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  • Writer's pictureCarrie B. VanWinkle, CFP®

How the Empower Your Money for GOOD Framework Helps You Bring Your Values into Your Money Life

[This article was first featured as a Smart and Soulful Money® podcast episode.]

What is the Empower Your Money for GOOD framework and how can it help me bring my values to my money life?

This is a framework that I've created to help you walk through the areas of your money life, to understand how you're already bringing your values to some of those areas and how you may want to bring values in a deeper way to other areas. It can be overwhelming to think about all of the ways that our values and money interact in our lives. Some people might think, "I don't even know where to start with that," but you do know that you want to use your money to create positive impact. The reality is that money flowing through our lives is creating impact.

All money out in the world creates impact because of the systems that we have - patriarchy and the cancerous form of capitalism that we're currently living in. Systems like these mean that unless we're bringing intention and clarity into our actions and the way we engage in our money life, that money flowing in and out of our lives is likely contributing to problems that we don't want to contribute to. It's feeding issues that we don't want to feed. It's being a part of an energy that we don't want it to be a part of, often the opposite of what we want to be doing, the impact we want to be creating in our lives and in the world.

I'm very excited to introduce this framework to you. First, let's just step back and talk briefly about what money is.

Money is this embodiment of an energy, a life force. It was created by humans to be an easy way to exchange value. When money was originally created, it had no inherent positive or negative qualities. It simply was a tool - and money is still a tool.

Is it really possible for money to be a sacred tool?

Unfortunately, money has been a tool used within systems like the patriarchy and the extreme cancerous form of capitalism that we're living within. So many of us generally think of money as a force in the world. If we don't bring intention and consciousness into our relationship with money, we can contribute to the negative impact that money can create. Like most tools, money has the potential to be used for positive impact or negative impact.

Let's look at another tool - an easy example is the hammer. It's easy to see that a hammer can be a tool used for good. It can be used to build shelter to house someone who doesn't have a home. It can be used to expand a home to create more room for a new child or a loved one coming to live with you.

There are so many ways a hammer can be used to create a positive impact in the world, and yet a hammer can also be used as a weapon to physically harm another person. A hammer could be used to break something that is valuable or meaningful to another person. The hammer is just a hammer, a neutral tool, and what we do with that hammer creates positive impact or negative impact. Therefore, we may perceive the hammer as a positive tool or negative tool.

In my own work, in my relationship with money and also in my work supporting clients and their relationship with money, I now have more understanding that money can truly be a more neutral tool.

Money is an embodiment of power. Money and power have been used as a part of our extractive and exploitative systems. Some of these system such as slavery, human trafficking, child labor, clear cutting of forest and mountaintop removal are all part of how the flow of money and the holding of power have been used within this cancerous version of capitalism that we have. What do we do with that?

If we are able to examine our own relationship with money, we become more aware and able to engage with money in a way that not only makes it become neutral, but makes it positive - and even what I would call sacred. Money can be used as a sacred tool, and the fact that it can be sacred just shows the power that it has for good.

Through the framework, I'll show you how we are able to empower our money for GOOD, for the good in your life, for the good in the bigger world, for the good of people close to you, in your communities, around the world and for the good of the planet, the health of our air, soil, water, forest, mountains, oceans, and other beings on the planet. The energy of money is always creating impact.

Before we get into walking through the Empower Your Money for GOOD framework, let's establish what it's not. It's not a framework to guilt you into doing something. It's not a framework to use for shaming you, to overwhelm you, to give you an endless to-do list on top of your own current endless to-do lists. That's not the point of this. It's not about perfection. It's not about perfect action. It is meant to help you walk through the following four overlapping phases of how we empower our money for GOOD.

The four phases of how we bring our values into our money life (you’re probably doing this already!)


Of the four phases, the first phase is awareness. We learn, we read, we listen, we watch, we understand more and more about the power and the effect of money in the world, the systems that are energized by money flowing into them, the extractive and exploitive nature of a lot of these systems. We gain awareness. We also gain awareness about the solutions, the positive impact, the transformation in systems that are also happening in the world. We're learning and we're gaining awareness.


