...When an old acquaintance saw the name of my business, Stoffer Wealth Advisors, he said, “As soon as I have some wealth to manage I’ll give you a call.” Clearly he was thinking of wealth only in its most narrow definition: an abundance of material possessions or money.
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.
A while back Michael Finke, Professor of Retirement Planning at Texas Tech University hosted a webinar about financial planning in the context of longevity and aging. None of us likes to think about the deterioration of our physical and mental abilities. Yet how we navigate these changes, and equally importantly, how we plan for them, will have significant effects on our future happiness. Life expectancy has increased for a number of decades and the trend continues. Finke concludes that definite connections exist between income, health, social activity and longevity and happiness. Generally, those people with higher income tend to enjoy better health and are more socially engaged. These factors contribute to greater longevity and increased satisfaction in retirement. The webinar raised a number of interesting questions in regard to retirement. I’d like to discuss the following two issues: first, whether to remain in your home as you age, and second, how declining cognitive abilities affect the management of your finances.
In a workshop I gave some time ago, a woman named Lisa related the following story. She had been sent to the store with money to buy milk for dinner. As she was leaving the store, she spotted a cute little stuffed bear. She had change in her pocket and thought, “I can buy this!” All the way home she was excited as she anticipated showing her mom what she had bought. But when she got home, her mom screamed at her, ordering her to return the bear and bring back the change! The little girl was traumatized...
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.
Consider the following scenario. You are perusing the menu at a restaurant, deciding what to order. The fresh, local salmon in a piquant sauce with sun gold tomatoes and basil has your mouth watering. It is $32. You definitely want fish, but immediately conclude that the salmon is simply “too expensive.” No, can’t do that. So you order cod, perfectly respectable, broiled – but plain – at $22. It arrives. It’s OK – but it isn’t what you really wanted. We’ve all experienced this type of automatic compromise that seems so sensible we accept it as the “right” decision. Such thinking may become an unconscious principle behind our money decisions. This is the smart thing to do. But is it? Why do we so often deny ourselves what we really want? One obvious answer is that it is about the money. Ten dollars is . . . well, ten dollars.