The Seven Stages of Money Maturity: Understanding the Spirit and Value of Money in Your Life

The Seven Stages of Money Maturity: Understanding the Spirit and Value of Money in Your Life

by George Kinder

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"A vital, seminal breakthrough work... Kinder penetrates money's enigmas and mythologies with the artist's delicate touch, the critic's discriminating eye . . . and the insightful sensitivity of a good human being. This book is a gift."
--Richard Wagner, former chairman, Institute of Certified Financial Planners

Replace anxiety, self-sabotage, and


"A vital, seminal breakthrough work... Kinder penetrates money's enigmas and mythologies with the artist's delicate touch, the critic's discriminating eye . . . and the insightful sensitivity of a good human being. This book is a gift."
--Richard Wagner, former chairman, Institute of Certified Financial Planners

Replace anxiety, self-sabotage, and self-doubt around money with the sense of ease and freedom you deserve in The Seven Stages of Money Maturity, a one-of-a-kind guide in the life-changing tradition of The 9 Steps to Financial Freedom and Your Money or Your Life. A renowned Buddhist teacher as well as a Harvard-trained, nationally prominent certified financial planner, George Kinder draws on both disciplines to guide us toward a full understanding of the spiritual and psychological issues that surround money.

Although many of us may assume that issues of money and spirit are separate, incompatible questions, George Kinder shows us that we must explore them together to attain true peace, freedom, and security in our money lives. Tracing the same path to transformation on which he has led his clients and lectured audiences for years, Kinder leads us through the Seven Steps of a journey to the profound liberation of awakening to a world of abundance and possibility.

Revealing practical, market-tested wealth-building skills as well as the wisdom that contributes to understanding and enriching the role money plays across our lives from the surface to the soul, Kinder teaches us how to:

Understand feelings that impact taking financial action
Develop understanding and knowledge about money
Eliminate stress and anxiety around money
Let go of old patterns and painful habits
Approach money tasks with energy and optimism
Design a money life that is fulfilling both financially and spiritually

A powerful new way to look at your money and at your life, The Seven Stages of Money Maturity will help us experience each encounter with money as a step toward awakening and a powerful lesson in understanding the relationships we share with others and with ourselves.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Compared to other personal finance books that offer specific financial steps and planning strategies, this book focuses on the search for spiritual meaning in wealth. Kinder, a certified financial planner and former tax accountant, focuses on three composite figures, based on real people, to illustrate the seven psychological stages people go through in their relationship to money: Innocence (not knowing anything), Pain (discovering that we need to work to earn money), Knowledge (of such skills as saving and investing), Understanding (more sophisticated emotional wisdom about greed and inequality), Vigor (energy to reach financial goals), Vision (directing vigor outward, perhaps to a community) and Aloha (altruism without expectation of gain of any kind). Kinder provides useful questionnaires in which he urges readers to reflect on various questions: What are your three earliest memories of money? Why and how did money first enter your relationship with your mother, your father? While readers comfortable with spiritual self-exploration may enjoy Kinders approach, they will still have to turn to more traditional personal finance books for nitty-gritty money advice. (May)
From the Publisher
"A wonderfully clear and wise book of guidance."
—Jacob Needleman, author of Money and the Meaning of Life

"I love this book! It's what people really need to know about money, including practical advice on budgeting and investing. But it focuses on the real core of financial planning—goals and choices."
—Peg Downey, former president, National Association of Personal Financial Advisors

"Reading The Seven Stages of Money Maturity is like holding the hand of a wise and loving father who calmly guides you down the path to the land of financial freedom."
—Cheryl Richardson, author of Take Time for Your Life

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Random House Publishing Group
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Read an Excerpt

Meeting Money Maturity

Midway in our life's journey, I went astray from the straight road and woke to find myself alone in a dark wood.
--Dante Alighieri

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.
--Henry David Thoreau

"I understand what you're saying," he said, "even though I hate admitting it to myself. "

The statement took me by surprise. I had known this man in a passing way for years, and I both admired and disliked him. My admiration came from his success as a financial planner, the same profession I practice. He was known far and wide for creating one of the largest, most multifaceted planning firms in America. But I disliked him because he stood publicly for a point of view I reject--that making money, lots of money, is an end in itself. So I was taken aback when he came up after my presentation on Money Maturity to a national meeting of financial planners and asked me if I wanted to have coffee. I could tell there was something on his mind.

He came right to the point. "I know how to make money," he said. "I've poured all my savings into the stock market for years. Now I've got more than enough to live on for the rest of my life. My problem isn't making more money."

"Then what is it?" I asked.

"The money's not enough," he answered. His tone shifted from confident to plaintive. "I have wealth, but something is missing. I don't know what it is. All I know is I'm not happy. That's why I wanted to talk to you. After hearing what you had to say, I think you may be able to tell me what to do next."

I may be a financial advisor by profession, but I often find myself working more like a priest in the confessional than a money manager. His was an admission I had heard many times before.

During the morning I had spoken on integrating money goals with personal objectives, a topic I have been presenting to my colleagues for years now. Financial professionals have discovered that if they don't understand what their clients are truly seeking, all their good advice goes for nought. In my presentation that afternoon, I had gone back to basics. Money, I explained, can be seen as the place where our internal selves engage the external world. If either side--internal or external, self or money--is slighted, the whole of life suffers.