The second phase is intention, where we are bringing intention. This is how you think about the world. This is where you bring your spirit, you bring your spirituality, you bring your faith, you bring the deeper beliefs you have that matter to you. This is where you bring your values. No matter what you believe, whether it's spirituality or faith or something completely different, you have values. The intention phase is where you gain an understanding of those values and how you want to bring those values into your money life.


This is where you get clear on how you want to take action and where you want to deepen the relationship of your values to your money life.


Engagement is the phase where you are taking action. It is the action when you've determined how to take a step forward in this area of your money life. Again, imperfect action. That's what it's all about.

The Empower Your Money for GOOD Framework

You can download a graphic of the framework above for reference. Print it out, use it as a worksheet, as a tool, or just open it up so you can view it on your device as I walk you through it.

The top circle is your giving, your philanthropy. Going around to the right, the next circle or petal is your income or your business earnings. The third petal is what you buy / how you spend. The fourth is where you bank. The fifth is where you save. The sixth is your credit sources. The seventh is how you invest. The eighth is open, so if you think of another area of focus that isn't reflected in the other circles, just write that in. You can also customize the categories if there are some that you don't want to give space to. This is yours to create as you wish.

You can bring your values to each of the areas in the framework, but there are four that are worth spotlighting because they are the power areas - your giving, your income, what you buy and how you invest.

We won't be doing a deep dive into any of these areas. We could unpack and explore each of these areas at length, but for now our purpose is to introduce you to the framework, help you start to get to know it. As you become more familiar, you can use the framework to help you identify where you're already doing things and taking action, engaging in ways that connect your values to your money life, and areas where you want to do so in a deeper, more meaningful way. Remember, it's not about perfection, it's not about shame, it's about taking imperfect action.


For many of us, if we don't have a plan, a guiding statement, or a way that we've brought awareness and intention into the way we give, how we give, who we give to, we can be unclear about how we engage. The energy around our giving can seem very scattered, but it may or may not reflect our values.

If your values are around girls' education and empowerment, then you may be giving to a nonprofit whose mission is aligned with that value. Alternatively, you may not have gotten connected with that nonprofit. You have that value, but you're not currently giving in that way. What I find is that a lot of us have many different values where we would like to give and support. It's really about focusing our giving in a way that best reflects our values and helps us feel like we are contributing to some impact in a meaningful way.


There is a way to be in relationship with how you're bringing income into your life, the amount of income you're bringing, how you're valuing your contributions, how you're compensated for those contributions, and how the work that you do in the world is creating income that feels in alignment.

It might be the case that the particular work that you do feels in alignment, but the kind of service you're currently offering and focusing on doesn't. Once you've identified that, It's important to focus on refining or getting more aligned with what kind of service you're providing and how it connects with your core gifts or your zone of genius. Ask yourself, "What am I participating in and how does that generate money for me?" For me, I'm participating in this very imperfect economic system as an investment advisor. And yet, I deeply believe that some of us are meant to work within the system to be a part of the change and transformation of the system.


If you have money, you are buying and spending. It’s an easy one for us to think about, to unpack how what we are spending money on supports what we value or don't value. We can interpret this in so many ways in our life. For example, if I value travel as an enriching experience in my life that opens my mind, opens my heart and is very healthy for me, and yet in the day-to-day I'm spending my money on shopping and going out to eat, that's really taking away money that I otherwise could be focusing on this high value of mine.


Another example that's close to home for me is food. I have been involved in the local food economy. I also want to support a sustainable food economy. I live and have grown up in Kentucky, surrounded as a child by soybean fields, corn fields, cows grazing across the way and a pig farm down the road. I feel very connected to our food systems and wanting to be part of creating positive impact by transforming our food systems so that local sustainable farmers are supported, so that the food that I'm putting in my body is healthy, so that our soil, air and water are clean and healthy to support life on Earth.

