Making Peace With Money
If you are diligent and conscientious in your financial planning, there comes a point where you must go with the flow.
You work. You Save. You invest and diversify. You spend responsibly (well, most of the time!). But you are not really at peace with your finances. You are anxious about the future. About the markets. About your choices. You worry about college and retirement. You never really feel like you have a handle on the whole money thing.
This is definitely unsettling — especially for those who feel in control of other aspects of their lives. What is this about — and how can you shake this nagging sense of angst?
First, this feeling is normal, and plagues even the very rich. In fact, there are reasons to believe they suffer even more that we mere mortals, because they often associate themselves — and their identities — with their wealth.
And for all of us, there is something about money that speaks to our core values, our sense of worth and our responsibility to others. We measure our worth in dollars, and compare ourselves with others. In fact, we often view ourselves through the lens of others, creating pressure to meet some external, perhaps unspoken standard. Success and failure are often viewed monetarily, and we perpetuate that with our own expectations.
To be sure, the need to earn an income and support our families is an important premise of our discussion here. You should, and must and do hold up your end of the bargain by managing money responsibly. You seek expert help when needed and make the most of what you have.
Yet even if you feel good about all this, you may still worry about the uncertainties of life — the things you can’t control — that often keep you up at night. What if the markets tank again? If the economy falters? What if policies are enacted in Washington or your state capital or municipality that are adverse to your interests?
Part of the overriding problem stems from the attachments we hold. The attachments to the expectations of others and ourselves. To the “stuff” we hold so dear. To the notion that our worth is tied to our net worth and to the standards projected by the external world.
To the extent that these forces are at play, the key to peace may very well lie in the art of letting go. And not in some retreat-to-a-monastery sort of way. Rather, you can make a conscious decision to accept whatever lies on the other side of your best efforts. Life’s uncertainties, and our human failings along the way, can, indeed, impact our best efforts to build financial security. And it is quite likely you will see this in your investing lifetime. Such detours will require you to adapt your strategies, re-assess your goals and change behaviors as external forces disrupt your trajectory.
Fortunately, financial tools and resources have become more sophisticated over time, and you can now find plenty of ways to rebalance your portfolio, create asset allocation strategies, research investment options, calculate how much to save and how long your money will last, etc. These tools and calculators — and of course professionals — can help you tweak and revise your strategy, and understand how to best adapt to the changing environment.
In 25 years of practicing financial planning, I have seen many personalities and their relationships to money. While everyone wants to know that they are doing the best they can with their resources, this alone does not provide a sense of peace. I find that when combined with an adaptive attitude, this resilience — and not the level of wealth — is what breeds contentment.
So in keeping with the “zen” philosophies, try to embrace the impermanence of life, and learn to let the outcome go — knowing you are doing your best.