Now, talking to my colleague over the coffee cups, I picked up on that theme in his life. "That distress you feel inside, that pain--it's there to wake you up," I said.

His face screwed up quizzically. "What do you mean?" he asked.

"It's a signal, an alarm. It's telling you, in no uncertain terms, that it's time to find out who you really are in relation to money."

"But what's that got to do with anything?" he snapped. His expression changed from quizzical to protective, as if I were getting altogether too close for comfort.

"Look at it this way. You could put all your financial statements from the past few years in front of me, and I still wouldn't know what I really need to understand in order to even begin to help you decide what to do next," I answered. "How can I work with you if I don't know who you are? Think about it. It's your own discomfort with yourself that is keeping you from seeing your way ahead."

His defensiveness gave way to curiosity.

"You've been thinking all along there's only one question about money--'How much?'" I continued. "But the truly important question is 'What does money have to do with who I am?' You think you're a success, but your feelings tell you otherwise. They're telling you 'When it comes to money, you're a mess.' Finding Money Maturity means resolving your inner conflicts around money. It really comes down to discovering a sense of ease around money. Without ease, where's the success?"

For a second or two, he was silent, thinking. Then he said, "Tell me. How do I find that ease?"

The Promise of Money Maturity

My colleague's search for ease in his relationship to money--even his difficulty in understanding that ease and freedom were what he was really seeking--is hardly unusual. The same drive for a deep-seated sense of peace on the financial side of life occupies center stage in the concerns of client after client I've worked with. And it's not just an issue for the well heeled, like my successful financial-planning colleague. The desire to achieve ease and freedom around money is as true for those who come from impoverished backgrounds and the middle class as it is for those who inherit wealth or make it big in the business world. Experiencing ease around dollars and cents is what I call Money Maturity.

When clients come to me to handle their money, or when I talk to participants in my seminars, I hear the desire for Money Maturity implicit in every statement they make about what they want their relationship to money to be. No doubt you yourself have said similar things. For example:

"I want to be wealthy in life, not necessarily in money, but I know the two are related."
"I want to be able to do whatever I want to do without thinking about the money."
"I don't want to always be afraid around money."
"I want to be free."
"I want to feel balance between life and money. Too often money wins and life loses."
"I don't want to worry about money."
"I want to get what I need without feeling guilty about it."
"I want to work and contribute in ways that are meaningful to me without having to worry about how much money I'll get from it."
"I want to feel I can be myself without money tripping me up."
"I want to know money won't get in the way of my doing what needs to be done."
"I want to be able to focus on finding value in what I do rather than finding money in what I do."
"I want to feel that I don't have to give up who I am or violate my deepest values just to get money."

Each of these statements is a cry for freedom--a desire to build the life you want from the deepest part of yourself. Just like my financial-planning colleague, you are seeking what is missing inside. You want to discover who you are in relation to money and, on the basis of that knowledge, experience freedom in the financial part of your life. That's exactly what Money Maturity offers.

Most financial advisors and books about money approach finance as if it were simply a skill to learn, the same sort of thing as hitting a fastball or speaking French like a diplomat. Money Maturity does include skills, such as understanding investment options and using a budget effectively, but it goes much deeper--to the feelings, the heart, and, yes, the soul.

Money Maturity helps resolve the troubling emotional conflicts around money that never seem to go away. For many of us money represents anything but peace. If you answer yes to any of these of these questions, you know what I mean:

Do you sabotage yourself around money--by, say, saving toward a goal only to fritter your money away in a shopping spree, charging less for your work than you need to make a living, or refusing to save for the future?
Do you feel chained to a job that limits your ability to express yourself and hampers your freedom, just because you need the money?
Are you so caught up in the rat race, and so fearful that somebody else will take your place if you stop for a breather, that you can't relax, not even for the weekend?
Does the pursuit of money leave you so drained that at the end of the day you don't have the energy for what you truly love to do--play tennis, music, write, sculpt or paint, listen to J. S. Bach or Bob Marley, spend time with your spouse, partner, children, or family?
Do you want to give more to your community yet also feel you can't because your financial situation blocks you?
Are you always in debt, ever struggling just to make the next payment--and still spending too much, digging an even deeper pit of indebtedness?
Do conversations about money with your spouse or partner have this way of erupting into fights?
Does staying home with the kids day after day leave you feeling powerless around money issues--resentful of and excluded from the marketplace, as if you don't have a voice?
Are stock market losses devastating experiences? Or do you feel the agony of self-reproach when the market goes up and you're not in it?
Do you feel stupid around money decisions, not knowing how to make them on your own or how to select a trustworthy advisor to help you?
Would you just as soon avoid checkbooks, account statements, investment decisions, and insurance policies for the rest of your life?

If you find yourself saying yes to any of these questions, Money Maturity is the answer you've been seeking.