I get really excited and passionate about what it means for me to buy eggs at my local farmer's market from a farmer that I know has ethical practices - the way they treat their animals and knowing what the chickens have eaten. For me, to make choices about food that I buy is a very imperfect action. There is much more than I could do, but I do try to make food choices that support sustainable and local food systems as much as I possibly can.


You may realize by now that big banks are hubs of power and money - and that's putting it mildly. Where we bank does make a difference. We are putting our money in these places that then use our money to make loans to companies and corporations that we may or may not want to support. They may have extractive practices. The big banks have branches in communities where they're extracting profits out of those communities and giving those profits to shareholders. Where you bank matters. There are some great places where you can put your money.


Where you are saving could be the same place as where you bank, where you keep your main cash account that you're using for your day-to-day spending and paying of bills. But where you save could be a different place. You could have some conservative ways that you're saving and getting a better interest rate. You may not have your checking your savings at the same place, but there are similar considerations.


People seem surprised sometimes - "Oh, I didn't think about that one." There are some great options for things like a credit card. I have my business credit card with a company that I feel great about - it reflects my values and so profits made off of using that credit card are going to support things that are in line with my values, whereas for a lot of credit cards, the profits are going to corporations that not only don't positively reflect your values, but also may be making political contributions to issues or politicians that you don't want to support. It's another area of opportunity to connect your values to your money life.


This is my primary work in the world. There are some powerful and amazing things in this area where people can connect their values to this part of their money life, to their investments. You may have investments with retirement accounts, with brokerage accounts, or you may have inherited them. You may have saved for them through your job. You can be smart, strategic and with purpose in how you're investing and also what I call soulful - aligned, bringing your values into how you invest.

These areas comprise the Empower Your Money for GOOD framework. What I want you to do now is to go back to your tool. There are four statements that I want you to utilize to help you engage. This is where it becomes the tool. It's not just information. This is where you get engaged. You start to really dive into this personally.

Pick one of the circles. I would suggest you start with "What You Buy / How You Spend" because, as I mentioned before, that's such an easy one. I want you to get an awareness of what you've already done in this area. Start with, "I became aware of..." and then finish the statement with an issue, a problem or a concern that you became aware of. We're going to connect to this, to how you took action.

Philanthropy can be another really easy area to start with. One of the things that I contribute to on an ongoing basis is an organization in Louisville called the Coalition for the Homeless. It's a coalition of nonprofits that work together to help address issues of the homeless population in the local area. A few years ago, I became aware of some of the conditions that the homeless population was experiencing in a way that hit me more deeply than it had before. I felt very motivated that I wanted to do something. I became aware of the issue in a deeper way. I became aware of the suffering of our local homeless population in a deeper way.

The next statement I want you to write is, "I chose to bring intention to this area of my money life because..." and then fill in with why it matters to you. For me, I chose to bring intention to this area of my money life, how I was giving to support the needs of the homeless population in the local area. Homeless people in our community are some of the most vulnerable people in our community. That hits me deeply and so I want to do something to help.

Another reason that I chose to bring intention to this area of my money life is because I have a close friend whose father was homeless when he passed away. He suffered a lot, had some challenges in his life, became homeless and was homeless when he passed away. That touched me. It's so personal and I just wanted to honor my friend. That was another reason that I chose to bring intention to this area of my money life. I got clear on what I wanted to contribute.

Your third statement to write. "I got clear on what I wanted to contribute to." In my example, I got clear that I wanted to contribute to the alleviation of suffering for the homeless people in our community, and hopefully that many of them would be able to move into living situations that were supportive and more stable. I knew I wanted to contribute to those kinds of outcomes and I knew the organization because I had been listening to their campaign. They had connected with me, so I knew this was a way that I could help. I was reading about the problem and then I was offered a way that I could help contribute to solutions. I was clear about how I wanted to contribute to solutions.

