Financial Ethics

Money is an interesting thing. While it is an amazing tool to help you reach your dreams, it is also the root of suicide, homicide, divorce, and family divisions. If you want to bring out the absolute worst in people, buy them a winning lottery ticket. It turns out winning the lottery is a horrible thing for most people. Money makes us crazy. 

I just got an email from work that said that one of the mid-level managers has been fired for secretly accepting a position with a rival company (while still working for our company) and channeling them all the intel from our company. It was a warning to not disclose information, and to cease all proprietary conversation with this individual. When I got this email, I felt ill. Physically. I knew this guy. I mean, I only periodically go to the office, but I’ve been to lunch with this guy, and chatted with him on several occasions. I knew about his kids. He was nice. How could a seemingly nice guy do such a horrible thing? He didn’t just decide to be evil. For one thing, he started working with a friend at the rival company. He wasn’t approached in a back alley by some strange men offering him loads of cash. He just realized he could help out a friend and get a leg up in the process. I’m going to assume it didn’t seem so bad.

Financial Independence is the goal around here. Independence means freedom. And for us, freedom does not include feelings of guilt for choices we made to get there. This is an important topic. While everyone would argue my co-worker was in the wrong, there are a lot of business transactions that are in a grey area. We don’t want any part of those either. And sometimes, in the thick of hoarding cash for financial independence, we forget about others. We’re only able to do this because we already won the birth lottery. Others aren’t so fortunate. We don’t want to make this a selfish journey either. 

Since money can make us all crazy a little bit at a time, we keep several things in mind constantly along our journey to make sure our ethics in finances are not compromised:

  1. Stay Out of the Grey Area – In our business dealings, we never want to be in a situation where we wonder about if our behavior is ethical. Luckily, we both work for companies where we haven’t noticed any grey areas. We work with pretty great people. But we’ve heard stories from so many others about things they’ve been asked to do or witnessed happening at work they don’t know how to deal with. We hope to never find ourselves in that situation. I have no friends in rival companies. We also firmly believe that the company deserves the work we’ve promised to give them. For me especially, since I work on an hourly wage and keep track of my own hours, it would be easy to slip in some extra hours here or there or charge time doing other things. That’s not what they pay me to do. I bill only time I’m actively working. No grey area.
  2. Put Family First – We also don’t want to get to early retirement and wish we had spent more time with our children while they were young. This is one reason we’re taking the longer road. Mr. T’s job is great with flexibility and time off and we use every single hour of his six weeks of vacation annually. We want to do the same things we hope to do full-time in our next life, rather than wait to do any of it until then. Seven years is a long time in kid years. My 7 year old will be a snarky 14-year old by then! We want to enjoy her cute little self now!
  3. Give – I’m constantly trying to find ways to give and teach my kids about giving and sharing and serving. This is also a mindset. If we don’t think we can afford it now, we won’t be able to afford it later. We currently pay a 10% tithing and monthly donations to other philanthropic causes, but we are seeking to make this more of a lifestyle. We want to serve more. And include our children. And there are awesome people out there doing amazing things with their money. Mr. Firestation is currently working his last year before early retirement as his “one more year fund” where he plans to save his entire salary for charity. Think about how awesome that would be and what a way to kick start a lifestyle of giving knowing you have that much money to figure out how to use best for the benefit of others!

What things am I missing? How do you make sure your journey to financial independence is an ethical one?

financial ethics

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28 Comments

  1. Man, that’s rough. My last company would send out occasional emails about similar situations where someone or some people worked together to scam the company and got caught. Most got prosecuted as their activity was almost always criminal, but I always shook my head thinking, why would someone risk their job like that?
    I try to follow the rule: “If your situation was made public would you be proud about it or embarrassed?” Pretty easy to decide what to do looking at it from that point.
    I don’t give as much as I should, but I do have certain charities I like donating to and we’re teaching our kids about giving. Canned food drives at school, a bike drive through our church, and other ways we can get them in the “giving is good” mindset.
    Money does make people crazy though, just look at Hollywood/Pro Athletes/Musicians that have loads of money and lots of drug issues, lifestyle issues, and more. Especially the people who “have it all” and end up OD’ing. I’m confounded that they’re that unhappy, and have the means to walk away and go live whatever life they want to make and they choose to get heavy into drugs or what not instead. Mind-boggling…

    • MaggieBanks

      It’s because no one knows what their happiness is. And they think if they have enough money, they’ll be able to find it. But if you get the money before you find your happiness, you just end up buying stuff to take its place. Better to start out poor and happy and have a plan for your money that will take you to a place of more happiness rather than a place of crazy people!

