Ultimately, you can only do two things with your money - spend it or give it away. Sure, you can save or invest it, but some day you will spend it or you will give it away. Everything on which we spend money changes. If we try to buy our security with it, those feelings can be fleeting based on market or job changes. So rather than focus on what your money can do for you, let's talk about what you can do for you.
I have been exploring this because politics has almost pushed me over the edge. Like most of you, I know how I am going to vote, so why do I need to spend time confirming what I believe about my candidate or reinforcing my concerns about the other candidate? My mood affects my actions and my decisions, so I decided that I needed to inoculate myself from the political drivel I was ingesting.
As I have said before, when the markets are falling, you don't want to constantly be looking at your investment account because you may do something silly. When the political sky seems to be falling, you may suffer the same consequences.
One of the things that I have been doing every day instead is reading inspiring works. It has made a difference. Let me give you an action plan using one of the books that I recently finished.
In "The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World," Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama provide some sound counsel. They write, "Why be unhappy about something if it can be remedied? And what is the use of being unhappy if it cannot be remedied?"
When people are struggling with some aspect of their lives, they often play out the drama through their money. For those at a subsistence level, money can be a problem solver, but for almost everyone else, money is often used as a distraction from the things that we don't want to confront. The quote above encourages us to look at what is really troubling us and make a choice about whether we are going to act on it if we can, or accept things if we can't.
"There are three kinds of generosity: material giving, [delivering] freedom from fear [which can involve protection, counseling or solace], and spiritual giving [which can involve giving your wisdom, moral and ethical teachings, and helping people be more self-sufficient and happier]," the book states. The path to joy is through service to others because forgiveness, gratitude, compassion and generosity are important pillars of joy.
We know about material giving, but I find the other two types of generosity particularly inspiring. When the markets were collapsing in March, we spent much time trying to help people be less afraid. But sometimes people got in a fear spiral that they either couldn't escape or didn't want to. Staying with them and counseling through this was far more effective than trying to downplay their concerns. The component of spiritual giving related to self-sufficiency is often neglected. Setting someone on the path to self-sufficiency and helping them see their capabilities can do more for them than being their co-pilot and constantly taking over the controls. The struggles that all of us confront are what shape us, so we have to be particularly careful with trying to remove all burdens from those we care about. A backstop is well behind the catcher, not in front.
Comparisons to others also cause us issues. The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu describe that how we relate to others can be a cause of our own suffering: "Envy toward the above, competitiveness toward the equal, and contempt toward the lower." Sometimes we want to know how we are doing, but shouldn't that be in relation to what we value rather than what someone else has?
Over the years, I have seen many clients make money decisions that were in response to what they felt they should be doing based on what peers or relatives had chosen. Spend your money any way you want, just be sure that it's what you really want.
The message that was consistent throughout the book is that we need to be intentional with our actions. One of the suggestions they make is to start each day with setting your intentions for the day. I view this more as establishing your awareness rather than setting goals.
Spending the first five to 10 minutes of each day with this exercise, before you check the news or your e-mails, is one of the most consequential things you can do for yourself. You eventually are going to spend your money or give it away, so start today understanding how your money will support your values, not create them.