The Benefits of Money Maturity

Money Maturity provides seven remarkable, insightful ways of understanding your own conflicts, dilemmas, difficulties, and pain around money and taking positive steps to resolve them. Money Maturity holds the promise of a new way of living financially, one that acknowledges the whole depth and breadth of human nature, not just the greed of Wall Street or the green eyeshades of Main Street. Most important, Money Maturity offers the ease and success that come from letting go of old, painful patterns around money and learning how to create your own life based on a deepened understanding of your power and purpose.

In the years I have been developing and teaching Money Maturity in my financial-planning practice and in seminars, I have seen one person after another transform his or her life. Not that the task was easy; often the road to understanding the source of emotional conflict was rocky. Still, the power of the transformation was undeniable, sometimes even miraculous. As my clients and students came to terms with lifelong messages about money--and let go of them--they discovered the clarity to take practical steps like building a budget, creating an investment plan, or redirecting their careers toward work they truly wanted. Once they had seen deeply into their emotional pattern concering money, they found themselves capable of creating a new kind of life, one that beamed with the very freedom and ease they were seeking.

Cheryl and Bob wanted to live as writers, but they felt a conflict between what their families told them hard work was all about and the purportedly effete artistic life. The conflict was so intense that they couldn't do either well. If they dedicated themselves to writing, they felt guilty about betraying their families; if they dedicated themselves to making money, they felt guilty about betraying themselves. So Bob drove a taxi and Cheryl waitressed--tough, demanding jobs that paid relatively little and left them both too drained to do more than dabble at writing. In addition, they were terrified of the stock market, and had put all of their small inheritance and work savings into low-yielding certificates of deposit and money market accounts. I suggested that, if they really wanted to live as writers, they could do it--first by facing their guilt and fear, then by investing the majority of their assets in the stock market, cutting their employment to half time, and living very simply. That was ten years ago. Now, every time I bump into either of them, they thank me. Doing what they always wanted, they are earning as much from their writing as they used to from taxis and restaurants, and they feel satisfaction and fullness across the whole spectrum of their lives.

Tanya came from one of the toughest neighborhoods on Chicago's South Side, where she learned to get away with everything and anything she could. A smart, ambitious woman, she had won a major scholarship to college and graduated with a business major. She was studying for her CPA exam and seemed poised on the edge of a brilliant career, but somehow her heart wasn't in it. Something was holding her back.

She had begun to doubt what she was doing. All along she had worked hard to prove something to herself and her family, but at this juncture of her life she was beginning to question the integrity of her life. Was it fair for her to make money when someone else couldn't? Was the system itself fair? The audit rules, the tax regulations, the whole legal network of governments and corporations--did they have a basis in integrity? Or did they simply serve to exacerbate the differences between rich and poor?

Taking the bus home after the first day of my money maturity seminar, right at the end of the section on integrity, she noticed that nobody was paying full fare and the driver wasn't making a fuss. At first she said to herself, "Cool, I'll get a cheap ride too." Then she thought about it for a moment. "If I pay less than what I should, what's that say about the kind of person I am?" She reached into her purse, found a grand total of 87 cents, counted out the 75 cent fare, and took her seat.

Next day, in the seminar, she crowed about the incident all day. In paying full fare she had discovered a personal quality of virtue around money she had never known before.

Later she told me that the choice she made on the bus, small though it might have appeared, was a turning point in her life. It changed her attitude toward herself and helped build the emotional base to pursue the career she was capable of.

"In a moment I realized that all my doubts concerned my own integrity and voice. I was feeling powerless," she said. "Suddenly it was clear to me. If I have integrity around money personally, then I have both the ease and strength inside myself to speak out on issues that are important to me, and I also have the confidence to pursue my own goals. I knew then I have everything I needed to build the career and life I want."

Carlos had a job he disliked but couldn't leave. Beset by severe diabetes, he knew that if he changed jobs, no health insurer would accept him. So he stayed where he was. Yet rather than give in to despair over a job he would have otherwise gladly left, he took charge of his work environment. He brought in flowers to mark birthdays and anniversaries for his coworkers, picked up doughnuts and muffins for coffee break, and arranged going-away parties for departing colleagues and moms-to-be taking maternity leave. Under his kind tutelage, born of insight and necessity, the corporate work group he was part of changed from hard-edged and competitive to a true community.

A financial-planning client, Dorothy, announced that after working through the seven stages, she could--for the first time in her life--walk through a mall and not spend a penny. "I've learned where my impulses come from. I recognize what they mean for me," she said. "I understand now that by avoiding spending for frivolous things I'm not depriving myself, only making a choice for what really matters to me--the freedom I'm saving for. You'd be amazed how free that makes me feel!"

When yet another client, Richard, originally came to me, he was filled with despair, stuck in a dead-end job with no hope of professional development. Gradually, as we worked together over a period of years, he moved toward meaningful work. Recently he said to me, "As long as I assumed the world was all darkness, particularly the world of money, I couldn't begin to learn how money works. Now I see how the deepest darkness comes from inside myself. In coming to terms with that darkness, I was finally able to start a new career. But what's most amazing to me is the feeling of ease and security that's come along with the job. I'd never known before what success meant."

