A childhood friend of mine who is now a Presbyterian minister had this intriguing link on her FB page today. It was something called a “money autobiography.” This device, developed in 2001 by a financial planner named Richard B. Wagner, poses questions so that individuals can explore the personal and cultural roots of their perceptions about money. Interestingly, in just the limited research I’ve done, I’ve found Wagner’s exercise reprinted almost exclusively by churches as part of programming for parishioners who are struggling with money, communication, and relationships.
So it’s in that vein that I offer Wagner’s questionnaire from which one builds the “money autobiography.” I can’t help but wonder how the characters in A Doll’s House might answer these questions. Ibsen uses a family’s financial (and legal) catastrophe to diagnose the power inequity at the heart of the marriage upon which the family has been built. I’m not quite sure that Wagner’s diagnostic moves much beyond the personal and emotional, but it does raise interesting questions to consider especially in this time of economic turmoil.
To understand your relationship with money, it is important to be aware of your self in the contexts of culture, family, value systems and experience. These questions will help you. This is a process of self-discovery. To fully benefit from this exploration, please address them in writing. You will simply not get the full value from it if you just breeze through and give mental answers. While it is recommended that you first answer these questions by yourself, many people relate that they have enjoyed the experience of sharing them with others who are important to them.
As you answer these questions, be conscious of your feelings, actually describing them in writing as part of your process.
- What is your first memory of money?
- What is your happiest moment with Money?
- Your unhappiest?
- Name the miscellaneous money messages you received as a child.
- How were you confronted with the knowledge of differing economic circumstances among people, that there were people “richer” than you and people “poorer” than you?
- What is your cultural heritage and how has it traditionally interfaced with money?
- To the best of your knowledge, how has it been impacted by the money forces? Be specific.
- To the best of your knowledge, does this circumstance have any motive related to Money?
- Speculate about the manners in which your forebears’ money decisions continue to affect you today?
- How is/was the subject of Money addressed by your church or the religious traditions of your forebears?
- What happened to your parents or grandparents during the depression?
- How did your family communicate about money?
- How? Be as specific as you can be, but remember that we are more concerned about impacts upon you than historical veracity.
- When did your family migrate to America (or its current location)?
- What else do you know about your family’s economic circumstances historically?
- What was the original primary source of your money?
- What gifts were shared with others in return for this money? (goods, services, establishments, etc?)
- How did your mother address Money?
- Your father?
- How did they differ in their money attitudes?
- How did they address Money in their relationship?
- Did they argue or maintain strict silence?
- How do you feel about that today?
- Please do your best to answer the same questions regarding your life or business partner(s) and their parents.
- How did you relate to Money as a child?
- Did you feel “poor” or “rich”?
- Were you anxious about Money?
- Did you receive an allowance?
- When did you first acquire a credit card?
- What did it represent to you when you first held it in your hands?
- Describe your feelings about credit.
- Do you have trouble living within your means?
- Do you have debt?
- Have your attitudes shifted during your adult life?
- Why did you choose your personal path?
- Would you do it again?
- Describe your feelings about credit.
- Are you Money motivated?
- If so, please explain why? If not, why not?
- How do you feel about your present financial situation?
- Are you financially fearful or resentful? How do you feel about that?
- Will you inherit Money? How does that make you feel?
- If you are well off today, how do you feel about the Money situations of others?
- If you feel poor, same question.
- How do you feel about begging? Welfare?
- If you are well off today, why are you working?
- Do you worry about your financial future?
- Are you generous or stingy? Do you treat? Do you tip?
- Do you give more than you receive or the reverse? Would others agree?
- Could you ask a close relative for a business loan? For rent/grocery money?
- Could you subsidize a non-related friend? How would you feel if that friend bought something you deemed frivolous?
- Do you judge others by how you perceive they deal with their Money?
- Do you feel guilty about your prosperity?
- Are your siblings prosperous?
- What does the word “retirement” mean to you?
- What part does Money play in your spiritual life?
- Do you “live” your Money values?
- What is your income from all sources?
- Is your income reliable?
- What are possible threats to your income?
- Do you have contingency plans in the event your income is disrupted for any reason?
- What is your net worth? (The sum total of the sale value of all of your assets less your debts.)
- What sorts of assets do you own?
- What is the purpose of these assets?
- Do you understand the financial implications of these assets? (i.e., what is a bond? What is a stock? What is a collectible? What is real estate? What are commodities? What is a“start-up”? What is an IRA or other pension oriented account type? Etc.)
- Do you have insurance sufficient to meet anticipatable, foreseeable, not easily absorbable risks?
- Do you understand the financial implications of an extended life span?
- Do you have a will? Do you have documents explaining your intentions for personal care in the event of a debilitating illness? For administration of your assets?
- If you own a business or people are relying upon your continued life, do you have a succession plan?
- Do you have people you can trust in your life?
- Do you understand how money works?
- Are you carrying debt of any sort? Why?
- Are you having trouble paying your bills?
- Have you analyzed your spending patterns/habits?
- How many credit cards do you have? Why?
As you look around at your possessions:
- Do you understand why you bought each one?
- Do you understand its current value to you?
- Do you wish you had your money back?
There may be other useful questions to pose to you. Others may occur to you as you progress through your life’s journey. The point is to know and understand your personal money issues and their ramifications for your life, work and personal mission. This will be a “work in progress” with answers being both complex and incomplete. Just incorporate the fine tuning into your life’s processes and practices and share the good ones with us or others.
Wager is linked with WorthLiving LLC and the Nazrudin Project, a group of financial planners inspired by Jacob Needleman’s 1991 book Money and the Meaning of Life and organized by George Kinder. The Nazrudins turned questions of financial planning (esp. for retirement) inward, away from “how much do I need?” to “what will bring me satisfaction and joy?”