Your Money or Your Life
9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship
with Money and Achieving Financial Independence
Vicki Robin & Joe Dominguez
Penguin Books, New York (USA), revised edition, 2008 (1992)
328 pages, including index.

Already from the prologue, the book reads at times like the typically American self-help book:

The purpose of this book is to transform your relationship with money. That relationship encompasses more than just your earning, spending, debts and savings; it also includes the time these functions take in your life. In addition, your relationship with money is reflected in the sense of satisfaction and fulfillment that you get from your connection to your family, your community and the planet.

To transform something is to change in a fundamental way its nature or function. Once you have changed the nature and function of your interaction with money, through following the steps in this book, your relationship with money will be transformed —you will reach new levels of comfort, competence and consciousness around money. And that's only the beginning of what's possible —once you start following this new road map for money.

(Vicky Robin & Joe Dominguez: Your Money or Your Life, pp. XXV-XXVI)

Our old financial map, instead of making us more independent, fulfilled individuals, has led us into a web of financial dependencies; our lives are so woven into the fabric of the economy that many of us no longer have the other kinds of wealth to fall back on —closeknit families and communitiesm growing our own food, knowing how to make and fix the tools of daily life. The old road map has hit the end of the road. The material progress that was supposed to free us has left us more enslaved.

Conditions have changed, but we are still operating financially by the rules established during the Industrial Revolution —rules based on creating more material possessions. But our high standard of living has not led to a high quality of life —for us or for the planet. Remember that the old road map had nothing wrong with it. It brought unimaginable conveniences and comforts to the common man and woman. But the territory has changed, and new tools for navigation are needed. What we need now is a new financial road map that is based on current global conditions and offers us a way out.

(Vicky Robin & Joe Dominguez: Your Money or Your Life, p. XXVIII)

So, what is this "old road map" all about?

Consider the average worker in almost any urban industrialized city. The alarm rings at 6:45 and our working man or woman is up and running. Shower. Dress in the professional uniform —suits or dresses for some, coveralls for others, whites for the medical professionals, jeans and flannel shirts for construction workers. Breakfast, if there's time. Grab commuter mug and briefcase (or lunch box). Hop in the car for the daily punishment called rush hour or on a bus or train packed crushingly tight. On the job from nine to five. Deal with the boss. Deal with the coworker sent by the devil to rub you the wrong way. Deal with suppliers. Deal with clients/customers/patients. Act busy. Hide mistakes. Smile when handed impossible deadlines. Give a sigh of relief when the ax known as "restructuring" or "downsizing" —or just plain getting laid off— falls on other heads. Shoulder the added workload. Watch the clock. Argue with your conscience but agree with the boss. Smile again. Five o'clock. Back in the car and onto the freeway or into the bus or train for the evening commute. Home. Act human with mates, kids or roommates. Eat. Watch TV. Bed. Eight hours of blessed oblivion.

And they call this making a living? Think about it. How many people have you seen who are more alive at the end of the workday than they were at the beginning? Do we come home from our "making a living" activity with more life? Do we bound through the door, refreshed and energized, ready for a great evening with the family? Where's all the life we supposedly made at work? For many of us, isn't the truth of it closer to "making a dying"? Aren't we killing ourselves —our health, our relationships, our sense of joy and wonder— for our jobs? We are sacrificing our lives for money, but it's happening so slowly that we barely notice. Graying temples and thickening middles along with dubious signs of progress like a corner office, a private secretary or tenure are the only landmarks of the passage of time. Eventually we may have all the comforts and even luxuries we could ever want, but inertia keeps us locked into the nite-to-five pattern. After all, if we didn't work, what would we do with our time? The dreams wew had of finding meaning and fulfillment through our jobs have faded into the reality of professional politics, burnout, boredom and intense competition.

Even those of us who like our jobs and feel we're making a contribution can recognize that there is a larger arena we could enjoy, one that is beyond the world of ninte-to-five: the fulfillment that would come from doing work we love with no limitations or restraints —and no fear of getting fired and joining the ranks of the unemployed. How many times do we think or say, "I would do it this way if I could, but the board members/Zilch Foundation want it done their way"? How much have we had to compromise our dreams in order to keep our funding or our job?

(Vicky Robin & Joe Dominguez: Your Money or Your Life, pp. 3-4)

Connected to the limits to growth in a larger sense:

Our economy's version of "more is better" is "growth is good." Modern economics worships growth. Growth will solve poverty, the theory goes. Growth will increase our standard of living. Growth will reduce unemployment. Growth will keep us apace with inflation. Growth will relieve the boredom of the rich and the misery of the poor. Growth will bolster the GNP, boost the Dow and beat the Japanese. A rising tide lifts all boats.

