I consider myself to be an extremely honest person.
So it pains me that when I declare “it’s not all about money”, some of my closer friends and family members either laugh at me or scowl as if I’m trying to pull a head-fake on them.
“But you’re a finance guy!” they say. “Your whole career has been about money”. Or, “you write about saving and investing, and talk about the stock market a lot like it’s really important, so don’t tell me it’s not about the money!”
First, I said it’s not ALL about the money.
As in, money is important, like having reliable transportation and making the fantasy football playoffs are important, but money should not run your life.
Your LIFE should run your life.
Starting this blog has put me in contact with so many personal finance experts and other social media sites that are in some way money-related. Most of them are very thoughtful and informative. But I recently saw a post on Instagram, from a certain person/group, that boasted “Life is a game, and money is how we keep score”. Is it just me, or does that sound pathetic?
Granted, My Career Has Centered Around Money
I knew early on that Finance in some form, would be my career path, mainly for two reasons:
(1) I was the guy who invested paper route money in my first stock at age 13, and used student loan money to invest in utilities in the 1980’s (Ohio Edison, to be exact), pocketing the 10% or so yield then paying back the principle (I don’t advise doing this at today’s miniscule payouts)
(2) As I mentioned in my prior post, I’m not very good at anything else. For example, if it were 1,000 years ago and my life and livelihood depended on things like forging new tools, making fire, and turning livestock into food, I’d be screwed
So, yes, money has played a very central role in my job, my hobbies, and much of my attention in terms of developing a long-term plan for my family.
But I never chased money.
Or saw it as the root of envy or jealousy, or something to hold over others. To the contrary, I see it at best representing a sense of security, period.
A close relative has said to me “if you have a problem, and money can solve it, and you have the money, then you don’t have a problem.”
Well said. And to this end money IS very important. But there is still the feeling that surely money has to represent some more materialistic motive in my life.
I see that look when I say I want to write a blog, maybe work with helping smaller companies get off the ground, support the Detroit theater company that is so central to my wife’s endeavors and for which I am the finance guy on the Board, and be able to do other things I never had time to do, at least for a little while. None of which come with a salary.
I tell people the ONE thing that would make me most unhappy would be to work in the political theater of the mega-corporation again. That environment provided me a lot of opportunities for many years, but nuff with dat, as the kids say (ok, no kid ever said that).
As I mentioned in my post on Money and Happiness, my last few years of the Big Corporate job were way more miserable, surrounded by bad actors posturing their way into positions of “power”, than my first few years as a fresh-faced financial analyst. And yet, guess which set of years paid exponentially more. See, it’s not all about the money (at least in terms of contentment).
Now I know most of you probably don’t have the luxury of shedding your jobs, becoming freelancers or beach bums, and pretending money isn’t needed to meet your needs (because it certainly is).
But you DO have the ability to either see the quest for money as a trap, or simply as one aspect of your life that complements, and does not compete with, even more important things.
And What Would Those More Important Things Be, Oh Wise One?
Start with the cliché things – family, close friendships, balance between work and outside interests, time spent with your kids, etc. Yes, those things.
But to refine the point even further, honestly ask yourself a few questions on your current status right now:
* What are you “reaching for”, money-wise?
* Are you obsessed with getting the next raise or promotion?
* Do you covet some expensive item that has always been out of reach, like a boat, or motorcycle, or a bitcoin?
You see, there is a big difference between wanting things and being consumed with things. Maybe I’m just plain lucky to have been born without the “consumed with things” gene. I simply at any given moment can’t think of much of anything that I truly want that I don’t already have (and what I have is pretty basic).
Or maybe I’ve just trained myself from a very young age to think of money as an enabler, but not a way of keeping score with friends and neighbors.
All the years of working up the corporate ladder I honestly do not recall ever asking for a raise or a promotion, because I wasn’t consumed by the pursuit of these things from a purely economic standpoint. I just worked really hard and got plenty of raises and promotions, so ironically it worked out anyway, but do you see the difference
By the way, I had the pleasure of writing and meeting some new friends at Gregory’s Coffee, this one in Midtown Manhattan. On this particular day, this included a brother and sister venturing into the big city because “JC Penny’s was having a big sale”.
Oh yeah, he is 78, she is 79. They went on for a long time about the need for couples to have separate savings accounts, and how he loaned a friend a knee brace eight years ago and doesn’t think he’ll ever get it back, and everything in between. Great people, and it was a pleasure getting to know them.
But back to the theme here – it’s not ALL about the money!
PART of it is about the money, and I worked for both a sense of job accomplishment and the financial rewards that came with it. As I started receiving significant bonuses, the extra money helped tremendously to fund three college educations, a second home, some nice trips, and most importantly add to the investments that will eventually finance our future independence. But if those bonuses had never happened, we would have been fine and just found a way to adjust to less. No pouting, no jealousy.
And that’s why I get secretly nauseous when I see the articles every few years when the headlines read something like “Wall Street bonuses down 15%”, and go on to profile the bond trader who will take home just $5 million instead of $6 million, with the result being real estate agents in the Hamptons or luxury auto dealers bracing for the inevitable pullback.
I actually feel sorry for the traders and hedge fund managers, not because of the “lower” bonus, but for the reliance on dollars to keep score, and the whining that comes from any shortfall to what have become outrageous expectations.
Funny, I have never experienced that disappointment. In fact, when my first “real” bonus was announced about 20 years ago (I think around $45,000 when I was expecting something like $15,000), I was so elated to call my wife and say we could finally remodel the kitchen. But if it had turned out to be $0, oh well, we had a perfectly functional kitchen anyway.
So How to Best Reconcile All of This?
As I’ve said before, I have no right to tell you how to live. Or how to feel about money, or for that matter what to spend it on. All I can do is sincerely relate a perspective on money that has served me well my entire life, and is what leads to much more of a sense of independence since I truly believe what is on my About Me page – “Wealth isn’t how much you have, but how little you want.”
And I don’t want for anything but health and happiness for my wife and kids, and yes even those doubters.
Grissom family, Greenwich Village NYC, 2016
Remember, I’m on Instragram and Twitter @guidedbycoffee