The Road We Will Follow

Like these examples, people who have worked through the process of Money Maturity feel connected with each of the Seven Stages as if they existed within their bodies.  They feel too as if they have access to the stages--perhaps one, perhaps two, perhaps all seven--needed to resolve a particular money issue. Instead of feeling bad around money, people who have mastered the Seven Stages feel happy. Instead of feeling shattered, afraid, or confused, they feel whole and at peace around money. In this process of understanding money, they have reframed what success means to them. It is no longer some far-distant promise but a palpable experience they can sense in their bodies and souls right now. For the first time they have both hope and confidence in their future, because they have begun to feel a new integrity in their relationship to money that includes the darkest aspects of themselves as well as their deepest aspirations and most profound ideals.

As we move through this book, we will work through each of the Seven Stages of Money Maturity in turn. We will experience a process of development, much like a child learning to crawl, stand up, and finally walk. This route is something like waking up, sometimes slowly, sometimes with the suddenness of profound insight. By exploring your personal and family history and by examining the roots of your current experiences, you will learn how to identify the messages that entrap you. You will learn too how to identify the feelings that continue to block your ease of action. And then you will learn how to act with energy, understanding, and accomplishment in the world of money. You will pick up countless practical skills to approach your own financial plan, and you will be taught meditative and psychological techniques to put an end to the stresses, anxieties, and suffering you feel around money. You will learn ways to approach money tasks with greater vigor, access and accomplish your most idealistic visions around money, and bring a touch of kindness and generosity to each of your money relationships.

Each chapter will have exercises to complete and questions to answer that will give you the skills you need to:

Discover the sense of purpose within yourself that is essential to accomplishing your goals.
Determine what freedom means for you.
Invest with simplicity, profitability, and peace of mind in order to build for freedom--not merely a doddering retirement.
Find the practical resources, including the capacity to save, you need to accomplish your financial goals.
Find ease within every money encounter.
Live from a spirit of everyday generosity and kindness.

My Own Path Toward the Seven Stages

Even ten years ago, had anyone suggested that I would become an expert in healing the wounds money causes spirit, I would have broken out laughing. In fact, Money Maturity developed slowly within me as a result of my struggle to come to terms with the facts of financial life while exploring a deeper interest in literature, psychology, and the spirit. In the process I discovered a way of joining the two seemingly disparate areas of money and soul that has brought greater depth to the whole of my life.

Early on in my career, I assumed--as most of us do--that a sharp divide separates money and soul. In my own professional life that split yawned wide. Yet as vast as the chasm between the hard necessities of economic life and the profound spaces of emotional and meditative life seemed, I was determined to come to terms with both and to ignore neither. Little did I realize then that I would come to see the two worlds as joining together in the same path toward freedom. Never did I expect to find a way of development around money that, as the seven stages do, promises the rewards of spiritual and emotional transformation.

Always good at math, I started out as an economics major when I entered college at Harvard. Curiously, however, a professor in one of my sophomore classes laughed at a paper I wrote--arguing, correctly it turned out, that the 1970s would see a massive worldwide inflation. In flight from the ridicule I took refuge in my other love: literature. I majored in English, and to this day I take much of my guidance from William Blake, William Shakespeare, and Dante Alighieri.

Following college, I was accepted into Harvard's Ph.D. program in English, but rather than pursue an academic career, I moved to the country determined to live a life of spiritual practice and writing. My parents, however, were horrified at the lifestyle I was choosing, and my father provided me with work for a few hours a day, analyzing technical patterns in the stock market. Although I didn't do well at picking individual stocks, I learned a great deal about the movement of the stock market as a whole.

After two years in the country, inflation and higher gas prices swept through the nation, and it became clear that I needed to find gainful employment. Still, I was in conflict. To me freedom meant meditation and writing. I wasn't about to give them up. I remember traveling home despondent one holiday, wrestling with the question. I'd thought of farming as a possible part-time career because I didn't want to leave the fields and forests that surrounded me. When I mentioned the idea to my parents they just laughed. They understood that the hard life and long hours of their farmer friends were not for me.

My mother suggested accounting. Doing tax returns meant I could work part time, an arrangement that appealed to me. The next fall I entered graduate school in accounting at Northeastern University. Yet I remained in conflict. So intense was my desire to return to writing and spiritual studies that I quit school a few months short of completing my master's. I took the CPA exam that same year and scored third highest in the state, winning the bronze medal.

For the next thirteen years I made my living as a tax accountant. At first I worked part time, an arrangement that let me pursue my other interests in writing, painting, and meditation. The business, though, grew, by leaps and bounds, as I discovered my own capacity for entrepreneurship. When tax season neared, I was up at four on frosty winter mornings putting advertising leaflets on cars all over Cambridge. Before I knew it, I had more clients than I could handle. Pretty soon I had taken on employees, business partners, and seventy-hour workweeks.

The tax practice grew naturally into a financial-planning business. Many of my clients were making bonehead investments, ones that served their interests poorly. Often they made these investments on the recommendation of supposedly professional financial advisors, many of whom were raking in big commissions for bad advice. Angered by this combination of ineptitude and greed, I figured I owed my clients a chance at something better. In time, I moved away from tax preparation to focus on comprehensive financial planning, which includes tax planning, investments, retirement and estate planning, and insurance, with a particular expertise in money management. Having done tens of thousands of tax returns and hundreds of financial plans, I eventually narrowed my professional focus to the financial care of ninety individuals and families with a combined net worth of $100 million.

