When we believe more is the answer, it can impact us in unforeseen ways. Humans just want more. We want more happiness…more money, more success, more time, more vacations, more life. Aspiration does seem to be a healthy thing. As humans, we seem to value growth and progress. However, money represents many different things to different people. When it comes to money, needing more, wanting more and having more can be complicated. The danger in the pursuit of money is that you risk falling into a rabbit hole - where you find yourself navigating a seemingly endless confusion of paths and choices, and where it is so easy to lose your way.
In the new movie “All the Money in the World”, Mark Wahlberg’s character, Fletcher Chase, asks J. Paul Getty how much it would take to make him feel secure. The answer…“More!” It was an odd statement from ostensibly one of the richest men in the world at that time. Based on a true story, Getty’s grandson has been kidnapped (one he’s particularly fond of) and the ransom demand is $17 million. Getty won’t or can’t bring himself to part with the money even though we’re certain that he has it.
If you wanted to leave some money to your children, how would you split it between them? You could come up with numbers based upon their likely need for help. Or you could simply divide it equally…after all you love them all, well…equally. Equal distribution is probably the most common way of dividing assets. Yet, what about the situation where one of the kids is very successful financially and has no need for your money? What message does an unequal gift send? Conversely, if you were one of the children on the receiving end…what if mom and dad left all (or even most) of the money and investments to your sibling because you ‘don't need it?’ You might feel ‘less loved’, or slighted in some way, left with a nagging feeling that perhaps they really did love them a bit more than you.
People tend to embrace this statement. It sounds true: surely only shallow, materialistic people would insist that money could buy happiness. To utter the thought aloud is almost like a declaration that we aren’t materialistic (and hopefully not shallow!) Scientists have long been perplexed about how to measure such a thing as happiness. Studies that examine relationships between money and happiness raise the idea that although money may not directly bring us happiness, it has the potential to. Believing that money can’t buy happiness is a bold and sweeping generalization that weakens under scrutiny. The authors of the book, Your Money or Your Life present a “fulfillment curve.” As the curve in the diagram shows, money spent to meet basic needs brings the most precipitous rise in satisfaction.
We use money every day. We spend on things, experiences, etc. Maybe you are planning the next big adventure in your life…or figuring out how to save the money to remodel the bathroom. Behind these activities there is a presumption that money used in these ways will make us happy. Do money and happiness even belong together in the same sentence? In some of my workshops participants fill out a survey asking them to agree or disagree with statements on money beliefs. One of the statements is “money makes me happy.” I never kept a specific tally but I always looked at whether they checked yes or no on that question. My recollection is a fairly even split between those who agreed with the statement and those who didn’t. I wonder if some checked “no” because we’re not supposed to find happiness in such a thing as money
Do you know how much a half gallon of orange juice costs? Think carefully. What was once a 64-ounce container of juice is now 59 ounces. A pint of Hagen Daz is just 14 ounces (Ben & Jerry’s still has a 16 ounce “pint.”) How do you compare? Take another example, hotel rooms. I found a great place to stay in Sonoma for under $200 a night in February. This summer there was nothing under $300 at the same place. I recently purchased artwork for my office. I had no idea how much to offer, except that it had to be lower than the asking price! Plane flights, cars…ditto. Clearly, some prices do vary based on seasonal factors. Yet, is there such a thing as the “real” or best price for anything?
Back in 2008 a woman in her mid 50’s came to my office for an initial meeting to discuss her personal finances. She had rescheduled at least three times. About half way into our meeting I asked her, “So, how was it for you gathering your information to come see me?” Her response displayed such vulnerability and courage I’ll always remember it. She said, “I’m am so embarrassed! I’m so disorganized! I’m at a point in my life where I feel like I should be more together. I’m ashamed that I don’t have more saved.” Whether you earn a little or a lot of money you can find yourself having similar feelings.
In their book, Why Smart People Make Big Money Mistakes, Gary Belski and Thomas Gilovich state: “Numerous studies over the years have demonstrated significant overconfidence in the judgments of doctors, lawyers, engineers, psychologists, and securities analysts.” According to these findings, highly educated people seem to see their “smarts” in one area as evidence that they are more knowledgeable in other areas as well. But it’s not just professionals who fall prey to this belief. It appears to be part of human nature generally to over-estimate our abilities. For instance, in rating our skills at driving, how many of us think we are “smarter than the average bear?”
In Part 1 of this series, women shared stories from learning when to ask for more money to never assuming that someone else will take care of you financially. Here, a few women share more lessons learned. Hopefully these stories will help you plan your own finances, rather than realize your errors in hindsight. Taking Time Out to Raise Children For those planning on taking time away from the workforce to raise kids, Lori had this to say. “I was astounded how difficult it was to find work (that paid well and utilized my skills) after having been away just a few short years.” Her advice was to do something — anything — part-time rather than leave the workforce altogether. Keep up your contacts and your skills. “Getting back to where you were earnings-wise can be a real challenge.” Being Emotionally Tied to a Home She Couldn’t Afford Madeleine’s wake-up call came in 2008. Her husband told her that he had decided to move out and seek divorce. Even though half the household income just walked out the door, she continued to spend like she and her husband were still together.
Last month I posted a piece encouraging people to pay attention to their money. This, I argued, was “the one thing” that could make a meaningful difference in peoples’ financial lives. It may strike my readers this month, therefore, as counter-intuitive when I suggest that over-vigilance of one’s investments might backfire. Let me explain.
I’m beginning to wonder if how much money we have is less important than how we feel about it. I suspect that if I spent as much time exploring how I felt about my money as I have trying to earn it, I’d be a much happier person today. Is the person who is wealthy yet miserable just a cliché? What about people living in poverty who seem joyful and display incredible generosity? Before we dismiss these extremes as stereotypes, perhaps there is more to be learned by looking below the surface. As a financial planner, I have heard people express the gamut of emotions when it comes to finances. Often, just talking about our money issues can be very liberating.
According to the old saying, where the eyes go, the body goes. It turns out the basis for this truth is not only physical, but psychological as well. I remember a recent motorcycle trip over the Sonora Pass. I had the road to myself and was enjoying the thrill of driving fast through the turns. Coming down the mountain looking out toward Nevada, I glimpsed a long stretch of road ahead. Accelerating out of a turn, I anticipated a clear sweep. Suddenly I saw a scrap of two by four on the road, directly in my path. My attention fixated on the piece of wood. Panicking, I hit it. Luckily, I didn’t wipe out, but instantly began berating myself for the collision with this obstacle. Perhaps if I had directed my eyes elsewhere, I could have avoided it. I’ve recently encountered a couple of people with financial challenges that reminded me of this event.