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001: George Kinder - Making Money the Servant, Not the Master
Episode 131st March 2022 • Mindful Money • Jonathan DeYoe
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George Kinder is the Founder of The Kinder Institute of Life Planning and the author of multiple bestsellers, including The Seven Stages of Money Maturity and Life Planning for You. He has revolutionized financial advice for more than 35 years by training over 4,000 professionals in 30 countries in the field of financial Life Planning. George has won many awards in the financial planning industry, and was named one of the thirty-five most influential people in financial services. 

Today, Jonathan and George talk about the psychology of money and where George’s unique perspective on money originated. George expounds on The Three Domains of Freedom and why he believes that life outcomes are more important than financial ones. Finally, George talks about his current project, Reflections on Spectacle Pond, which is being released serially (for free) via email.

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Key Takeaways

00:43 – Jonathan introduces today’s guest, George Kinder who joins the show to share some of the early lessons he learned about money growing up 

05:32 – George expounds on his views on money 

07:48 – Where George’s unique perspective on money originated 

10:52 – Why life outcomes are more important than financial outcomes 

12:10 – The Three Domains of Freedom 

16:13 – The transition from financial advisor to training financial advisors 

22:31 – The psychology of money 

25:45 – Financial tips and best practices 

30:35 – What people should ignore when it comes to finances 

31:50 – The art of inner listening 

35:37 – Jonathan thanks George for joining the show and asks a couple of closing inquiries 

Tweetable Quotes

“As I’ve grown older and explored more, I think that the lessons were deeper, and earlier, and richer, and went back even before money was a conscious thing for me.” (03:39)

“Money is an abstraction. What’s important is life, each of our lives, and the freedom we feel in life.” (04:57) 

“I want to live with my writing, with my spirit, with my graphics, with my art. I want to live like an artist. I want to live completely free in that world so that what I bring into the world is pure, and unusual, and intriguing, and not governed by financial forces.” (11:27) 

“I think the Dalai Lama said this, but I completely concur. I think it’s an enormous moral failure in America, and in the West, that three men own as much as half of the American population own.” (15:36) 

“Saving is really valuable. The more you can save, the better. And the more early on you can save and put it to use so it compounds, it’s just amazing.” (26:58) 

“When I think about what I would love as a tombstone - what people might say about me - is that he encouraged us to be more of who we are. He encouraged us to be more ourselves.” (37:07) 

Guest Resources

George’s Websites –

Reflections on Spectacle Pond: The Weekly Edition

George’s Books: 

Seven Stages of Money Maturity –  

Life Planning for You –

Transforming Suffering Into Listening – 

Mindful Money Resources

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Jonathan DeYoe: On this episode of the Mindful Money podcast, I’m chatting with George Kinder. He’s the founder of the Kinder Institute of Life Planning and the author of multiple bestsellers, including the Seven Stages of Money, Maturity and, Life Planning for you, which is a bit of a DIY guide to life Planning. He has won many awards in the financial planning industry, including the Financial Planning Association’s first ever heart of financial planning award. He’s been named one of the 35 most influential people in financial services. He’s been named a top icon in financial planning, one of 15, transformational advisors whose visions most change the industry. He’s been featured in every media source and interviewed by every great pundit covering the industry for the last 40 years. And he didn’t blink when I invited him on the Mindful Money podcast. So I very much appreciate, his being here. His most recent book, it’s an ongoing effort, reflections on Spectacle Pond. It’s coming out serially in a weekly email, and we’re going to show you how to get that in the show notes below.

George Valley talks about early lessons about money on the Mindful Money podcast

George, welcome to the Mindful Money podcast.

George Kinder: Great to be here. Thank you for bringing me on.

Jonathan DeYoe: So where do you call home and where are you connecting from now?

George Kinder: Right now I’m in Massachusetts, and for the entire Covid time, I’ve pretty much been here, but as you probably know, maybe other people don’t. I spent a lot of time in Hawaii, mostly in a, very small, kind of outback, almost indigenous community known as Hana Hana maui. And I also spend a good deal of time in London. I love the charge of the city there. Here in Massachusetts, we live on a pond not far from Walden Pond where Thoreau wrote his great book.

Jonathan DeYoe: Where’d you grow up?

George Kinder: I grew up in St. Clairsville, Ohio, which is a very conservative rural. It was both, farming and mining, so it was along the Ohio river valley. So it was one of the most depressed areas during the 70s, during a formative time for myself during the rust Belt era, and also one of the most depressed areas in the country in the Great Depression. And that’s also had something to do with how I think about life, and equity and all of those things.

