The Story Behind The Spreadsheet

What is your relationship with money? What role does money play in your day to day life? What is your experience with money? These are some of the thoughts I had while reading Carl Richards article, “The Dual Roles of Money.” Carl defines money in our lives in two ways. The first role is: “money is money.” Money can be calculated, can be spent, and has value in our economy. The second role is “money equals stories.” We all have a story about money. We all have a story to share about our relationship with money, whether that story is a positive or negative one.

As part of our Semi’a Fund, LURN’s micro-loan program, the application process consists of applicants sharing their financials in order to determine if they can afford their monthly payments. Many of the entrepreneurs that apply don’t keep track of their business financials, so we help by laying out the process for them. I start by having a conversation with them about their lives and business. I get a better sense of who they are and how their business is doing. We then move on and fill out an income statement that reflects the stories they shared.

Through this process, I’ve come to realize what Carl Richards mentions: money plays a dual role in the lives of these entrepreneurs... it’s not only about the numbers. At LURN, I’ve heard countless stories from entrepreneurs about their relationship with money: how they’ve struggled to take care of their families, how some financial decisions have helped or hurt their families, and how the pure lack of resources have held them back. The numbers on a spreadsheet are only one side of the story; the other side is the story behind the spreadsheet.

Talking about money can be unpleasant. I grew up in a household where we couldn’t talk about money outside the house. Why were we afraid to talk about it? Personally, we didn’t want to share publicly we were struggling. But, we need to break away from that. We need to have an open and honest conversation about money, especially in our communities. We need to share the successes and struggles we face. Dealing with money, as Carl Richards states, is “both a science and an art. We need the cool logic of the spreadsheet to help us separate fact from fiction. But we can’t ignore that we tell ourselves stories to figure out how we relate to that money.” I believe that as a community we carry trauma from our financial condition.

As Carl Richards mentioned, these negative stories might inhibit the decisions we make; maybe that’s the reason why my family never bought a home. The little money we had wasn’t worth the risk of falling into debt if my dad ever lost his job; his job was the sole source of income for our household. That’s why I empathize with the prospective borrowers I interact with. From being denied loans at banks or being afraid of opening a bank account because of one's legal status, I understand the potential negative experiences we may have when interacting with money. That’s why it's important to empower entrepreneurs by sharing the knowledge and tools used by the formal financial sector. At LURN, we coach entrepreneurs to make their dreams come true and uplift their narrative.

Money undoubtedly plays an important role in our lives. Sharing your story is important to heal and build community with others who might have a similar experience. I’m beginning to realize this through my work. It has helped me build trust with the entrepreneurs I work with by putting a story behind the income statements they submit for our micro-loan fund. Yet at the same time, this work has helped me face my own story with money and to find peace and motivation to take control of my own narrative.

(Photo by Rudy Espinoza)