in that beach town you vacation in, unencumbered by all our STUFF. It requires taming the voracious appetite and helps save gobs of money at the same time. Using a shopping list that you stick to can really help here. Ask, “Do I need this?” “Do I really need this?” “Is there anything I can use that I already have, rather than buying more?” Or, for each one of something you buy, can you discard two? (e.g. shoes, pants, dresses, books, etc.) “Is the publicly or communally provided good or service good enough that I don’t need to buy a private version of the same?” (Because if so, you can contribute in a way that will benefit the whole community, rather than just your family, supporting the library, public schools, non-profit radio, tool bank, and so forth.)

7) Moderation – This is the balance between extreme frugality, miserliness, and excessive opulence, avarice, and greed. It keeps you from veering too far to one side or the other. It serves as a check to the excessive, without going too far to the other extreme. Sharing money can fall into this domain: too little and you’re being Scrooge, too much and you’ll be bringing your own debt woes upon yourself. Moderation is especially useful when navigating the path to prosperity involves and impacts relationships with a partner, kids, or besties. Just because you’ve gotten the whole “content-to-live-on-yogurt-walnuts-and-kale” thing down doesn’t mean it’ll fly with the rest of the crew. As you share with them these new strivings and seek their input and buy-in, chances are you’ll still need to spring for pizza and ice cream once in a while. When you can account for moderation, you’ll work its influence into the budget, while still achieving your goals along the way. And it might even serve as a pressure release when tensions are high.

8) Sacrifice – This entails giving up that which is lower for that which is higher. Sacrifice usually involves a bit of initial pain when the lower is SO much more comfortable, delicious, easy, etc. but you can trust that what you gain in the end really is better, healthier, secure, freeing. It boosts the sense of happiness you derive from knowing you are pursuing your ideal self. Any desirable state of being that involves effort to achieve the outcome will require sacrifice. (Sorry, no magic pill! Sacrifice is the payment.) Sacrificing the habit of instant gratification in whatever area of life, will generally result in a more conscious use of your time, energy, money, attention. But sacrificing these resources for the people and life and goals you hold most dear gives you a broader, deeper, richer, more vivid perspective of what the prosperous life can be. On the other side, you realize that the sacrifice wasn’t so painful after all.

9) Reliance on the Higher Power – I know that for some folks, this is a given. For others, it’s a touchy subject. But we are talking about our personal finances, so here’s to discussing taboos: we might as well incorporate this as well. Call it by whatever name works for you: God, the unknowable essence, the Universe, the Mother Creator, the source, the North Star when no one else is looking, the soup. It helps to have a good dose of humility to know we don’t have it all defined, but let’s trust that there’s power and assistance upon which we can rely. Addicts in recovery know the value of laying it down for the higher power to handle, because they can’t. But reliance can be in the positive too. Somehow, you’ve been endowed by the Universe with unique talents and capacities. Everyone has a purpose and something to contribute. You need to develop those capacities and put them to good use (you’ll be happier doing what you’re “meant” to do, anyway). It will require effort, but by trusting this endowment, there will be confirmations along the way too.

10) Enthusiasm & Courage – If you’re going to do something, make it worth while and go with gusto. Life is too short to waste it on the tepid and trivial. Plus, if you’re enthusiastic about it, others will take note and be attracted to the secret you have to share. Often this makes up for whatever lack of competency you may feel (or actually have). This could shape any number of endeavors you undertake: investing time, money, or energy into something, whether to generate income or produce a given outcome, or both.

11) Joyfulness – The world turns a little smoother, our souls soar a bit higher when we focus on having a disposition that conveys joy, gratitude, and happiness. If we’re sincere about it, joy helps us ride through the tough challenges. It helps you find humor in the catastrophe. (The hot water heater goes kaput and all you can think about is gleefully calling the plumber and saying “Help me! My water broke!”) When we’re stressed and freaking out, we make poor decisions that can have negative future implications. Joy will help you keep calm, consider options, and find a solution that will bode well now and later.

12) Independent Assessment – Don’t blindly accept what I or anyone else tells you. We were granted the ability to generate insight, wisdom, and discernment for a reason. Use it! Get second or even third opinions from qualified professionals. This could be related to having an expensive medical procedure done, or course of treatment, to shopping for insurance or an investment. Be careful that in seeking out information and perspective you don’t simply surround yourself with ideas to confirm what you subconsciously want the result to be. (In psychology, this is called “confirmation bias”.) What can actually be really helpful is to have differing, clashing perspectives to consider and then to determine why they might differ. Does one person have a vested interest in seeing a particular outcome? Is another considering the latest scientific findings or up-to-date medical protocols? If it’s a big ticket item (think in terms of monthly payments, like insurance, investing, a car, or your health), doing an amount of education to become sufficiently aware of the issues can be helpful. At the same time, you don’t want to succumb to “paralysis-by-analysis”. You’ll know you’ve gained sufficient information when you start going in circles. The aim is not to become a professional yourself, but to know enough that you can consult with the professional and understand the reasoning of their guidance.

13) Perseverance – If you start something, see it through to completion. If after all the research and consulting with professionals in doing the independent assessment, you end up not making a decision and then following through on it, then it’s all wasted time and you’ll never actually see the benefits of what you wanted. Do you ever pull out ingredients from the refrigerator, chop, measure, and mix, and then walk away? Sounds silly, right? For one, you’ll still be hungry since the meal isn’t yet edible or cooked. But also, the ingredients will soon go bad and then you will have wasted the time you spent with the initial preparation, the money for the food, and the energy it took to obtain, prepare, package, transport, and preserve the food. Or, instead, you could take another 20 minutes, keep pushing through whatever new sauté technique is required, actually cook the meal, and then derive all the nutritional benefits, along with the satisfaction of enjoying the results of your effort. Why should getting the right insurance protection, paying off that nagging debt, or setting up an IRA with automatic monthly contributions be any different? Likewise, there will be tangible benefits to be had, and the emotional payoff, knowing that these are now in place, will be a huge weight off your shoulders.

This book is a work in progress and we’ll all benefit from your input and collaboration. In the “Leave a Reply” below, please post examples, comments, questions, and needed edits. By posting, you grant permission for inclusion of any content to become part of the book, now or in the future, in whatever form it may take. I’ll give attributions to the extent possible. I know sharing about our financial lives can be sensitive, so if you want to share anonymously, please use the contact form instead and I’ll honor your request.

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