The fourth one, the last one - "I have chosen to engage and empower my money for GOOD by..." Write in the action that you took. How did you choose to engage and Empower Your Money for GOOD? What I chose to do is make a regular ongoing automatic donation commitment to the Coalition for the Homeless. I decided that for this particular issue, I wanted to make an ongoing commitment. Sometimes I make a one-time donation, but this one felt like something that was more core to what I wanted to commit to supporting on an ongoing basis. That was the action - to go in, sign up for those ongoing donations and decide how much I wanted to give.

This is just one example of how you're already bringing your values into your money life. You could go through these four statements for many issues - problems or concerns that you became aware of that you chose to bring intention to, that you got clear on how you wanted to create impact and how you chose to engage and Empower Your Money for GOOD by the actions that you took.

Now you can flip this and make it future tense. Using these four statements, what issues have you become aware of? What problem or concern have you become aware of that's weighing on you that you're very concerned about, that you want to see changed? It could be political, it could be environmental, it could be social, a people or planet issue.

How will you bring intention to this area of your money life? Why does it matter to you? Why this issue of all the issues out there? Why does this one matter to you? You may discover that it actually isn't the most important, but go ahead and ask why does it matter to you? You'll get clear on how you want to contribute to create outcomes.

For example, if it's girls' education, there are so many different ways that you can contribute to positive outcomes - it can be for local girls, girls in a certain state or community, or girls in a certain country. It can be girls living in urban areas or rural areas. It can be girls of a certain age or a certain ethnic background. It can be girls whose parents are in prison. It can be girls who are creative and have talents that they want to express in the world through through art.

There are so many ways you can create impact. You define how you want to focus to create positive impact and outcomes and then you take action. You engage, you take that step, you take the stand and Empower Your Money for GOOD in this way that you've chosen to. That's how you use this framework. It can be very empowering. It can be very exciting. It can help you move from overwhelm and paralysis to inspired action and it's actually a pretty simple process.

I sometimes hear objections to this work of bringing values to your money life. Particularly, in my world of socially responsive impact investing, I often hear, "Well it doesn't matter. It doesn't really make a difference. What I buy doesn't really make a difference. How I spend my money, how I invest my money, it doesn't. How can it? It's just a drop in the bucket. It doesn't really make a difference." I believe that there are a lot of people out there like me, who know that our steps together do make a difference and that's all we have the power to do. We feel the energy moving us forward to do something. We want to do something and to be a part of the positive impact. We do want to be a part of positive change and I believe it matters.

I can give you a hundred examples of why I know it matters, why I believe it matters. Who would have ever thought 20 years ago that you could buy organic food in Walmart? Not many people would have believed it. If you told somebody in 1982 that in 2019 we could easily buy organic food in Walmart, they would have laughed at you. "Impossible!" is what they probably would have said. "It would never happen." I believe that the reason you can buy organic produce, organic milk, organic food in Walmart now is because people in the 70s, 80s and 90s (and, of course, before that) all held to this belief that their actions mattered. What they bought mattered, how they spent their money, what they supported, how they farmed - all of those people that were a part of making it happen believed that it mattered and it did. It mattered and it has created change.

Another objection that I hear is, " Okay Carrie, maybe you can do that, but I can't do that because..." And you may be right. Maybe that is true. I won't argue with you, but what I will say is that what you and I do, the actions we take don't have to be the same. That's not my point. That's not what I'm saying. What I am saying, what I am encouraging each of us to do is to get clear and discern for each of us very personally what actions we feel called to take, what issues we feel called to be involved in, to engage in changing.

By going through these steps - becoming aware of the issue, bringing intention, understanding why it matters to you, getting clear on the outcomes you want to contribute to, and then choosing how you want to engage to Empower Your Money for GOOD - every one of us can find a fit for where we are in our lives, what we can do in our lives. This is not about perfection. The goal of perfection only freezes us. It can keep us overwhelmed and out of action.

The Power of Imperfect Action

Imperfect action is the only way we can create change.

We have to be willing to take imperfect action to move forward in our lives, to bring values into our money life, and to gradually get better and better at it. It's only though the imperfect action that we take that we can truly create change.


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