Friday, January 15, 1999

The Power of Money

by Cynthia Rymer Imes

I grew up in a house filled with ghosts. My parents were Polish Jews who barely escaped the Nazis and came to the U.S. in debt to the Jewish relief organization that had kept them alive in Japan. Everyone they left behind was murdered, and while I had a few living relatives in far-flung places like California and Canada and Brazil, my daily companions were the ghosts of the ones who were dead.

My parents worked hard and saved even harder. I grew up in a middle-class home in a middle-class suburb and I learned early on that I had an obligation -- a welcome obligation -- to give some of my money to charity. My sister and I filled enough nickel and dime cards to plant a small part of a forest in Israel. My parents belonged to charitable social groups and my mother, especially, never said no to anyone who asked for her help. And every year my father sent -- and continues to send -- a check to the Jewish relief organization that helped them in 1939.

My parents raised me to be sensible and generous with money but they didn't -- they couldn't -- teach me about its power. I knew that wealthy people had influence, of course, and I watched the Rockefellers and Kennedys pour their money into elections. But I figured money power was for the elite and had nothing to do with me.

I know now that I was wrong. Every time I buy a share of stock, I gain a little power. Every time I learn something new about business, I gain some more. And every time I spend my money, I also exercise power.

Investing in the stock market has taught me that power can be very personal. I've learned that the more power one person gains over her personal finances, the less power the impersonal "they" have over her. Money is power, but so are knowledge and ethics and integrity. And when we combine them, we become invincible.

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