Holistic Financial Management and Planning

Article cover photo by Micheile Henderson on Unsplash.

“Unless you are financially viable, everything you are doing is for nothing,”

Holistic Management Educator, Glen Chapman, 2023.

Money’s Too Tight to Mention

Growing up my farming family’s theme song was, ‘Money’s Too Tight to Mention’.

We experienced the regular highs and lows of a financial feast or famine.

When the financial feast came it was quickly followed by a big spend up on a new car or some farm machinery. Soon we were back in a famine phase and this caused my father a lot of stress. Consequently, dad was prone to having regular temper outbursts over seemingly small things.

To my knowledge, my parents never made a plan or created a budget. They didn’t seem to be aware of recurring expenses like school books or bus tickets. Each new school year it came as a complete surprise to dad that we needed to buy school supplies. My mother had no involvement in the family finances, which made the conversations with dad even more difficult.

Bank Balance Isn’t a Measure of Worth

Each March, dad dressed up for his annual trip to the accountant. He wanted to get a handle on the past 11 months so he knew how much money he had to spend before the end of the financial year. I don’t recall profit ever being spoken about, his intention was to have nothing left over. Borrowing money from the bank to buy land was considered wealth accumulation in dad’s world despite interest rates approaching 20%.

The main thing dad really wanted to find out from the accountant was how his two brothers and father were doing. It was a chance to compare himself against his family, not against his plan. To his mind his wealth determined his worth and it was an unspoken competition with his family that ruled ours.

When things were really tough dad would say he was just trying to keep out of ‘shitters ditch’. Sometimes, he spoke about looking for a ‘tall tree and a short rope’ in a joking manner. We never knew how he was truly feeling. Instead, he drank to dampen down his anger until drinking no longer worked for him. Finally, in his late forties, dad’s life imploded. The bank manager was warded off for the last time and he retrained to become a real-estate agent to support his farm spending habit.

When I left home after finishing high school, I knew nothing about budgeting or financial management. We’d simply learned to save to spend, usually to buy our clothes and support our social life.

In my early days, living on my own in a big city a long way from the farm, a day or two before my pay day often there was no money in my bank account. For years, I lived frugally, hand to mouth, on the edge of poverty only saving for a regular trip home to see my family. Keeping in touch with them was really important to me.

From this low base, eventually I learned to embrace financial management even though I still had a reaction to the word wealth. I thought the balance of my bank account was a measure of what I was truly worth, a thought that was deeply embedded in my psyche from my childhood.

Definition

Wealth – a large amount of money or valuable possessions that someone has: During a successful business career, she accumulated a great amount of wealth.

(Cambridge Dictionary)

Nowhere in the usual definitions of wealth is ecological or social wealth mentioned.

Our Problem – We are living through the fastest conversion of ecological wealth into financial wealth the world has ever experienced. Our planet’s ability to support life as we know it is being seriously challenged and our communities are finding it increasingly difficult to cope. Every few days there seems to be another story in the news about some community or country facing unprecedented weather such as flood, drought or record cold or heatwave or other natural disaster e.g., bushfires.

Holistic Financial Management is unlike any process we have encountered before – ecological wealth, social wealth and financial wealth are combined to assess TRUE WEALTH. The books are being balanced, the days of mining the farm are over. Ecological and social assets are finally worth something.

I trusted dad so it was a surprise to me to learn in my mid 20s something new about the role of an accountant. I took on the chief administration role of a kindergarten association and I quickly worked out that the organisation’s financial situation was dire. I met with our accountant and he told me that it was not his job to make the board aware of the organisation’s future financial trajectory. I came away from the meeting feeling quite disturbed. My world had been turned upside down. That day I realised that an accountant is only interested in what happened in the previous financial year. They don’t help manage an organisation’s financial future. The financial management of the kindergarten was up to me and it’s too late to do anything effective once you are broke. I needed to be proactive to avert the looming crisis.

Thankfully, the kindergarten association is still operating 25 years later. These days I appreciate that the expertise of an accountant is to minimise our tax and make sure we are doing things lawfully. How we manage our finances is a different skill set we must learn for ourselves.

In Holistic Management Plan Profit First

An important aspect of the Holistic Financial Management process is to embed these four key principles.

Principles of Holistic Financial Management

  • Profit First – plan your profit before you plan your expenses
  • Focus on True Profit – ecological, social and financial profit
  • Create a holistic context for your life to determine how you manage your ‘whole under management’
  • Wealth generating expenses are investments that create more wealth

Transforming wealth generating expenses into wealth generating investments was a shift in mindset for me. Not all spending is bad. We need to spend money to make money. However, we must use a decision-making framework based on our holistic context to be clear on what we are doing, and why.

Our Experience

Bernard and I have been running our consultancy together since 2019. We married the year before when we both had full time employment. We are still learning about how to work in and on our business together.

We went through the financial management process with holistic management colleagues earlier this year when we were feeling very stressed. It was challenging because we had both struggled with selling and we had already cut our expenses to the bone, to the point of feeling poverty stricken. Surprisingly, the process unearthed some new opportunities and helped us make an important decision.

  • We agreed to wind up our company and transfer it to our partnership to make significant financial savings.
  • We started working on bigger picture projects with consortium partners rather than trying to engage with individual clients. This has enabled us to meet a lot of new people.
  • We looked at other ways we can make money using our existing skills. Drawing on my previous marketing experience and our collective writing skills, we formed a partnership and submitted a content writing proposal to a government department that was accepted.
  • We are both qualified coaches so we applied to be on a farm business coaching panel in NSW. We are now branching out beyond WA.
  • I connected with the editor and part owner of a well-known New Zealand food magazine who is originally from WA. I am keen to work with her to promote ‘farm to fork’ in WA so we will see where this idea goes.

We approached Holistic Financial Management with some trepidation because we thought we would lose something that was important to us. Instead, the process opened up new pathways for us and our business.

I feel invigorated from taking this step and I am now clear our wealth is more than our cash and assets. It is also a measure of the health of our land, the health of our communities and our health and wellbeing. Finally, to remain financially viable and stay on track requires regular monitoring, once a year is simply not enough.