  2. a woman

    I love you idea with charity. I am trying to do things weekly but I don’t budget 10% from my budget. I am donating, offering support, advices, I am preparing shoebox and collect & transport medicaments etc. but this is less than our 10% (around a 3-5% ). Indeed, we are in good situation now, we should think more to the people in needs and to raise the level of our society too, over wise is useless to be rich when the people around me are too in need.

    What are you missing? a budget for education/trainings/classes. Not only for children, but for parents, too.

    • MaggieBanks

      That’s a great tip! Education is a lifelong pursuit. For me, the money part of giving has always been easy. I’m much worse about the time aspect… I need to be better about doing things that cost less money but teach my children that we can serve with our own time and talents. The shoebox collection thing sounds awesome!

  3. Thanks for the callout, Maggie! Interestingly … When I first posted my “One More Year” fund idea on early-retirement.org’s forums, I got mainly NEGATIVE feedback. That crowd felt like they’ve either given enough already or pay too much in taxes to help others. I was a bit shocked. The feedback I’ve gotten on my (relatively new) blog has been very positive. Good post – we’ve won the lottery in terms of where we were born and need to do things right!

    • MaggieBanks

      You’re an inspiration! And that’s definitely disappointing about the negative feedback. What’s the point of being in a good place financially if you can’t help other people? Selfishness isn’t happiness.

  4. Thanks for highlighting Mr. Fire Station’s last year–this is really interesting. I recently started to follow his blog, and I think his commitment is one we could make as well. 🙂

    • MaggieBanks

      We’re pretty far away from that… but it would be awesome to consider! I bet we could manage it too if things don’t go south with Mr. T’s job before we plan to leave. Maybe not a full year… but even having some dedicated to that would be awesome!

  5. I am constantly worrying about whether my hustling is taking away from time with my kids. I may be clicking things on the computer to earn a few pennies while reading them a book. I justify it as multitasking, but wonder whether I’m cheating them out of my full attention. Then, I compare us to the parents who go on regular date nights and vacations without their kids – we are always with our children. Overall, they seem well-adjusted and happy. I like to believe they get more attention than many others. It is something of which we should be constantly vigilant.

    • MaggieBanks

      YES! I worry about this ALL THE TIME. I don’t want all their memories of me to be on a computer or phone. It’s so hard to find a balance between feeling guilty all the time and not getting anything done!

  6. This is a great post, Maggie, and a really important topic. There’s definitely a fine line between striving to make/save more money to better your situation and doing it at the expense of other people (or simply without considering other people at all). That is a pretty crazy story about your former co-worker. I remember an incident when I worked at a bookstore ten years ago, where a manager found out that one of my fellow booksellers had been regularly stealing large numbers of books from the store for a long time (and selling them for profit, I presume). It was really shocking.
    Anyway, thanks for this post. Striving to be more ethical — as well as more generous — is really, really important.

    • MaggieBanks

      Even if we avoid being completely dishonest, it’s sometimes tough to stop being selfish in our cash-hoarding plan. It’s something we have to keep in mind always.

  7. Wow, that story is crazy! I’d be surprised if your company weren’t pursuing legal action.

    Obviously (or hopefully), most of us are not flat out stealing money, things, company trade secrets, etc. It’s a lot easier, though, to end up in the “gray area” on smaller things, and it’s how I’d define the difference between “frugal” and “cheap” — things like under-tipping at a restaurant, not bringing anything to a potluck, manipulating generous store return policies, or lying about your kid’s age at the movie theater for a discount.

    I had a colleague who was a chronic under-tipper, and I’m pretty sure it was about saving money (rather than just total cluelessness). There were a few times that I was so horrified that after the meal, I would claim I forgot something at the table and go back to leave some cash. How embarrassing!

    I know someone else who chronically short-changes everyone when out for a meal with friends. Once, with a group of 8, she ordered the most expensive item on the menu and then didn’t even put in any money, as if trying to sneakily avoid paying. Now, no one wants to see this person again. Is that really worth saving a few dollars?

    • MaggieBanks

      Those things drive me crazy too. I love a good free meal, but not at the expense of relationships. And lying about kids’ ages teaches them that it’s okay to be dishonest. Not worth those few bucks for sure. I want to be remembered as the person that was willing to chip in and help rather than the miserly person no one wants at the party with her hoarded money!