Jonathan DeYoe: I wasn’t anticipating this, but I grew up in Rapid City, South Dakota, also very farming and ranching and very conservative. And there’s interesting some of these parallels that we learn about each other and how we end up where we are. So without, as of yet, judging the quality of the lessons. What were some of those early lessons you learned about money when you were growing up?

George Kinder: I think as I’ve maybe matured or aged or whatever it is that’s happened to me as I’ve grown older, I changed my thoughts. Originally, I thought it was about the paper route I had and about the poverty that I saw around me and the value that I saw in books. In our family, I’m seeing the books behind you. And we had a, library of books. That was just incredible. But as I’ve grown older and kind of explored more, I think that the lessons were deeper and earlier and richer and went back even before money was a conscious thing for me. In fact, one of the memories that I’ve worked back to, I’ve, always been fascinated with how it is. What’s the experience that we have as we come into life? And what was the experience that we had before we entered life in the womb? And I’ve worked my way back to very early experience of actually popping out on the world and being put on this hard, kind of antiseptic surface in a hospital right as they check to see if there’s any bacteria there or anything like that. And I absolutely hated that experience. It was intense for me because it was so unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. And then I was so relieved to find myself on my mama’s, belly, in her chest and at her breast. And it’s funny, we don’t have those memories verbally because we didn’t know English or whatever language we speak. So I had to reconstruct it both from feelings and from visual memories. That abstraction of being on the hard surface isn’t that different from money. Money is an abstraction. What’s important is life. Each of our lives and the freedom that we feel in life. The richness of that life, that feeling worked its way through in many different ways, in my life. And became part of the reason that I’m known in the field as being the person who introduced life planning for the financial planning audience.

Jonathan DeYoe: I love the idea that the hardness of the surface, like money, is an abstraction. And at the same time, I want to have a conversation that sort of make things concrete. So can you point to what does that abstraction mean? And what do you draw from that in terms of now that you’ve aged and you’re experienced, what sort of money lessons do you learn from that really early trauma?

George Kinder: Yeah. Well, the deepest lesson and the most important one is that your life, most important thing you got and live it, richly and to the full. That’s the most important lesson. But at the same time, looking back there from now, back at the abstraction of the Ohio Valley General Hospital and the doctors and the machines that were worrying around me, I realized that if I hadn’t had that experience, gosh, just knowing about early births and the, devastation that they caused mamas and children in the early days, I might not have survived. The architecture that we create. Here we are. Ah, I’m looking at your architecture of holding the books and it’s holding the paintings, but there’s also machines there. And this architecture that we live in is incredibly valuable for us. And money provides an extraordinary architecture for our freedom just as much as a home does. So how we approach money, so that it actually gives us the skills to thrive with all the freedom we can imagine. Wow, that’s the best way to do it. And I think one of the phrases that you’ve used, and one of my favorite phrases is to keep it simple, how do we do it so that it’s really simple, so that it doesn’t get in the way, like that early experience. Many people have a love hate relationship with money, just as I had that first experience, a love hate relationship with the architecture around me. How do we come to terms with that and find its usefulness and know how that usefulness will deliver us into the most incredible life we can imagine having.

You’re a trailblazer in Fengel services, keeping things simple

Jonathan DeYoe: When you say, and this is actually getting right into the heart of the thing I want to talk about the most, and that is your position in the industry, the things you’ve done to kind of change the industry, or maybe not change, but pull the industry in a direction. You’re a trailblazer in Fengel services, and this idea of keeping it simple, I think is important. But even today, 35, 40 years after you started, we still really make things horribly complex. So I want to go back to the beginning. Were you an advisor who developed a meditation practice, or were you someone who meditated, who became an advisor? And which came first in that for.

George Kinder: You, it relates to freedom. There was a saying became popular after kind of, I’d grown, into adulthood. Although you’d think it happened when I was there, it wasn’t in the statement happened, which was, do what you love and the money will follow.

Jonathan DeYoe: Right.

f tremendous inflation in the:

Jonathan DeYoe: Did you have to remind yourself of that, or did you waken up to that? Did you say, oh, wow, what about this other stuff?

George Kinder: It was always there. It was always first. And it’s just like, you get into a habit and you’re really good at it. You play a game and you’re really good, and you do it a lot more than you should, the kids on those iPhones. So I was just really good at it. So I would every once in a while, I have to go, wait, that this is too far. And you feel the stress when you go too far in a direction most of us do, toward the pure money side of things, as opposed to, any intermingling of money and meaning. And that’s the reason that we keep it simple.

