How do your values influence your financial decisions? In her new book, Conscious Money: Living, Creating, and Investing with Your Values for a Sustainable New Prosperity, author Patricia Aburdene explores how consumers can align their values with their spending habits and use intuition to make savvy financial choices.
In honor of the book's release this week, U.S. News chatted with Aburdene about why personal values matter to personal finance. Excerpts:
What does the phrase "conscious money" mean?
It's really about having a positive, life-affirming relationship with money, because money is essential to our lives. The way you can cultivate that kind of a positive relationship with money, I think, is when your heart and your head are going in the same direction instead of this mindset that conventional wisdom holds that we're supposed to be smart about money and we're supposed to be tough about money.
Self-interest is an entirely valid thing up to a point. But when we start betraying our highest ideals for the sake of money, which happens in this world we live in, it really creates a sense of betrayal. And I think it really throws us off. I think values really are a very powerful financial asset.
Do you think the recession has caused people to reevaluate their relationship with money?
Generally, yes. People are worried about money, and equally important, they are mistrustful of the financial establishment. There certainly is a lot of fear and anxiety around and this can send people in one of two ways. It can send them looking for deeper meaning, or it can send them in kind of a fearful spin to try something else or to just hunker down. There's probably a bit of both of those going on for people.
But I think it's definitely a time when people are open to new ideas about their relationship with money because a lot of people feel really betrayed, especially people who have bought into some of Wall Street's philosophy for them in their retirement and now find that a lot of money that they were counting on, they just don't have it.
The difference between conscious and unconscious businesses is basically the difference between the shareholder model and the stakeholder model. The kinds of companies that I recommend people have partnerships with are those who don't put investors first. They may think investors are incredibly important, as they are, but the best way to choose companies whose values are like yours is to choose those who have a holistic view of business, who believe that investors are important but that customers, employees, and communities and suppliers, and the planet at large are equally important. So that's sort of the big, quick-and-dirty, easy definition of how you identify those companies to do business with.
How can you find a financial adviser or another professional who understands your values?
I have a whole list of questions that people can ask of their financial adviser. I think the most important thing is actually not choosing the financial adviser himself or herself, but deciding that you are the person who is responsible for your money, no matter who you choose. If someone is helping you with your finances, you own responsibility for those finances.
Many people have thought, "Oh, I don't have to worry about my investments. I have an adviser who helps me on that," only to discover later that they have lost a substantial amount of money.
So you have to be willing, especially if you are a relatively inexperienced investor, to be able to ask that person anything. You're going to have to reveal that maybe there are some things that you don't understand, and you must never allow yourself to be intimidated by anyone that you're working with on your finances, because that's how the bad guys get away with stuff.
If you sense that someone you're working with doesn't align with your values, how would you make the transition to someone who does?
It goes back to this notion of you taking responsibility. You hired that financial adviser and it's your prerogative to fire them and hire somebody else. So you have to keep the willingness to embody that responsibility. Be very polite to them and say, "I've enjoyed working with you, but I don't think that you really reflect my values." So the next time you find somebody, you ask them, "What do you think? I want my investments to be aligned with my values. What are some companies that you think have good values?" and see what they have to say.
The shorthand for looking for something like that would be to ask an adviser the extent to which he or she is comfortable and knowledgeable about socially responsible investing.
Can people's financial goals and their values coexist? Or are they sometimes in conflict?
I think that the conventional wisdom holds that financial goals are incompatible with values. And Conscious Money is a new mindset that says, "What are the financial actions that I could take? What are the investments that I could make? And how can I spend my money in a way that satisfies my heart and my head?"
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
It's not about the perfection of values or the do-gooder, sort of commendation of values—it's about having a positive, healthy, life-affirming relationship. So when your ideals and your actions are in harmony, I think that you really make better financial decisions because your emotions are steadier. Your judgment is enhanced. So it can really be positive financially.
Conscious Money is not about getting rich quick or anything close to that. There is a reasonable consideration that you will be able to grow your money organically over the long term—not fly-by-night quick, but by living in harmony with your values and also financial principles.