What if you were walking down the street one day, and out of an alley jumps a menacing figure. He grabs you around your neck, sticks a gun in your back and shouts “your money or your life”! How much time are you likely to waste thinking over that choice? Are you going to negotiate with the robber? Or think to yourself, “wow, that’s a tough one, let me see….”? No, you are probably going to reach for your wallet, hand it to the criminal, hope it satisfies him and then run to the nearest building after he leaves.
And yet…many, many people equivocate and settle for nothing less than trading their lives for material possessions, careers they are not happy with, relationships that don’t fulfill them, and pastimes that only temporarily soothe the dull pain of daily living.
Sort of an unusual viewpoint for a financial planner, you may think. Aren’t I supposed to get right to the financial and material goals of my clients and devise strategies to get there? Of course. However, the foundation of life is fulfillment and happiness in three major areas: relationships, career choice, and relevance. If you haven’t evaluated your true feelings in these areas and your progress toward your ideal, your chances at financial success are greatly impaired.
I contend that many unwise financial decisions stem from dissatisfaction in one’s personal life. I’ve seen people who spend way too much money pursuing activities which are damaging to themselves and their families, without evaluating the source of the problem. Why does someone overspend by shopping? Or spend an inordinate amount of time in bars and nightclubs? Or work weekends and most evenings? Are they bored with their personal life? Isn’t boredom a symptom of dissatisfaction? What about the guy who is proud to say “he who dies with the most toys, wins”? Really? Where does that road end? Why does that person believe that? What is really lacking in his personal life?
I once knew a person who asked me not to document a fairly sizable amount of cash spent every month in strip clubs. He didn’t want his spouse to know where the money was going. And here was a highly educated person with advanced degrees, making a very high income, seemingly with a functional family life. But he was unhappy for some reason. What was it? As a “finance professional”, I felt it was not my place to ask or question his activities. It was not a big surprise that he went through a divorce a few years later.
We all know people who have obsessive, expensive hobbies or habits. It’s almost the American way. Our consumer culture tempts us at every turn to create the “perfect” life with the best of everything. I think the current Charles Schwab advertising campaign is on target from the standpoint that the client talking expresses his disgust with other investment firms selling the dream of a “vineyard” in retirement. The point is that after the economic shock most of us have had to live through, just getting to retirement seems like a challenge. Time to refocus on the basics. Nothing wrong with the vineyard, but how about being sensitive to the needs of everyday Americans?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a capitalist, and I want everyone to retire rich and have the vineyard. However, I think it would behoove many to evaluate the possible mental and emotional challenges that they carry around with them that may derail ANY financial plan. If necessary, see a qualified therapist to talk through any issues you may have.
Find your passion first…with your mate, your career, and what mark you will leave on this planet. The money will follow.