In the mid-1980s, as part of the effort to develop my business, I began teaching my first money seminar, called "How You Might Retire in Twelve Years by Saving 12 Percent Per Year," at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education. The course was extremely popular, and I eventually began offering it in Hawaii, where I started living part time, and California. Then, at the urging of a close friend, I took my developing message about Money Maturity to a national conference on financial illiteracy sponsored by the Institute of Certified Financial Planners (ICFP).  Even though I was a complete unknown at the time, my speech was extremely well received. That success led to other speaking invitations with national financial planning organizations and major brokerage houses, plus a long, continuing string of interviews with The New York Times, Newsweek, Fortune, The Wall Street Journal, and other prominent publications. Through my seminar business and public appearances, I have spoken to tens of thousands of people over the years.

At that ICFP meeting I also met Dick Wagner, then ICFP president and, it turned out, a kindred spirit. Together he and I founded a gathering of financial planners interested in understanding and resolving dysfunctionality around money. We called ourselves the Nazrudin Project. The group has grown into an influential behind-the-scenes think tank of some of the most powerful and visionary financial professionals in the country.

There was good reason why we chose the name Nazrudin for the group. In the teaching stories of the Sufis, the mystic branch of Islam, Mullah Nazrudin figures as the holy trickster, much like Coyote in the Native American tradition, the wild man who upends people's blinkered, conventional ways of thinking and forces them to look at themselves anew. One of the many stories about the Mullah tells of the day Nazrudin went to the bank to cash a check. The teller examined the draft, looked at the Mullah, and said, "Can you identify yourself, sir?"

"Certainly," said the Mullah, without a moment's hesitation. He rummaged in his satchel and pulled out a small hand mirror, in which he admired his own face. Then the Mullah announced proudly, "That's me all right!"

The whole thrust of the Nazrudin Project is seeking out ways to help people discover their own identities and to bring that discovery to bear on their presence in the world of money. I was doing the same in my own life. Even while I was building up my business and my reputation as a financial planner, I followed the Mullah's lead in discovering who I was. In addition to psychological workshops and ongoing studies of Blake, Dante, and Shakespeare, I took up a Buddhist way of living and in time became a Buddhist teacher. In addition to instructing many individual students every week, I lead five silent weeklong retreats each year in New England and Hawaii.

My involvement with literature and Buddhism has contributed a great deal to the Seven Stages. Dante, Blake, and Shakespeare share similar views of the process by which humans progress toward awakening and freedom, and I have borrowed from their writings to develop the Seven Stages, as you'll see throughout this book. The Asian concept of chakras, physical energy centers used in acupuncture and meditation as well as Buddhism, has also played a role, since each of the Seven Stages corresponds to a chakra. And Buddhism introduced me to the Bodhicaryavatara, a long poem that was the first Buddhist book I ever read cover to cover, one that continues to influence me every day of my life.

Written by the eighth-century sage Shantideva, the Bodhicaryavatara is said to be the root text of Tibetan Buddhism, something like the first five books of the Old Testament in Judaism. Indeed, Shantideva's poem has been the subject of several books of commentary by the current Dalai Lama. Other than its pedigree, however, the Bodhicaryavatara most impressed me for its clear rendition of the world's suffering darkness. We all feel some of that suffering in the realm of money--humiliation and shame when work feels desperate, terror when investments go sour, anger when lawsuits over money explode, anxiety when a job disappears, outrage when inheritances are divided unequally, and diminished self-worth when hard work devolves into cheating and pettiness, debts mount, or savings evaporate. Shantideva described the suffering of the world, but he emphasized most his own personal involvement in that suffering. That is, rather than blame his feelings on some impersonal outside force, be it government or multinational corporations or some ethnic group, he looked inside himself to find the source of suffering within. And, most wonderfully, he found there not only the seeds of his suffering but also everything he needed to become free.

The Seven Stages of Money Maturity: A Path to Freedom

In the Buddhist view, the world of suffering--which Shantideva and the Buddha called samsara--constitutes the First Noble Truth. Samsara is noble because of what it inspires us to do. Seeing suffering in ourselves and in others, we resolve to comprehend it, meet it, and bring it to an end. The bearing of suffering becomes noble when it prompts us to pursue freedom.

The pursuit of freedom was what I found so inspiring about Shantideva. Shantideva wanted freedom not only for himself but also for everyone. I see this same drive in my financial-planning clients. When I ask them what they want, most say freedom for themselves, then they name freedom for their families, friends, and communities. Shantideva perceived that freedom is possible, and he devoted himself to it, by developing the Buddhist pursuits called the Six Perfections, or the Six Paramitas. The Seven Stages of Money Maturity apply the insights of this ancient wisdom to the world of money.

The Two Stages of Childhood: Innocence and Pain

The world we enter as children and continue to live in as adults is the world of suffering. The tangled web of beliefs we cling to and painful feelings we strive to avoid make up the samsara Shantideva devoted his life to understanding. Convinced that his false beliefs and treacherous feelings mired him in a world of dreams, Shantideva dedicated himself to a "mind of awakening" in regard to them.