  8. Oh no!! That’s incredibly rough situation – I am sorry to hear you experienced something like that. I can relate to situations like that & feeling a pit in your stomach…But oh my goodness – you & I are on the same brain wavelength right now…I just wrote a post that will be coming out in a few weeks about the inverted U-curve of how much time we think about personal finance. This stemmed from starting to read David & Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell last night, and Gladwell brought up the theory of how when you tip over the $75k earnings mark that happiness starts to diminish for people. A lot of why this occurs is ethics – when people make large lump sums of money, it’s hard to instill values & acts of giving with their family. How can a family tell their children “no” when they, in fact, can afford something but do not want to in order to carry out values.

    I think one of the biggest things I focus on for my journey to financial independence is being intentional in everything I do – not just money focused. It allows me to stay balanced, and attempt to make decisions between my head & my heart. The intentionality aspect definitely allows you to stray away from the grey area! When you focus consciously on your relationships, your decisions, actions, financial goals etc. it allows you to focus on the good, remain true to yourself & avoid the not so good. Thanks for the thoughtful post, Maggie! 🙂

    • MaggieBanks

      I agree. I am excited to read your post. I’ve been thinking a lot about the phrase “Afford it” – haven’t come to enough solid conclusions to write a post on the topic, but maybe soon. I think it’s such an interesting concept. I felt so sick when I got the email about that guy at work, I can’t imagine how I would feel if I had actually been involved in something that went sour. Oh man. Life ruiner right there.

  9. I love love LOVE the idea of a one year fund. I have been thinking about more ways that I could help and it’s almost an addiction right now. I may have to do the one year fund thing 🙂

    • MaggieBanks

      I love the idea, too. As we get closer to our date, maybe we’ll figure out how to do it as well!

  10. Money does make people do some crazy things, most of the time its when they don’t view it as a means to an end, or a tool. Without a plan for your money you can become a slave to it. Always chasing it, stressed out about it, etc. That’s no way to live a life.

    • MaggieBanks

      I agree. If you focus on the money, it turns into problems. If you focus on the possibilities and the actual dreams that money can turn into realities, it’s easier to keep your priorities in line.

  11. You hit the nail on the head! If we had to do anything unethical to get us to our goal, we would need to adjust our goal. We’re just hard-working people trying to do the right thing to get us to where we want to be. Along the way, we are also enjoying every single, spare moment with our Mini Monster to make sure we aren’t missing out on the really important stuff. We can always make more money. We will NEVER be able to replace time we didn’t spend making memories with our family. Great post!

    • MaggieBanks

      Yes. The time with our children is more of a priority than any wealth accumulation we’re working toward.

  12. I love your perspective on family so much – I find it’s easy for me to get caught up in blogging or freelance work and realize that I’ve cut too far into my down time with my boyfriend and the dog. It’s always a good wakeup call when I do realize it, and I’m glad I realize it pretty quickly (and usually on my own, without anyone else bringing it up aside from a few puppy eyes, haha) but still.

    Also, I think this post is a great reminder that money can be a force for “evil” too, especially when you feel like you need to cross ethical lines because you don’t have “enough”, whatever that means for you. That’s a wonderful benefit of being responsible with finances that I hadn’t even considered, so thank you for this added perspective!

    • MaggieBanks

      Just because we have a great perspective on family doesn’t mean we don’t struggle with balance as well. It’s tough working from home and running a blog with three kids running around. It’s hard to figure out how to give them the best time I have. That’s always the goal.

      • I can only imagine! If it’s in the cards for me I really look forward to having kids someday, but I know I have absolutely no concept of what it’ll really be like balancing awesome kiddos with everything else going on! You guys are superheroes to keep everything going at the same time 🙂

        • MaggieBanks

          Superheroes? Obviously, I’m flattered, but I’ll have to disagree. If we kept it all going with sanity, maybe I would take “superhero” status. 🙂

  13. Some of these ethical lapses at work seem so clear-cut to me, I can never understand how some people manage to convince themselves that what they’re doing is okay! I would add to your list: trust your gut. When I have been put in gray area situations, my tummy always lets me know right away. And learning to listen to that is so important! Gut doesn’t like something? There’s probably a good reason for that which is worth listening to. But thank goodness you have your ethical compass in place, and know the signals before your gut has to get involved!

    • MaggieBanks

      That’s excellent advice I should have added. I don’t want to feel that sick feeling that I felt reading that email. Your gut knows!

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