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Published:November 10th, 2009 14:32 EST
On Managing Money: My Two Cents

On Managing Money: My Two Cents

By Ignatius Fernandez

 "Use money with clarity, focus, ease and grace."   Maria Nemeth

 I grew up in Quilon, a small town in Kerala, South India. Nothing much happened there. If someone bought a new car, one week`s gossip was ensured. One morning the town awoke to a buzz. An old woman, who lived alone in a small hut, was found dead. She was a familiar figure in town, always smiling and petitioning compassionate souls for alms. She was never seen without a scarf around her head, tied tight at her chin. We imagined  that she was trying to conceal her thinning hair. As her neighbours were preparing her body for the funeral, they untied the scarf. Surprise! Out fell high denomination currency. The money, enough to have given her a comfortable life in 1953, was donated to charity. With so much money on her person (obviously she did not trust banks), why did she have to beg? Was it greed? I do not know. What I do know is that the happening is not erased from my memory, even after 56 years.

Saint Paul was right when he wrote: "For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil" 1 Timothy 6:10. It is not money, but the excessive love of it that leads to evil. The old woman, apparently out of love for money, duped people into helping her, time and again, when she needed no alms at all. The duplicity of Ramalinga Raju of Satyam Computers, India, is a case in point. For years he cooked his books to reflect higher profits and assets, to gain from higher share prices. Today, in prison he has time to reflect on his actions. Bernard Madoff, is another manipulator, who bent rules, for the love of money.

The young man in the Gospels, who wished to grow in holiness, found it difficult to follow the advice Jesus gave him - of selling his possessions, giving the money to the poor and following Him. The incident prompted Jesus to remark that it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter heaven. Riches don`t stop us from entering heaven. It is the baggage of attachments that add to our bulk, which reduce our chances of passing through the eye of a needle.

I remember a story told to me when I was in school. The Bishop of Quilon had some projects to complete (schools,orphanages, hospitals), for which he needed funds. A friend referred him to a philanthropist in the USA. The Bishop arrived a few minutes before the scheduled appointment with his benefactor. As the Bishop sat in the palour, he heard the man descend the stairway. The man abruptly stopped and scolded the housekeeper for wasting a second match to light a candle. The Bishop was puzzled. How could a man who owned a chain of factories making match boxes, be harsh with his housekeeper for lighting a second match? At the cordial meeting that followed, the rich man gave the Bishop a hefty donation. The Bishop could not leave without a clarification: would he please explain his behaviour with the housekeeper? Amused, but willing to explain, he said that he started life as a small trader. Because he was careful with the cents, he ended up with dollars, from which he could donate to worthy causes. The Bishop left the rich man`s home, a wiser man. Now he knew what they meant by `a cent saved is a cent earned`.

Profit is not a bad word. Money is not evil, as the rich benefactor showed the Bishop. We have to condition ourselves to manage money prudently. To earn it honestly and spend it wisely. While making money for good purposes is laudable, we should not get carried away with the large sums of money we accumulate. Stuart Goldsmith, author of Seven Secrets of Millionaires, has a strong point to make: "If you ever made any real money, you will be so caught up in your resounding success, that you will find it very difficult to quit. Knowing when enough is enough is the most difficult challenge you will ever face". Wealth is like sea water; the more one drinks, the more thirsty one becomes. What we need is a sense of balance. We should reflect on Daniel Webster`s words: "If you want to feel rich, just count up all the things you have that money cannot buy". When we strike a balance between what money can buy and cannot, we will know its true worth.

While on the subject of money, I am prompted to touch on a popular belief: `the lucky ones make money, the unlucky ones stay poor`. Let an illustration dispel the myth. A farmer in Ancient China owned a horse which he used for ploughing the fields and transporting the produce. The villagers referred to him as the lucky one, because only he in the whole village owned a horse. One day the horse escaped into the hills. Now the villagers called him the unlucky one, because the horse was lost. A few days later the horse returned with a herd of wild horses. With so many horses in his stable, what else could he be, but the very lucky one. The next day, the farmer`s son tried mounting one of the wild horses. He was thrown off; falling down he broke his leg. This time the villagers agreed that the farmer was an unlucky man. The next week Officers from the King`s Army visited the village to conscript young men for the army. Only the farmer`s son was excluded because of his broken leg. There were no doubts in the minds of the villagers - this farmer is a very lucky man. Each time the villagers praised his luck or sympathized with him for his bad luck, the farmer had the same answer: "Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?" Only those who win a lottery are lucky making money the easy way. The others have to work for it. Even those who find treasure in their back yards, have to dig it out. That is why someone described luck as the `residue` of hard work. Since it is the result of hard work, we ought to manage money prudently, putting it to good use. The important thing is the purpose. Dan Sullivan and Catherine Noruma have some advice for us: "Always make your purpose greater than your money". When the purpose is beyond reproach, then money is managed with `focus,ease and grace`.