Innocence. Innocence represents the beliefs, thoughts, stories, attitudes, and assumptions about money we hold on to for dear life no matter how fiercely the world works to remind us of their untruth. The process of entrapment in beliefs begins early in childhood, when parents pass on their own often-unstated attitudes about money. We seize upon these beliefs, sometimes burying them so deeply within our beings that we don't even know they're there--yet they still influence every money decision we make.

Innocence is related to the first chakra, at the base of the spine, the physical realm that governs basic survival activities like eating, drinking, and defecating. As the former chair of the ICFP Dick Wagner puts it, "Money skills are the survival skills of the twenty-first century." The desperate, often unconscious way we cling to our beliefs around money reflects the urgency of our basic needs.

Jake and Mary, two clients of mine, show how Innocence works. Throughout his career, Jake had always had good jobs. Meanwhile, Mary raised the children and never thought about working. Her father had always told her, "You'll never have to worry about money," and she never did, because Jake was a good provider. So it came as quite a shock when they came into my office--he was sixty, she fifty-seven--and I let them know the six-figure retirement savings they thought they had was probably worthless.

The message Jake had heard from his father throughout childhood was "Work hard and swing for the fences. Go for broke." And that's what he did. He worked hard, was a good father, and paid all the bills. When it came to his savings, he always swung for the fences. Sometimes he hit home runs, sometimes he struck out. The good news was that all of his retirement had been invested in cellular phone rights when cellular phones were young and prices were low. The bad news was his rights were subject to a lottery, and he'd lost.

Jake and Mary are much better off now than when I first met them. Mary works part time. And whenever the next roll of the dice tempts him, Jake calls me for a reality check before acting. Confronting their childhood messages wasn't easy, but now their assets are steadily growing.

Innocence works upon our lives even when we are long past early childhood. Somewhere, far back in the unremembered past, Jake and Mary had taken their childhood money message so deeply to heart that they never thought to question them, even around an issue as critical as retirement savings. For all of us, bringing beliefs like these into consciousness, long before tragedy strikes, is the first step toward the freedom of Money Maturity.

Pain. The suffering of samsara comprises feelings as well as beliefs, the difficult emotions inextricably tied in with deeply held assumptions and stories. These feelings are connected with the second chakra, the center of sexuality, a zone that comes alive in adolescence and is often the seat of conflict, guilt, and shame. Appropriately, I call this stage Pain. I remember well the first time I encountered its power around money.

When I returned to school after Christmas vacation in the sixth grade, I made a point of listing all my gifts to one of my best friends. His dad was a miner who worked in one of the many coal pits in the corner of Appalachia where we lived. My dad was a country lawyer. I didn't yet understand the financial difference between our fathers' worlds. Starting with my stocking gifts, I told my friend about the tan gerine, the Scotch tape, the two ballpoint pens, the Silly Putty, and the deck of cards. I still had more to go when he stopped me.

"I don't believe you," he said. "I don't believe you got all that."

"What did you get?" I said.

"A deck of cards. That was it."

Instantly the eyes of this rough tough kid clouded with tears, and he ran to the teacher for consolation. All that week I felt terrible and confused. I had just stumbled into the difficult, emotional revelation that some of us have more money than others.

We make two fundamentally painful discoveries about money. The first, the reality that hit me smack in the face after my sixth-grade Christmas, is that each of us is richer than some people yet poorer than others. The second discovery is that we will have to work to get money for the things we want, a lesson that shatters the comfortable dependency of childhood. As we move into adulthood, we relearn and relive these painful lessons again and again.

Most of us recycle between Pain and Innocence in a way that prevents us from moving forward toward Money Maturity. Say, for example, that your basic Innocent belief was "Live for today. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?" Acting on that naive belief, you've spent everything you've ever earned--plus quite a bit more, thanks to the miracle of credit cards. Now you're approaching fifty, your children are talking about going to college, and you don't have the savings to afford their tuition. You also find out that the occasional pain in your chest is an early symptom of heart disease--and you without a cent put away for retirement. Suddenly you feel like a complete idiot. Panic sets in as Pain displaces Innocence.

At this point, many people substitute a new Innocent belief for the one that is causing their suffering. Facing the despair of your own lack of resources, you may remember the family story about Uncle Ernie, who went into debt to buy a drought-ridden corner of Oklahoma. Everybody thought he was a complete fool for the six years before oil was discovered on his land and he traded in his dented pickup for a long white limousine. "If Uncle Ernie could do it, so can I," you say to yourself, and plunk down every penny you're able to beg, borrow, and steal on some trendy investment scheme. You'll probably lose it all and set the scene for yet another round of Innocence becoming Pain becoming Innocence yet again.

There is another way. We can use Pain to wake ourselves up. We can let its discomfort propel us toward the depth and wisdom that blossom from Money Maturity. Pain can serve as the warning signal to the deep self that moves us toward Money Maturity.

The Three Stages of Adulthood: Knowledge, Understanding, and Vigor

Shantideva called freedom bodhicitta, a word of complex meaning that refers to the awakening of the heart or soul to a dedication to freedom. Bodhicitta inspires us to develop the internal skills we need to move beyond our cycles of suffering around money.