What we overlook is that the fuel for economic growth comes from nature, and even under the best of circumstances, nature is not infinitely abundant. Resources can and do run out.

There are limits to nature. At a physical level, nothing grows forever. Every plant and every animal reaches an optimal size and then begins mature function, participating in life —leafing, fruiting, responding to stimuli and providing nourishment and competition for other forms of life around it. We also know that every population of plants or animals reaches a maximum number, based on the finite resources of energy, food, water, soil and air, and then begins to stabilize or decrease in size. There always comes a point where the individual or the specific population either collapses or dies off due to lack of resources, or stabilizes at a level that the environment can handle.

By ignoring this fundamental reality of the natural world, we as individuals, and our economy, are now exceeding Earth's capacity to handle our demands. According to the latest "ecological footprint" studies —which measure how much biologically productive land and sea we use compared to what is available— by 2003 we were spending planetary resources at a rate 25 percent above the planet's capacity to replenish them. In a very real sense, we are no longer living off the interest (Earth's regenerating resources), but spending down the resource capital.

US consumption exceeds resource capacity by an even wider margin. If everyone consumed resources at the rate of the average American citizen, we would need four extra planets to supply the resources. Couple this consumption with the desire of others to acquire the same luxuries that we enjoy, and you have a scenario for disaster.

(Vicky Robin & Joe Dominguez: Your Money or Your Life, p. 13)

But what can we do? How in the midst of our busy lives can we become aware of, much less do something about, the enormous problems we're facing? "What can one person do?" we ask, and then change stations on the radio. And so we continue, making a stab at changing one week, bingeing the next and depending on denial to shield us from the touch choices ahead.

If we continue to rely on making small, token changes, however, we will merely slow our headlong rush toward a diminished and impoverished future. What's needed isn't change, it is transformation. Change seeks different solutions to intractable problems. Transformation asks different questions so that we can see the problems in a new light. Transformation doesn't just try a new set of solutions to intractable problems, it asks a new set of questions that allows us to see the problems themselves in a new light.

We need to shift from an ethic of growth to an ethic of sustainability, which will certainly require each one of us to transform our relationship with money and the material world. Transforming our relationship with money and reevaluating our earning and spending activity could put us and the global commons back on track. We need to learn from our past, determine our present reality and create a new, reality-based relationship with money, discarding assumptions and myths that don't work. We need a new road map for money and materialism —one that is truly in tune with the times.

(Vicky Robin & Joe Dominguez: Your Money or Your Life, pp. 18-19)

As with the flat Earth and the snakes in the bedroom, there are many realities that our financial beliefs and our financial behavior do not take into account. Although we are largely unconscious of our financial belief system, our blindness condemns us to prisons of our own making.

While we might vigorously maintain that we know that "money doesn't buy happiness" and "the best things in life are free," honesty requires that we look deeper. Our behavior tells a different story.

What do we do when we are depressed, when we are lonely, when we feel unloved? More often than not we buy something to make us feel better. A new outfit. A drink (or two). A new car. An ice cream cone. A ticket to Hawaii. A goldfish. A ticket to the movies. A bag of Oreos (or two).

When we want to celebrate good fortune, we buy something. A round of drinks. A catered wedding. A bouquet of roses. A diamong ring.

When we are bored, we buy something. A magazine. A cruise. A board game. A bet on the horses.

When we think there must be more to life, we buy something. A workshop. A self-help book. A therapist. A house in the country. A condo in the city.

None of this is wrong. It's just what we do. We have learned to seek external solutions to signals from the mind, heart or soul that someething is out of balance. We try to satisfy essentially psychological and spiritual needs with consumption at a physical level. How did this happen?

(Vicky Robin & Joe Dominguez: Your Money or Your Life, pp. 20-21)

Once you catch on to what clutter is, you'll find it everywhere. Isn't meaningless activity a form of clutter? How many of the power lunches, cocktail parties, social events and long evenings glued to the computer or TV screen have been clutter —activities that add nothing positive to your life? What about disorganized days, full of busyness with no sense of accomplishment? And what about items on your To Do list of tasks that never get done? Stumbling over them, week in, week out, on your list is like the frustration of navigating the perennial newspapers and kids' toys that litter some people's living rooms.