How did you come to the realization within the industry that life outcome is more important

Jonathan DeYoe: How did you come to the realization within the industry that, and it sounds like maybe you never lost this. I think I did. This is why I’m asking the question. How did you come to the realization or return to the realization that life outcome was more important than financial outcome?

George Kinder: I knew that from the beginning because I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to live a deep, spiritual life. I wanted to be a painter, and there was no place for me to do it. People told me career counselors would say, well, you like to write. Why don’t you become a journalist? Or they’d say, gosh, you love painting. Why don’t you become a graphic designer? And right from the beginning, I just thought, no, they don’t get it. They’re trying to mold me into an economic life. I want to live with my writing, with my spirit, with my graphics, with my art. I want to live like an artist. I want to live completely free in that world, so that what I bring into the world is pure and unusual and intriguing and not governed by financial forces. So I had that all along. There was this struggle to maintain that spirit of freedom, to acknowledge it, to embellish it, to strengthen it, to build walls around it, to preserve it, whatever I needed to do. so somehow I knew it from early on. That’s the reason I took you back to the birth memory, because I think it, just happened early on.

Do you think having freedom is a privilege or a necessity

Jonathan DeYoe: Yeah. I have so many different questions here. The one that’s sort of coming to the top is, I don’t know what your history was, other know, Ohio, and I don’t know if you were born with a relatively lesser means, but I do know you went to harvard, so maybe not so much. Do you think that’s a real privilege, to be able to focus on that?

George Kinder: Yes and no. I feel that it’s a necessity. As far as we know, we’re only born once. I mean, you go over to Asia, you go to India, and they may be born multiple times, but here in America, most of us feel like we’re only born once. And, boy, you better make something of it. And so I feel that it’s a necessity. And one of the works that I’m working on now is something I’m calling the three domains of freedom. I’m really arguing that those domains should be our focus. And here in civilization, my most recent book, before the reflections ah, on spectacle pond, was about civilization. And I argue in it that we need to expand the freedoms. It’s not just freedom of speech, but we need to feel freedom inside of us. So I feel that it’s a necessity for me, it’s like breathing. I need enough oxygen to be able to breathe. And I feel that most people. I mean, I’ve traveled the world, I’ve trained people from 30 different countries, in life planning, and spent some time, wonderful time in India with financial advisors, bringing them back to their meditative roots at times. And I feel that whether we’re in cultures of poverty or we’re in wealthy cultures, everybody has a dream of freedom. And for everybody, it goes deep in here. For most of us, it has to do with family. But there’s something about the environment that’s there for everybody. There’s something about the spirit that’s there for most people. So I think that kind of freedom is not a luxury, is not a privilege, but is a necessity. And we better pay attention to that in the west. It’s time for us to expand those freedoms and not to diminish them.

Jonathan DeYoe: So I completely agree, and I’m trying to come at it from the angle of somebody that is born and raised with far fewer blessings, that experiences a lack or a, limitation on just basic resources that you and I probably didn’t ever experience. I mean, I wasn’t raised with much, but I had food every day. And I think to them looking at, us talking about this, they would say, well, you can do that. You may say it’s a necessity. It’s not a privilege. It’s a right, or it’s a responsibility even. But to them, it’d be like, I can’t see that. It’s easy to talk about it from a point of privilege.

George Kinder: I hear that a lot, and I hear it mostly from people of privilege, imagining what it is like for someone in poverty. Occasionally I hear it from someone who’s very angry, very upset about life, who is in poverty. But most of the people I’ve known who live in poverty or who have lived in poverty would argue the opposite. I have as much right as you do to my dream of freedom. I have as much right to my life of spirit as you do. This is not about privilege. This is about being a human being. Each of us are human beings. I think the Dalai Lama said this, but I totally concur. I think that it’s an enormous moral failure in America and in the west that three men own as much as half of the american population own. I think that’s immoral. So someone might say, you have a position of privilege. Well, wait a minute. Let’s look at people who have a position of privilege, and let’s do something about it. And that’s something that I’m all in for and we can join around, we can get separated if we forget that fact.

Jonathan DeYoe: That was a bit of a tangent from my intended direction, but I appreciate you, working with me on it.

How did you make the transition from artist to training advisors

What was the stimulus to go from artist, painter, poet, maybe advisor to training advisors? How did you make that transition?

