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7 Beliefs About Money

My friend Sean O'Neill is a fantastically talented, New Yorker-published cartoonist.

I've generously offered him dozens of my ideas over the years, and probably should have taken the hint when he's never been interested in any of them.

But finally, a few weeks ago, I reached out again — and finally had one that he wanted to sketch.

Joke aside — as a professional, I am the guy on the left. A nearly 20-year career entrenched in financial decision-making.

But as an everyday person facing everyday money decisions, I am the guy on the right. Dealing with the same shit everyone else does. What can I spend? How should I spend it? How do I keep buying so much stuff when I keep telling myself to buy less stuff?

And with the privilege of being both of these people, here are seven (strongly held) personal beliefs I have about money.

Find beauty in untouched investments. If you can appreciate the science of compounding, the operating leverage of owning shares in other people's businesses, and the art of portfolio design — you can learn to love the feeling of not disturbing your portfolio.

Enjoying the journey to a larger investment account (in the future) will encourage you to spend less (today).

Learn to have fun without buying things. After I wrote this piece last year that said, "When it comes to financial planning inputs, asking yourself What's a perfect day look like to me? is more important than inflation expectations and stock market returns," a mentor and close friend, Harry Itagaki, emailed me this nugget from his experience decades ago:

One of the best things to have happened to me is that I made do on $3,000/year stipend as a grad student. I found that I could have fun and a rich life on that, much of it based on being with people I like doing interesting things, not spending money. It’s been a great lesson for my later life.

Only enjoying things that cost money is a dark, perpetual abyss. And it's most vicious quality is that it doesn't announce itself: you have to have the humility and wherewithal to discover and acknowledge that you're in it.

You'll never spend enough. So you'll never have enough.

Understand what drives your investment outcomes. Portfolios live at a weird intersection of complexity and necessity: most people don't know what's going on inside them (understandably, most people haven't studied investing), yet it's also the critical determinant of how they're going to live their life. Having the right portfolio is a huge stinking deal.

You don't need to be an expert, but you should know what drives your outcomes because investment results are noisy. You want to know a realistic range of outcomes that are likely in the future, eventually assess whether results were realized within that range, and then understand why or why not.

It's so important because long-term investors will inevitably experience disappointing periods, and you want the confidence to know that it's exactly that — a disappointing period — rather than you having a designed an inappropriate portfolio, or your advisor being an idiot or crook.

But if you don't know what drives your investment outcomes, you won't know the difference.

Know your ASWI number. Ain't stinking worth it.

Determine an amount for purchases that you don't want to spend time or energy thinking about. Maybe it's $2, maybe it's $20, or maybe it's $2,000. But financial planning can help you identify what should be deemed an unimpactful, de minimis purchase.

Then stick to it. Don't get stressed out over purchases below your ASWI. Don't let them deplete you. Just pay for them or don't pay for them. But do not optimize these decisions. Do not get the spreadsheet out. Do not go home and "think it over" only to spend precious time and finite energy potentially going back. It ain't stinking worth it.

Give yourself some grace. The most common sentiment I hear in first meetings with prospective clients is shame, embarrassment, and regret about past money decisions. I wish more people knew that everyone has them! I wrote about some of mine. You are not special.

If you are taking actions to improve your situation, celebrate that. Now is always an opportunity to get on track and reduce the likelihood of future errors. Until now is too late.

Financial planning is a wonder drug, but so many people never embrace it for their future because it's emotionally easier to not think about the past. I get immense joy watching people right this ship because I know it's hard to address regret, but I also know their life will be less stressful.

Creep widely and thoughtfully. As someone who works primarily with families still in their working years, I coach a lot about lifestyle creep.

The first thing people get wrong is they want to avoid it. Don't avoid lifestyle creep. You work hard, and should creep a little. But you should also ensure more income means more money automated into savings and investments — those need to creep, too.

And the second thing people get wrong is how they should creep. Be more thoughtful than just purchasing stuff. Which is my final suggestion...

Buy your fucking time back. What do you hate doing that you can pay someone else to do? Time is an ethereal concept, and so thinking this way can feel unnatural. But most of the physical crap we buy doesn't make us happier anyway.

Whereas at least I know exactly how to enjoy myself if I had more time.

As you have more and more money, buying time gets relatively cheaper and cheaper. We're all gonna die. Probably before we want to. And for a lot of us, we will die with plenty of money in the bank.

And our regret will be not enough time. Not enough time with people we love. Not enough time for places to see. Not enough time to do things we wanted to do.

Unfortunately, there are very few ways to get more of it. So go fucking buy it.



My blog posts are informational only and should not be construed as personalized investment advice. There is no guarantee that the views and opinions expressed in my posts will come to pass. They are not intended to supply tax or legal advice and there is no solicitation to buy or sell securities or engage in a particular investment strategy.

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