There is also sound clutter. Is it any wonder that clutter and clatter are only a letter apart? For many of us there are the noises of city life and of our workplaces that we filter out daily. For denizens of urban canyons the silence of the desert can be deafening. While not everyone is cut out to be a desert-dweller, it's a sad commentary on modern life to realize what a luxury it is to have control over our aural environment, enjoying only the sounds of nature and good conversation. Instead, there's the cacophony of cars and buses, television and radio, microwaves and dishwashers, and trivial chatter. All of it is clutter —elements in your environment that don't serve you yet take up space. There are cluttered motives, such as when we are of many minds about everything from public policy to personal decisions. Unplanned errands are often clutter —running to the store twice a day for items forgotten on your weekly shopping. Hobbies are clutter-intensive when the ratio of what you have to what you use climbs —like the photopgraphy buffs with suitcases full of lenses and filters who get their best shots with a pocket digital.

As your awareness of clutter deepens, you'll be inspired to spring-clean your whole life. As you follow the nine steps outlined in this book, you will develop your own personal definition of clutter and will slowly, painlessly, even joyfully, rid yourself of it. The first step will be to examine the past so you can understand and take responsibility for the present.

(Vicky Robin & Joe Dominguez: Your Money or Your Life, pp. 26-27)

As we said in Chapter 1, one of our pervasive assumptions is that growth is good. Our economy depends on growth to survive —and many of us have absorbed that growth ethic into our own aspirations for our lives. If we have one car, we need two. If we have one pair of pants, we need two; if we have two, we need three. We ignore intelletual, emotional and spiritual growth, having gotten stuck trying to continue to grow physically by adding more and more possessions.

(Vicky Robin & Joe Dominguez: Your Money or Your Life, p. 49)

All our false notions about money thus far have one common flaw —they identify money as something external to ourselves. It is something we all too often don't have, which we struggle to get, and on which we pin our hopes of power, happiness, security, acceptance, success, fulfillment, achievement and personal worth. Money is the master and we the slaves. Money is the victor and we the vanquished.

What, then, is the way out? What is the one consistently true statement we can make about money that will allow us to be clear, masterful and powerful in our relationship with it?

Money is something we choose to trade our life energy for.

(Vicky Robin & Joe Dominguez: Your Money or Your Life, p. 51)

Let's begin by exploring what images the phrase "Financial Independence" conjures up for you. Making a killing? Inheriting a fortune? Winning the lottery? Cruises, tropical islands, world travel? Jewels, Porsches, designer clothes? Most of us picture Financial Independence as an unreachable fantasy of inexhaustible riches.

This idea that Financial Independece means wealth comes out of the first, street-level perspective of money. This is Financial Independence at a material level. While it simply requires that we be rich, there's a hidden Catch-22. What is "rich"? Rich exists only in comparison to something or someone else. Rich is a helluva lot more than I have now. Rich is way more than most other people have. But we know the fallacy or the myth of more. More is like a mirage. We can never reach it because it isn't real. John Stuart Mill once said, "Men do not desire to be rich, only to be richer than other men." In other words, as soon as rich becomes available to the likes of us, it will no longer be rich.

It is at the helicopter perspective of money, in the realm of personal responsibility, where we find our first definition of true Financial Independence. Our definition of Financial Independence cuts through the Gordian knot of not knowing what rich is. Financial Independence has nothing to do with rich. Financial Independence is the experience of having enough —and then some. Enough, you will remember, is found at the peak of the Fulfillment Curve. It is quantifiable, and you will define it for yourself as you work with the steps of this program. The old notion of Financial Independence as being rich forever is not achievable. Enough is. Enough for you may be different from enough for your neighbor —but it will be a figure that is real for you and within your reach.

(Vicky Robin & Joe Dominguez: Your Money or Your Life, pp. 54-55)

Your first step toward the experience of having enough —and then some— is extricating yourself from identification with the pedestrian level (the material reality of money), the neighborhood perspective (the psychological reality of money) and the citywide perspective (the cultural agreements about money). When you have done that, you have achieved Financial Independence, no matter how much money you have. And until you can do that, you will never be financially independent, no matter how much money you have.