George Kinder: Wonderful. And by the way, I loved the transition. That was great. too much. We talk about money, and you and I in particular, coming from the financial world, we’re going to talk about it in terms of financial planning, life planning, proper financial advice, good financial habits and all of that. But if we forget that it also has roots in the structures of civilization and that a lot of the problems that we have have roots in those structures, I think we’re failing, ourselves and we’re failing the industry. It was dumb luck. I had a girlfriend who pushed me into it. Always the case, always the case. But it was great. I mean, I was off in Maui and running a place very on the cheap, but a big long lawn out toward the ocean. And it was just incredible. And I got something in the mail and she said, you got to speak at this conference, George. And I said, no, I don’t speak at conferences. And she said, no, you believe in this? And she talked me into, she said, if you don’t call them and talk your way into speaking this conference, I’m going to call them and make sure you get in there. So I got shamed into doing a talk in front of what was the early stages of the FPA, before the FPA came out. And it was enormously popular. And I suddenly realized I had an audience I didn’t realize that I had. And from that I partnered with one of the leaders in the financial planning association, or back then it was the ICFP named Dick Wagner. And we partnered in creating a think tank. And then I broke from that think tank. After 13 years of partnering with him, I broke and created kinder institute. But the notion was, I’m passionate about freedom. I’m passionate about delivering it into my clients life was passionate, first about finding it for myself and living it myself. And it became a no brainer. If you’ve got a, way of doing it, gosh, let’s train people in how to do it and get everybody primarily focused on the freedom for their clients and for themselves. Wow.

my practice. So I started in:

George Kinder: Yeah, there’s a lot of truth to that, Jonathan. And at the same time, we’re all human, and you can’t help but feel that you’re being judged for it being squishy. I remember one of the first talks I gave to over a thousand people that there was, I’d say close to 10% of the audience walked out. And one of the write ups said, this fellow George was talking about psychology. He belongs in an institution. He ought to be institutionalized. They were that antagonistic to notions of emotional health and that they might not have emotional health as financial advisors, and that their clients might be looking for empathy or looking for a great listener, or looking for someone to be on their side in a humane way. So I got that anyway. But yes, I was. At the same time, I’m doing this, but you still feel shaky. You can’t help but you feel shaky at times when you get those kinds of reviews or that kind of response. It’s the price of leadership.

Jonathan DeYoe: Yeah.

Jonathan Franzen: Does it disappoint you that life planning hasn’t gained wider adoption

that you focused on, you had:

George Kinder: The first article I was in, this is one of those lessons where you learn that all news is good news in a way. first, time I was in the Wall Street Journal, it might have been the first time I was in a major publication of any kind. They had my picture on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. It was famous, I think Dick Vodre, who was a leader in the Nazaredan community, said, george is famous for being the first person ever to appear on the front page of the Wall Street Journal in an aloha shirt. But the article mocked what I was doing. I was the first person talking about the psychology of money. And it mocked that in truth, I got a bunch of calls from psychologists, from therapists, from counselors going, right. So, all publicity is good publicity is what that frame, does it disappoint.

hese numbers on your website,:

nd I’m thrilled that it’s:

Jonathan DeYoe: Yeah, I don’t disagree about the large institutions and the concentrated wealth being part of the problem, but I think there’s also this internal thing where we see things being had away from us, or great experiences or vacations or fantastic meals, if you remember, like the early social media. People just take a picture of their plate of food, and they put it up there, and people would comment on how great that looked and all that kind of stuff. It’s just all envy all the time. and humans are especially subject to that, and it’s been weaponized against us with social media. I don’t even know what to do about that or how to help individuals out with that.

George Kinder: Once I’m through with the spectacle pawn book, which we can talk about in a moment, I’m looking forward to that. But the book that’s coming up after that, that is in a rough draft form right now, is called the three domains of freedom. And it looks at claiming freedom as being the primary thing, as opposed to that plate of food, as opposed to the number of hits on social media, as opposed to our bank accounts, necessarily, although all of those things can help to refocus. And one of those domains of freedom is this practice of mindfulness that I know you’ve been a practitioner of for over 20 years. And another domain of freedom is life. Planning, knowing, designing your life, and knowing, this is who I want to be. This is who I was born to be. And then the third domain of freedom that we’re dancing around a little bit is the civilization freedom. It’s not meant for just three individuals. It’s meant for all of us. And how do we create that civilization so that everybody is on all cylinders going for that freedom? So the piece that you’re talking about, the peace where we trap ourselves, can rob us of any one of those freedoms. So it’s extremely important to do the inner work, but also, if we don’t do the outer work, you have the know you back to Henry VI in England, and where you had these monasteries, brilliant monasteries, incredible work coming out of them. Profound, contemplative, work. But he didn’t get the divorce he wanted, and he knew where the money was. It was in the monasteries. So he shut them all down, took all the money for himself, and there it was. All three domains are important. All three domains are important.