Knowledge. First Shantideva realized that in order not to fall again into the pit of suffering he would have to perfect and guard his moral conduct, or virtue. The Money Maturity stage of Knowledge, while filled with practical things like budgets and taxes and investments, is actually rooted in virtue and integrity. Without integrity economic systems and relationships fall apart. Shantideva's determination to act always with integrity in the day-to-day world forms the only healthy basis from which we can approach the universe of information and Knowledge about money.

The practical part of Knowledge is the financial-planning process. It begins at the point where we translate our desire for freedom into concrete goals and commit ourselves to achieving them.  Financial planning comprises three steps: identifying your goals, assessing the resources you have to accomplish your goals, and selecting a path from your resources to your goals.

This path is a path of power. Knowledge resides in the third chakra, which is centered in the solar plexus, the place where power resides. The third chakra, however, is primarily about digestion and  Knowledge is the most difficult area for people to assimilate or digest.  It can require, among other things, an assessment of your assets, liabilities, and capacity to save. It involves an understanding of investments, insurance, taxes, retirement planning, and general economic theory as well. In the chapter on Knowledge, I will provide charts of high-return asset categories that have provided investors with shortcuts to economic freedom for decades.

Understanding. Next Shantideva realized that regardless of his determination to act virtuously, the world throws endless curveballs. In fact, to avoid stumbling into the world of suffering's many pitfalls, Shantideva knew he had to cultivate enormous Patience, the second perfection. What Shantideva called patience I call Understanding, which springs from the heart, the fourth chakra. Understanding teaches us how to achieve peace in the midst of the anxiety, stress, and suffering that arise from money issues.

Alice, a former client of mine, provided for a sister suffering from a disease that was sucking her life away, but only very slowly. Like Sisyphus endlessly pushing his big rock up the hill, Alice felt tied to a demanding high-paying job. Although her work exhausted and depleted her, she said she needed the money to pay for some expensive technological miracle that might one day come along to spare her sister's life. Yet Alice never saved a penny. To assuage her misery in her work and her despair and helplessness over her sister's slow decline, she bought herself costly trinkets and took expensive vacations. Enslaved by the desire to attend to her sister, distracted by false hopes for a technological breakthrough that would end the need for round-the-clock care, racing day after day from job to sister's bedside and back again, Alice used frenetic activity to block the grief she felt over knowing she could never alter her sister's fate.

When I first helped her tap into these feelings, pent-up tears overwhelmed her. Over the next year, as she admitted her feelings to consciousness and allowed them to live within her, she dropped the false desires that caused her suffering, shifted the focus of her life to deepening herself, and moved into a career she had always wanted yet never thought she could afford. And, remarkably, she started saving.

Beneath many similarly difficult financial situations lie unbearable feelings about money such as envy, miserliness, greed, jealousy, shame, humiliation, and guilt. Resolving these emotions, which is the benefit of Understanding, makes it possible for us to act effectively in ways that earlier appeared incomprehensible.

Vigor. Once Shantideva had the perfections of moral conduct and patience under his belt, he was freed from many of the shackles of the world. His freedom allowed him to develop the third perfection: energy, enthusiasm, and vigor to pursue his goal of freedom. This same Vigor enables us to find what constitutes freedom for us in the world of money.

A client I advised for a number of years came from a working-class background in an eastern mill town. Like all the men in his family before him, he went into the factory at age fourteen. He was a man of extraordinary talent and energy, the kind who regularly put in sixty to seventy hours a week. By the time he was thirty, he owned the factory and had made a great deal of money. Understanding firsthand the harsh reality of the laboring life, he wanted to spare his children the same ordeal. Consciously he wished to take away the pain of the struggle he had known; unconsciously he robbed his offspring of the struggle they needed to find purpose in life on their own. He indulged his kids in the best of everything, from designer-label clothes, bicycles, and pets to exotic vacations, automobiles, and rock concerts whenever they wanted, whether they deserved it or not.

The results were disastrous. Today those children have grown into adults who spend down the assets of sizable trust funds, waste days in front of the television, and phone their now-aged dad to complain how rotten their lives are. He wanted to be kind and caring, yet he fell unwittingly into a pattern of action that robbed his children of Vigor.

Vigor centers on discovering purpose in life and putting one's energy into accomplishing that purpose. Vigor is centered in the fifth chakra, the throat, the place from which we speak with authority. Vigor concerns authority, in the sense of "authoring" our own lives, and it springs from a variety of practices and exercises we will explore in detail later in this book.

The Two Stages of Awakening: Vision and Aloha

Vision and Aloha are strongly related, the first stage being more external, the second more internal. In Vision we draw from practical knowledge, the opening of the heart to feelings, and the sense of life's purpose to take effective, even prophetic action in our communities--whether they are as large as Earth itself or as small as a backyard. And as we grow in wisdom and achieve Aloha, our souls manifest themselves in small actions others may experience as blessings. The serenity, ease, and freedom that Vision and Aloha offer are the rewards of the Seven Stages.

