More Than Money
Issue #29

Money Changes Everything

Table of Contents

“The Conscious Use of Money”

A Conversation with Jack Canfield

Although I didn't have money as a kid, I grew up around it. I used to spend summers with my wealthy cousin. I also went to a private school (with tuition paid for by my rich aunt) and I got a scholarship to go to Harvard, where I had friends like Larry Rockefeller. So I was in an environment where people had both power and material possessions.

My uncle instilled in me a sense of noblesse oblige . I always wanted to have money, not so much for my own personal fulfillment, but because I saw what it could do for people. I thought, "If I had that much money, I know what I'd do with it," and it wasn't buying three Mercedes. I have always been interested in the conscious use of money.

My first job out of college was as a high school teacher. I got two paychecks each month for $120 each. My rent was $79. After expenses, there wasn't a lot left over. I used to have what I called my eleven-cent dinner--a can of Contadina tomato paste over noodles.

I then became a teacher trainer, went to graduate school, wrote my first book for educators, started doing trainings for teachers across the country, and later, for businesses. I was living a pretty standard middle class life until our book, Chicken Soup for the Soul , took off. It was a slow build, but after awhile, we started getting royalty checks for $100,000. Eventually, I got one for a million dollars, and then one year I made six million. We sold thirteen-and-a-half million books that year and suddenly I was in a different world.

My ex-wife and I went through what I call our nouveau riche period. We sold our small house in L.A. and moved to Santa Barbara, where we bought a big spread with horses and a swimming pool. We got a cook, a housekeeper, a decorator, a gardener, and a Lexus. It was expensive and time consuming to maintain the property.

When you're making six million dollars-which is about three-and-a-half million after taxes - it's hard to spend all that money on yourself. So the issue was what to do with the rest of the money. The question became one of stewardship and leveraging. We asked ourselves: if we had only one dollar to spend, where could we spend it to get the most transformation in the world?

We identified literacy and dyslexia as two of our key leverage points. Literacy, because of all that being able to read gives you access to, and dyslexia, because research shows that eighty-five percent of people in prison have learning disabilities. We believe that helping people learn to read and stay in school is solving a lot of crime problems and it's giving people opportunities to be successful in life. We also chose to focus on supporting community colleges, because they allow people access to higher education who otherwise wouldn't have that chance. In addition to our education focus, we pay for operations for cataracts, through the SEVA Foundation. Ten dollars will buy a cataract operation for someone in a third world country, which enables the recipient to no longer be dependent on handouts. I also got involved in prison work and we published a book for prisoners ( Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul ) written by prisoners for prisoners, which we distribute free to prisons-more than 130,000 copies so far.

My ex-wife and I always tried to make a difference in the world, even before we had a lot of money. So, basically, we went from normal lives trying to make a difference to having a lot of money and trying to make a difference. The money helped increase our impact in the world.

I always say that money doesn't change you; it simply amplifies who you already are. If you're a jerk, you can be a big jerk with a lot of money. If you're very conscious, you can be very conscious with a lot of money. If you're generous, you can be a lot more generous with money. If you avoid decisions, you can avoid bigger decisions with more money-as I did at first.

When we hired our first cook, he started embezzling, but I wasn't paying attention. When our accountant finally caught it, the cook said, "I was planning to pay you back." I let it go and he made payments. But it was a yellow alert and I should have fired him. I didn't because it was uncomfortable. I had other people on the payroll, too, whom I should have fired but didn't, because I didn't want to have to make those difficult decisions.

Another example is when I would buy clothes. If there was a blue, a gray, and a maroon sweater and I couldn't decide among them, I would buy all three. I went through that stage, though I wouldn't have predicted it, because of all the work I'd already done on myself. But money has a drug-like effect. For me, it provided insulation from some of my patterns. It allowed me to go a long time without feeling their effects. The good news is I got to see them, confront them, and transform them in myself.

How do I transform myself? Whatever it is that more money helps me see in myself, I just confront it. I'm a big believer in therapy. I go to therapy to become conscious of what's outside of my awareness. I'm also a meditator, and these things come up in my meditation. Also, my wife Inga doesn't shy away from telling me what she sees when I go overboard. With all of that, I'm able to see my patterns. I am also a big believer in taking action once I see something. So I set budgets for myself; I make up rules, like with the sweaters. One day I counted up the shirts in my closet and realized that if I wore a different shirt every day, it would take two months to wear all my shirts. So I made a rule that other than seasonal clothing, if I hadn't worn something in two months, out it went. That was difficult, because I'm kind of a pack-rat. Therapists will sometimes have a client make something bigger-they'll make you whine louder and louder until you can hear yourself whining. That's what happened with the sweaters. The overabundance of them became increasingly obvious.

Money has allowed me to have access to transformation, to therapy, and to teachers. In that sense, it has contributed enormously to my personal growth.

Does money give transformational power? My oldest son got into drugs. For me, being able to afford good rehab for him was an example of that kind of transformational power. Having money allowed us to have access to the best available tre a tment, which was expensive. A lot of people don't have those options.

As our book sales have leveled off (we're now selling about half the number that we did before) and I've recently become divorced and remarried and am giving money to my ex-wife, I live on about a fourth of what I did before. That has forced me to make more careful financial decisions. One thing my business partner and I do, though, in both good times and bad, is to consistently tithe ten or more percent of our sales income to charity. (Our publisher matches our donation.) Every one of our books has one or more charities that we support with the tithe from that book; it's a way we force ourselves to follow through on our commitment. We've given away more than six million dollars to more than 150 charities. That's one of the great things about having money. You can really support the causes you care about!

- From a conversation with Pamela Gerloff

Jack Canfield is the best-selling co-author, with Mark Victor Hansen, of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. He is also a professional speaker and corporate consultant.

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