Financial Independence is an experience of freedom at a psychological level. You are free from the slavery to unconsciously held assumptions about money, and free of the guilt, resentment, envy, frustration and despair you may have felt about money issues. You may have these feelings, but you have them the way you have an article of clothing —you can try it on, but you are free at any time to take it off. You are no longer compelled by the parental and social messages you received as a child —messages about how we should relate to money in order to be successful, respected, virtuous, secure, and happy. You are free of the confusions you had about money. You are no longer intimidated by balancing your checkbook or by deciphering your broker's babble about no-load mutual funds and annuities. You never buy things you don't want or need and are immune to the seductiveness of malls, markets and the media. Your emotional fortunes are no longer tied to your economic fortunes; your moods don't swing with the Dow Jones Band. The broken record in your mind stops, the one that calculates hours till quitting time, days till payday, paydays till you have a down payment for a motorcycle, costs for the next home improvement project and years till retirement. The silence, at first, is thundering. Days and even weeks can go by without you thinking about money, without you mentally reaching for your wallet to handle life's challenges and opportunities.

When you are financially independent, the way money functions in your life is determined by you, not by your circumstances. In this way money isn't something that happens to you, it's something you include in your life in a purposeful way. From this point of view, the normal drama of "nine to five till you're sixty-five," of making a dying, of getting ahead, of being rich and famous —all these brass rings we automatically reach for— can be seen as just one series of choices among many. Financial Independence is being free of the fog, fear and fanaticism so many of us feel about money.

If this sounds like peace of mind, it is. Fiscal bliss. And if this sounds as unattainable as being rich, it isn't. It's been the experience of tens of thousands of people who have followed the approach to money described in this book, who have done the practical steps and made the simple observations recommended.

(Vicky Robin & Joe Dominguez: Your Money or Your Life, pp. 55-56)

Notice the common phrase "escape entertainment." Escape from what? What is the prison or restrictive circumstance from which you must flee? If your experience of life were consistently fulfilling and exciting, from what would you escape? Would those hours in front of the television or movie screen be necessary? Take a look at scenarios like "It's been such a heavy week at work, let's have a night on the town to blow it off!" or "Let's get away from it all this weekend and go to Vegas!" Would these be necessary? What are the costs in life energy and money? How much of your weekend entertainment do you consider your just reward for sticking it out at a boring Job? Let's assign this whole are 5 hours a week and $40 a week.

(Vicky Robin & Joe Dominguez: Your Money or Your Life, pp. 59-60)

Many people intentionally remain aloof from money. Their mythology puts "money" and "love-truth-beauty-spirituality" in two separate boxes. There are a number of variations of this dichotomy. There are the grassroots activist organizations that can't balance their books or even keep them. There are people who can't say no when a friend asks for a loan but who would never dream of writing up an IOU for the transaction (because after all, we are friends!). Then there are people who attend workshops, support groups and conferences about "personal and planetary growth," paying for everything by check or credit card and keeping no records to verify the expenses —they let their bank handle such details. There are churches going bankrupt because they can't approach the congregation with their nitty-gritty financial needs. There are even couples who won't discuss their shared finances because... well, they love each other. All of these situations stem from the same root thought: money is money and love is love and never the twain shall meet. Look at your own attitudes. Do you excuse financial unconsciousness with "spiritual" precepts?

(Vicky Robin & Joe Dominguez: Your Money or Your Life, pp. 66-67)

Useful attitudes to be able to keep track of every penny coming and out:

No leeway. A telescope with only one lens just a wee bit out of alignment still doesn't allow you to see the stars. The same holds true for a human life. A little bit of fudging cuts down the amount of light that can shine through. This is where you get to be ruthless, tough-minded and absolute.

Your commitment to clearing up your relationship with money is really tested here. One of the keys to your success in this program (and in life) is a shift in attitude from one of laxity and leeway to one of accuracy, precision and impeccability. (By the way, such integrity might work miracles in other aspects of your life. People have lost weight, kept their desks cleared and patched up broken relationships —all through doing this step. Integrity is integrity is integrity.)

No judgment —lots of discernment. Judgment (blaming ourselves and others) is labeling things in terms of good and bad. On the road to transforming your relationship with money and achieving Financial Independence, you will find that judgment and blame do not serve. Discernment is sorting out the true from the false, separating the wheat from the chaff. Just in the process of writing down every cent that comes into or goes out of your life, you will begin to discern which expenses are fitting and fulfilling and which are unnecessary, extravagant or even downright embarrassing. Discernment has to do with that higher faculty that we all have —the one that knows the truth, that sees what is needed and wanted by life, that recognizes as real our desire to make a difference before we die. This faculty will be increasingly on duty as you work with the financial program. Aligning your spending with this faculty is the key to Financial Integrity. Through writing down every cent that comes into and goes out of your life, you are awakening this faculty and inviting it increasingly to direct your life.

(Vicky Robin & Joe Dominguez: Your Money or Your Life, p. 72)

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