Year of the Monkey: What the Chinese Zodiac Can Teach Us About Personal Finance

Here are some lessons we can learn from this charming and energetic creature.

One of the most exciting aspects about being multicultural is that the New Year celebration does not end on January 1. According to the Western calendar, February 8, 2016 marks the beginning of the Chinese New Year—also known as “Spring Festival,” the longest and most important celebration for Chinese families across the globe.

Because the Chinese calendar is lunisolar, meaning it is based on both lunar and solar cycles, it is celebrated on a different date each year. The lunar calendar also defines the 12-year repeating cycle of Chinese zodiac with each year named after an animal. 2016 is the Year of the Monkey. Charming and energetic, monkeys are definitely party animals because they crave fun, activity and excitement.

What can monkeys teach us about finance?

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1. Lose the financial fat. The cost of living continues to increase, and it is hard to stay on a strict money diet. Start off easy, but stop going bananas on items that you could do without, such as premium cable or the fanciest tech gadgets. Cable bills vary depending on provider and services; most bills run a few hundred a month. But technology now allows people to view television online, and Netflix provides ample opportunity to binge watch at a monthly cost that in many instances is lower than cable.

Try This: Be a creative primate and analyze your spending habits to find ways to save. Next, take those savings and invest for your future. For example, prepare your own lunch from home, and resist the urge to shop when you’re bored or upgrade your phone when the latest model hits the shelves. Redirect your “found” money to your Roth IRA or 401(k) to build wealth for your financial independence.

2. Respect your wallet. Many of us are prone to reaching for the credit card instead of using cash. That’s like throwing a monkey wrench into your budgeting. It is easy to lose track of our spending because we don’t realize how frequently we swipe when a credit card is so readily available and accessible. To our shock and horror, we soon discover how much we really spent during the course of the month when our statement arrives. Interest rates and credit card fees accumulate, and soon we are in debt over our heads. This is an example of compound interest working against us!

Try This: Only have one extra credit card for emergency uses only. Determine what truly constitutes an emergency, such as health care expenses, car repairs, or utilities. Place the card in a secure place, and let a trusted person know where it is located.

3. Gifts should come from the heart. Dao De Jing or Tao Te Ching, the inspirational “old master” texts of ancient China, state that the greatest resources a person can have are love, generosity and frugality. It feels better to create a homemade gift than spend tons of money. Think of the return on investment: a few dollars to make something means more to the person because thought went into it.

Try This: Donating money in someone’s name is a way to make both you and the gift recipient feel as though you are supporting a worthy cause.

4. Leave the ego at the door. According to the Chinese Zodiac, the weaknesses of the monkey are being egotistical, arrogant, crafty, restless and snobbish. These negative characteristics may cost anyone financial success. There is no harm in seeking help from an expert. Ego often clouds judgment and choices, leaving a person with a less than ideal outcome.

Try This: Consult with a financial adviser when dealing with serious financial matters; such as preparing for retirement, going through a divorce or becoming a caregiver to an aging parent. An expert is unbiased and doesn’t have that strong emotional connection to the situation. By talking with an adviser, you may glean financial confidence. It’s like getting a monkey off your back.

To derive the greatest benefit from the Year of the Monkey, plan to use your talents wisely.

Don’t fritter away the opportunity that the beginning of a new year gives us to plan. What you write down now, you can make come true. Time to stop monkeying around. Time to establish your financial goals.

Marguerita M. Cheng is the Chief Executive Officer at Blue Ocean Global Wealth (opens in new tab). Marguerita is a spokesperson for the AARP Financial Freedom Campaign and is often featured in national publications. As a CFP Board Ambassador, Marguerita helps educate the public, policy makers, and media about the benefits of competent, ethical financial planning. She proudly serves on the FPA National Board of Directors and is a frequent speaker on on financial planning, Social Security, diversity, elder care, and retirement.

This article was written by and presents the views of our contributing adviser, not the Kiplinger editorial staff. You can check adviser records with the SEC or with FINRA.

Marguerita M. Cheng, CFP®
CEO, Blue Ocean Global Wealth

Marguerita M. Cheng is the Chief Executive Officer at Blue Ocean Global Wealth (opens in new tab). She is a CFP® professional, a Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor℠, Retirement Income Certified Professional and a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst. She helps educate the public, policymakers and media about the benefits of competent, ethical financial planning.