Our mission – which you hear us repeat often – is to enable anyone to make positive and lasting change in our local food ecosystem. When you hear that, you probably think about local farmers or food entrepreneurs having the money and tools they need to flourish, and the role that Walden Mutual can play in supporting them. But there’s another pre-requisite: support from all of you, our partners. The “anyone” referenced in our mission includes (and in fact starts with) the people who choose to deposit their savings in accounts at Walden Mutual, aligning their finances with their values. Without you, the change we want to create in our local food ecosystem would not be possible.

All of us have our own personal stories with money. Those stories are as much emotional as they are rational; they are as much about our experiences and memories as they are about interest rates and budgets. Part of “enabling anyone to make positive and lasting change” is supporting each other in understanding our own money stories, so that 1) we can see money as it is, and 2) use it as a tool to create a better world.

To that end, we introduce “Money & Meaning” – a series of blogs in which we invite you, our partners, to participate in a conversation about the way money relates to our values. Below are six questions about money. I’ll answer them first as an example, but going forward, we’d love to hear from our partners. How would you answer these six questions? Send us your thoughts  – either in written or video form (to all questions or just a subset) – via this secure form.

An introduction to the author - Joe York, 35, from Walden Mutual

What’s your earliest memory with money?
My parents gave me and my sister an allowance as soon as we could start helping out with chores. The money wasn’t really motivating in and of itself, so my parents would buy and then lay away toys that we – in turn – could purchase from them once we’d saved enough. There was one toy that rose above the rest: Littlest Pet Shops. These were miniature retail pet stores, and tiny plastic animals. If you’re reading this and thinking that it sounds stupid, you’d be right – but only with the benefit of hindsight. In the moment, they were like gold.

A plastic play set for children
An example set. Pretty cool, huh?

We’d vacuum the floor and do dishes diligently for weeks, just to save up enough money to buy the next set. I wish I could say this ended at age 5 or 6; unfortunately, it continued for a very long time.

If you could really buy anything – sleep, somebody else’s respect, confidence in the face of something you’re afraid of – what’s one thing you’d spend on?
Stillness. I find it so difficult to stop “doing” - whether it’s working, exercising, or being entertained by my phone or the TV or a podcast. It gets exhausting. For the last couple of years, once a quarter or so, I literally go away to a hotel for 2 or 3 nights to just be quiet and undistracted...because if I didn’t do something that extreme, I’d eventually burn myself out. Practically speaking, that is using money to pursue some stillness – but if I could just buy it online directly, I would!

What’s the one thing with a price tag today (education, art, or healthcare could be examples) you wish could be separated from money?
Acknowledging there are probably “better” (more impactful) answers, I’m going with one that resonates particularly deeply on a personal level. Religion. I’m a religious person, the son of a Baptist minister. Growing up in a position where I could (literally and figuratively) see behind the curtain of what happens on Sunday mornings in a church, I have found it very disorienting to understand how influential a role money can have in the life of a faith community. Religion – on its face – seems like a space that should be insulated from the influence of money. In actuality (in my individual experience), money is what makes or breaks the survival of many congregations. It’s often what influences who has voices in big organizational decisions. Too often, appearances (cool shoes! designer jeans!) enabled by money dictate the type of leader people choose to follow. I think I’d like living in a world where the two things – religion and finance – could be separated.

What would you do differently if your net-worth was printed on a hat you had to wear everyday?
What a scary idea!

Of this set of questions, this is the one that I sat with the longest. The first thing I noticed was the emotional reaction it elicited. The first ten things that went through my head were some version of “AHH!” I think I would feel a lot of shame if I wore a hat around with my net-worth on it. I’ve had so many privileges in my life: access to good education, good jobs, all of the advancement tailwinds that come from my intersecting identities (namely: male, white). You’d think that should be more than enough to [enter your definition of long-term financial security]. But that’s not how I feel! In quiet moments, the little voice in my head says that I should be more conservative – that I should have saved more, invested more, and spent less. The idea of wearing my net-worth on a hat provokes shame because (in my own head) everyone else would be able to see publicly what that little voice whispers to me privately.

After that wave of emotion passes, the question remains: What would I do differently? And I’m not sure I actually would. Maybe that’s the power of the question – it makes it clear (to me at least) that the fear of outside judgement can dwarf any anxiety associated with the reality. In my case, I’m pretty happy with the choices I’ve made about money! Maybe I’ll arrive at retirement’s doorstep and feel woefully unprepared, but for the most part, I’ve made intentional choices to invest myself in the present – and I feel good about those trade-offs.  

What dream do you want your money to enable you to chase?
I grew up in the suburbs of Northern Virginia, went away to college, got a job, and ended up in San Francisco as a 22-year old. When I arrived, my biggest aspiration was to own a house in the suburbs where I grew up, get married, and start a family. Over the next ten years (before I met Charley), I had a chance to travel, meet people from all different backgrounds, go to graduate school, find work that satisfied and challenged me, and much more. In short, the scope of my world expanded greatly. That’s the dream I want money to help me to continue to chase – to learn more about the world and myself.

What does it mean to “align your finances with your values”?
There’s so much about life as a consumer in our culture that feels like we don’t have a choice. I grew up in a house where we bought the food that was cheapest and most available, because that’s what we could afford. In high school, I saved my money to buy the clothes and shoes that the other kids in class had – because I thought that would help me fit in. As an adult, there are hundreds of choices I make every day because I’m in too much of hurry to think carefully about alternatives or trade-offs. To me, “aligning my finances with my values” is about slowing down and holding the space to be thoughtful about my choices. It involves knowing what my values are, paying attention to the financial choices I make, reflecting on how my choices relate to those values, and charting a plan to bring them into alignment. It’s hard work – but also (in my estimation) a critical part of what it means to be a good steward of the many privileges I’ve been given.