Vision. This stage rests in the sixth chakra, the so-called third eye of yoga and Tantric Buddhism, where we see God everywhere. Once Shantideva had developed the energy to pursue freedom, he was able to follow the spiritual practice necessary to accomplish it. Shantideva described this perfection as the power to meditate one-pointedly. Vision matches this powerful inward focus with a powerful outward focus. Instead of seeing God everywhere, we see good to be accomplished all around us, and we have the skills to make the vision real.

Vision is all about seeing. It directs our sense of life purpose beyond ourselves toward the health and welfare of communities. Personal gain may be mixed in, yet the perspective of the whole is the driving force. For many people who grew up in steel country as I did, Andrew Carnegie remains an unpopular figure a century after his death. But his donation of hundreds of millions to endow thousands of public libraries across the United States remains a classic example of Vision. These days Vision manifests itself in the Internet and other technologies that connect communities across the face of the globe. Ted Turner's zeal to build CNN into a worldwide communications system is yet another example of Vision in action.

Vision, though, need be neither grand nor global. It may be as simple as preserving a small park threatened by development in a city that desperately needs its few remaining green spaces, or finding a donor to provide swings for a children's playground, or pitching in to serve Thanksgiving dinner to the homeless. We understand that we ourselves, not somebody else, are responsible for the things of this world. We take delight in having the tools to make a difference.

In Vision, we perceive that waking up to money really has had nothing to do with money per se. Instead, we have been allowing our souls to awaken, grow strong, and move into the world, as they are meant to do. Awakening is our birthright; it is the essence of freedom.

With Vision we understand further that money is a conduit through which our souls flow into the world. We have produced as much as we personally need. We discover within us a capacity to reach out farther than we have ever imagined toward meeting the needs of our families and communities. We find no obstacle between what we want to accomplish and what we do. If we have grown rich, we give it back to foundations and nonprofits (e.g., Rockefeller, Ford, Annenberg, Packard, Hewlett, etc.); if not, we give locally to our communities. We understand that nothing really belongs to us, even what we conventionally call "I, me, or mine." This understanding leads us to community service as a way of returning the gift.

Aloha. The last perfections of Shantideva's Bodhicaryavatara are wisdom and generosity. Their chakra is found at the top of the head, the place where we merge with the divine. When you encounter this energy, you know exactly what it is.

My mother was a housewife, and the arena of her life's activity was her home and yard. She took her responsibility toward that space both seriously and lovingly. The one morning a week when Mr. Johnstone worked his way up the back alley to pick up the garbage at each house, she stepped outside to say hello. It was a meeting she never missed. Whatever she was doing, she dropped it to head out back.

There came a garbage morning during my teen years when my mother and I were engaged in one of those deep and serious discussions adolescent boys have with their moms. Right in the middle of this earnest talk, the clatter of cans announced Mr. Johnstone's coming. My mother's ears pricked up.

"I have to go out," she said. "I'll only be a minute."

"You don't have to go," I said. "The garbage is already out. You can stay."

"No, I have to go," she insisted, and she was out of the house before I could protest further.

Years later, at my mother's funeral, a small African American man with gray hair came up to me. "I'm Mr. Johnstone," he said. "I used to pick up your garbage when you were only a child."

I was stunned. I remembered Mr. Johnstone as strapping, tall, and strong, a lion of a man. Age had withered him, yet I felt his strength when he shook my hand. In that simple touch he bridged the divide between us: a poor, now-old black man connecting with a younger, better-off white.

"Your mother was a wonderful woman," Mr. Johnstone said.

"I know," I said.

"No, you don't," he countered, his eyes flashing both ferocity and kindness. He took my right hand and cradled it between his two palms.

"Let me tell you something about your mother," he continued. He poured his eyes into mine. "I never left her backyard without feeling I was a better person than when I went in."

My mother's gift to Mr. Johnstone and his to me were acts of Aloha, generous and selfless blessing that transcended the economic differences between us. Aloha is a word I've borrowed from the native Hawaiians I know from living part of each year on Maui. Tourists learn that "aloha" stands for both hello and good-bye in Hawaiian. Actually it has a deeper, richer meaning. Aloha conveys kindness, generosity, at-one-ness, and compassion.

Practicing Shantideva's perfections of generosity and wisdom, we give without expectation of return, understanding that living is giving. We know both the limitations and the power of money, yet money no longer agitates us. We rest calm before it. In that calmness we can serve one another from the natural generosity that lies within and waits to be offered to the world. Aloha does not arise from clinging to childhood messages about generosity. Rather, it is the natural consequence of facing the world as it is and connecting wholly, deeply, and truthfully with its reality.

Looking Forward

The Seven Stages of Money Maturity will guide you chapter by chapter through the steps leading to Money Maturity, showing the pattern by which each of us grows toward freedom. As you read through this book, you will discover yourself awakening as a person. You will discover too, as participants in my seminars do, that you feel energized in each of the Seven Stages and that you have discovered seven powerful new ways of working not only with financial issues but also with the whole of your life. Like Shantideva, you will set yourself on the pilgrim's path to freedom.

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

George Kinder divides his time between Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Maui, Hawaii. He leads his seminar, the Seven Stages of Money Maturity, in locations all over the country.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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