Jonathan DeYoe: Absolutely.

What is enough effort and energy people spend on personal finances

I do want to get to the current project, but before we get there. In many ways, the investing world has always been about more, and the financial planning world has been about defining financially in numbers. What is enough? My hope for this podcast is I’m trying to put money and personal finance back in the context of life. So making money the servant, not the master. So I think of enough in terms of the effort and energy people spend on their personal finances that worrying about it, planning it. And I think it should be less. I think it should be minimized.

Jonathan Mayer: There are a couple of actions people can take that add value

And so we want to touch on a couple of actions that people can take that really do add value, maybe that the culture doesn’t talk about, and then a couple of things that we talk about all the time that adds no value at all. And could you just point to a couple of those?

d gotten all this data from:

Jonathan DeYoe: I love it. Those are all critical things, for sure. Is there anything out there that people hear a lot about that they should just ignore?

one it for hours a day, since:

Jonathan DeYoe: Absolutely. Amen. So tell us what you’re working on right now. Tell us about on the pond.

George Kinder: Yeah, great.

George Kinder is giving away his book for free on his website

All right. So I mentioned earlier that I couldn’t get anybody to pay me a dime for my meditations or, my photography or whatever. So I’m giving my book away for free. And you can all get it. Go to and you’ll find a thing. You have to subscribe, but you get it for free in your email once a week. You will get. I think they’re beautiful photographs. I subscribe.

Jonathan DeYoe: They’re beautiful.

y edition, I’ll have almost:

Jonathan DeYoe: Yeah, it’s beautiful. And just so everyone knows that’s know, if you sign up still, you have access. And I learned this, I asked Laura, and yeah, yeah, here’s a link. You get all the access to the old ones. You don’t miss anything. You get to go back to the beginning and start from the very beginning. You don’t miss the first couple of months. If you sign up today, I want to say thanks very much for coming on. It’s getting very close to the end here.

What is the last thing that you actually changed your mind about

I like to close with a couple of questions that I think we should be allowing ourselves to do more often. So the first one is, what is the last thing that you actually changed your mind about? Wow.

George Kinder: What is the last thing I actually changed my mind about? I’m sure it was something as simple as, will I have coffee or tea?

George Kinder: In terms of my life, there was a major change that occurred at one point where I fell in love with London. And I had no idea that that was going to happen for me. That happened quite a while ago. That happened, a decade or more ago. And then I just started going there a lot. The thing I have noticed is that when I do change my mind, I move immediately in that change. I’m sorry, I’m stumped. If I’d had an advance, I would have thought this through and really come up with something that’s a great one.

Jonathan Schneier: Jonathan, the world of financial services knows you

Jonathan DeYoe: The second thing is, I’ve heard this before, and I’ve loved some of the conversations. This is, you know, is there anything about you? The world of financial services knows you. You’ve been on covers of know, Wall Street Journal, et cetera. Is there anything that people don’t know about you or that have, experienced you and may not remember about you that you really wish they’d remember or know?

George Kinder: Well, I think what that brings up for me is the question you asked earlier, the kind of the psychological question that you and I can get troubled by at times, which is that response of the industry to what it is we’re trying to do. When I think about what I would love as, Tombstone, what people might say about me is that he encouraged us to be more of who we are. He encouraged us to be more ourselves.

Jonathan DeYoe: I, got shivers. I think that should be on your tombstone for sure.

George Kinder: Yeah.

Jonathan DeYoe: Tell us how people can connect with you. Give us the URL for the subscription, and then, we’ll go from there.

George Kinder: Great. The two websites. And Laura often, responds for me, which is just fantastic at my age and condition of life. But the is the. We, have a register of thousands of financial advisors from all over the world, and, life planners and will cover some of those things that you just mentioned, some of those things that people don’t know about me, that you might not know about me.

Jonathan DeYoe: Great. We’ll make sure that’s all in the show notes. And I just want to say thank you for being here, for being willing participant on the very beginning of the Mindful Money podcast. I appreciate.

George Kinder: Great, great. Wonderful, Jonathan, thank you.