“Being rich is a good thing. Not just in the obvious sense of benefitting you and your family, but in the broader sense. Profits are not a zero sum game. The more you make, the more of a financial impact you can have.”
With good reason, the terms you think of when you use free association in coming up with descriptions for financial planning are not particularly flattering. Let’s think of some!
White shoed salesman
Obsessed with money
We could do that all day.
However, the people who think that personal finance is all about the Benjamins have a misguided view of what it’s supposed to be about. After all, being rich isn’t evil, and while one of the goals of financial planning is to improve the chances that you’ll have a sufficient source of income to live on and to spend on the things which are important to you, there is more to financial planning than merely the sole goal of watching your account tack on zeroes to the end of the number.
Let’s look instead at what personal finance is really all about.
Getting your life’s priorities straight. I get all sorts of questions about where to invest money, rules of thumb for how much to spend on housing, and what to do when the husband and wife don’t agree about who gets to spend what when one of them is a stay at home parent. The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t get down to the core issues, which revolve around your values and your priorities. If you aren’t answering those and living your life in alignment with what is truly important to you, then no amount of sage advice in the world will have any impact. You’ll be creating cognitive dissonance, where you tell yourself that you believe one thing, but your actions reveal incongruity with what you say that you believe. First and foremost, financial planning is actually a subset of the greater activity called getting your life together and your priorities in order.
Peace of mind. If you don’t have the proper protections in place, you’re going to occasionally sit awake and wonder “What if [INSERT BAD THING HERE] happens?” You’ll wonder who’s going to take care of the kids, the dog, your spouse, your parents, and the like. While the AFLAC duck makes funny insurance ads, the question that the advertisements pose is a serious one: what if you get hurt and can’t work again? Personal finance incorporates dealing with risk in your life and making choices about how to avoid, mitigate, or protect against that risk so that you are able to live your life in a secure mindset and not have to worry about what you’ll do if the downside black swan decides to visit you. Getting that right seems easy enough, but it’s not difficult to screw up.
Reducing the role money plays in your life. Oftentimes, money is the driving force behind how we think about our futures and the actions we take now. Of course, if Monkey Brain is in control, money is never a consideration, as long as there’s available credit on the credit card! The goal of financial planning is to remove money as a constraint to your life as much as is feasible. Sure, unless you’re Bill Gates, money will always be a limiting factor to some extent, but instead of framing your life in terms of what you can’t do, financial planning helps you to understand what your choices are so that you can take positive steps and be active in deciding what life you want to live. You get much more value and joy out of a life where you decide what you do and live with intentionality than if you simply let each day happen to you.
Strengthen your sense of giving. When I talk to clients, many of them tell me that one of their highest priorities is wanting to somehow give back. Whether it’s tithing to the church, giving back to the community, or providing for kids or parents or siblings, we’re social beings who feel a strong sense of both reciprocity and charity. We realize that giving helps grease the social skids in our lives and it makes us feel better and richer in our own lives. If you have no money, then all you can give is time. While giving time is also important and makes us feel like we have more time, we are limited in the impact we can have. When we can give money and time, we can increase the impact of our giving. I know. That sounds trite and almost tautological. However, people who have a scarcity mindset and think that wealth accumulation is all about buying yachts and toys forget that there’s another (and much larger) side to the story, which is the impact that you can have on those around you through your giving. It’s very useful to remind ourselves of that sometimes rather than simply to think “If I win the lottery, I’m going to give half of my winnings to the church/Red Cross/Wounded Warrior Project/Save Fluffy’s Furball Project/Whatever,” we can take charge of our ability to give and contribute more sooner rather than waiting for one big Hail Mary pass to come in and be able to give in one huge chunk.
As long as you think that personal finance is about being a money grubber, then you’re going to create internal scripts between you and Monkey Brain which will keep you from achieving your goals in life. Every time you have a chance to get ahead, you’ll sabotage it by telling yourself that you don’t want to be greedy, you don’t deserve it, and you certainly don’t want to wind up with a bad hair job like Donald Trump. Then you’ll complain about not being able to get ahead, blame the man, and gripe about your situation.
If, instead, you think about money as a tool and how it can help you to achieve eudaimonia, then you’ll find that it’s possible to do well, live well, and give well.
What do you think? Is personal finance the realm of the Donald Trump wannabes? Or is there more to it? Why do you read all of this? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!