I hope to afford my conscience everyday.
When we go to work, we’re paid an hourly wage. There’s also a moral wage – an invisible currency that pays for your peace of mind. You don’t receive it from an employer. The ‘universe’ doles out moral dollars to your soul for every good deed, charitable act, or selfless move you make.
We spend time on the couch in the afternoon and donate blood the next day to pay for it. If we enjoy ourselves as others suffer, our conscience is not clean. We need moral dollars to pay for its washing; to keep away guilt; to earn our place in a just society.
If you’re privileged, you have more bills to pay, and my bills are expensive.
Hence, at the end of college, I decided I wanted to be independently wealthy – morally speaking – if I was going to earn my place. And like anyone who’s job searching, I set my sights on a certain salary.
When I began as a Financial Coach in 2017, I made a personal promise to help reduce other people’s debts by one year’s salary, $46,500. Tomorrow is my final day at IBA. I’ve walked with clients on their path to reducing $71,479 of debt. This lead me to review other progresses.
My credit-building clients saw an increase of 40 points on average. Clients who made debt management strategies reduced their amount owed by 67 percent on average.
However, we don’t feel numbers. Data doesn’t clean my conscience. When I spend a night at the bar, a weekend in the mountains, or a morning writing my book, I don’t feel I’ve earned that time if numbers are all I have to show for it. So let’s push those trophies off the shelf and into the bin, and pay attention to the moments when I really felt I earned my paycheck:
- Watching Client A’s expression of shock upon learning how much paying her credit card minimum cost her.
- Client B thanking me for keeping him from eviction.
- Client C, a nineteen year old, tracking her spending in her composition notebook. She wanted it to look like mine.
- Intercepting Client D from a predatory debt reduction service.
- Holding Client E’s hand as she read her credit report and cried.
- When Client F told me she bought one less thing on her binge shopping trip.
- Getting Client G’s daughter back into preschool.
- The moment Client H reversed her three years of debt from increasing to decreasing.
- The smile on Client I’s face when she told me she’d finally saved enough to visit her family.
- Opening the first-ever bank account with Client J.
- Filing five years of taxes with Client K.
- Hearing Client L recount how his savings brought his family closer together.
- The day Client M and Client N paid off their back-rents.
- Client O’s phone call to get onto the forgiveness plan at the utility company, and begin paying off $16,000 in electricity. A medical emergency had caused her near bankruptcy.
- When Client P went a month without purchasing her biggest guilty pleasure – books.
- The day Client Q moved from her mother’s home to a new apartment.
- Sitting next to Client R in the credit union office as she signed for her first secured loan.
- Filing taxes at a VITA site for Client S and her mother.
- When Client T pulled me aside during a workshop to thank me. She’d been saving for the first time in years.
- Receiving financial assistance from a philanthropic group to pay Client U’s medical bill.
- The day Client V’s phone disconnected. She’d made the hard decision to make rent and took responsibility.
- Catching a sideways glance from Client W as he sat and waited for the bank representative to hand him his first debit card.
- An email from Client X who got a job at TD bank using my network.
- A sigh from Client Y who told me she’d decided not to touch her retirement funds and make-do.
- And driving Client Z to Concord to gather donated furniture for his new apartment, weeks after he’d been released from prison.
These are just a handful of times my clients and I cleaned our consciences. The real ownership of their success goes to them. I’m just the sidekick attempting to contribute.
We all have a way of earning moral dollars, and I encourage us to pay for our privilege when we can – there’s no better way to merit our advantages than to give back, and there’s no better way to make a more just society, then to work for it.