Sacrificing now for the future is a conundrum of personal finance. The act of delaying happiness seems antithetical to being in the moment.
Saving more money now, should lead to more fun and more financial freedom later. Opposition to this mindset is that tomorrow (and even the next breath) is never guaranteed. Why be obsessed with planning for the future?
Then, of course, there are a thousand variations in-between. There’s a spectrum for nearly everything.
Our lens of the world greatly impacts where each of us reside on this spectrum. This lens is affected by our life experiences involving death of loved ones, personal health issues, marriage, divorce, birth of children, birth of grandchildren, where children settle, personality, upbringing, geographical location – you name it. There are, however, common recognitions of people who both successfully plan and appreciate the present moment.
I’m privileged to be in position to witness a lot of different life experiences for clients – not just how wealth was accumulated, but also how happiness is achieved. My hope is that some of the below observations on how people manage life’s curveballs and successes will aid with the enigma of balancing now with later. After all, many of our financial wins and losses are directly linked to straddling (or not straddling) this line of being here now while acknowledging a potential future. These are recognitions of the wealthy AND the happy – those that have planned AND remained in the moment.
- Our journeys pull us into very different places. How trite, but so true. All the scenarios mentioned above involving death, birth, health, our careers, marriage, and children play a significant role in what we ultimately prioritize. We are unique. The present moment urges us to remain focused on our own priorities. Someone else’s car, home renovation, choice of school for kids, family activities, retirement timing, retirement lifestyle is not our story. They’re bringing their story (and if they’re married, two stories) to their decision making. Everyone’s story is so different. Have compassion for theirs and love for yours. Everything else is a waste of energy, time, and money.
- Our priorities will be in a constant state of flux until we die. Skeletal planning is good and doomsday planning can be good, as well – particularly, for added financial confidence. Be wary of too much detail. Frequently, obsession in the detail is simply easing our own desire to control the unknown. That fear/worry is related to something that does not yet even exist: our future. Happy people leave room for flexibility and relinquish control.
- Spousal compromise is critical. Wanting the exact same thing is unrealistic. We all bring too much to the table that makes us unique. Seeking harmony prevents resentment later. Resentment is of the past, not the present. Side note: I’ve had countless conversations with colleagues about being the unbiased third party for couples. Frequently, this is our single greatest value add (that greatly alters their financial and directional trajectory) and it has nothing to do with investments. Point being, this bullet point is hard to execute. We all should take it seriously and, simultaneously, be gentle with ourselves.
- Commit to a vision and be flexible on the details. If you keep moving forward without stumbling too much on the details, not only will you enjoy your process (and the moment) more, you won’t lose momentum. The best example I can provide isn’t even a personal finance story. Facebook’s vision has always been to build community and bring people closer together. At first, a user needed a University email address to create an account. Now, grandparents watch their grandchildren grow up 1,000 miles away. Just like the market demands impacted some of the details of Facebook’s vision, so too, will life’s celebrations and curveballs impact our details. Happy and wealthy people remain steadfast on vision, but welcome change to detail as they recognize this as a sign of growth.
- Know when to push, and when to scale back. Vietnamese monk, Thich Nhat Hahn, has said “Time is more than money. Time is life.” In the context of determining to push or scale back activities for your children, pursue or not pursue a business deal, retire or not to retire, we should recognize that time is more than money; it’s life. It’s the reason why Warren Buffet has said he’d trade places with a broke 20-year-old. Time is the only thing he can’t buy. Both personas are common: push hard, failure is not an option and scale back, endure no stress. Neither are wrong, they just carry risks. The former is susceptible to burnout, lack of humility, and carelessness. Enduring no stress runs the risk of looking back on life with regret. Straddling the line puts you in position to realize your potential while taking deliberate risks. Practically, the most successful people I’ve met do push for more. But, they only pursue the career advancement, business deal, family expansion, or philanthropic endeavor if they can pursue calmly, be comfortable with all potential outcomes, and clearly define why their actions are of service to others.
As mentioned, these recognitions beautifully take shape in a variety of ways for all people.
For Mother Theresa, it meant abandoning everything and working with the poorest of poor until her death. For some, it will be the F.I.R.E. movement. Others will retire to warm weather and play golf and tennis. And, some will never fully retire.
The objective is to be here – not in the past, not in the future. Regret and resentment are usually emotions of the past. Worry, fear, and envy are usually of the future. Money finds its way into all these experiences we face as humans. We can never fully liberate ourselves in the ‘marketplace’ – that’s being human. We can, though, mitigate through:
- Recognition and appreciation of all peoples’ stories. This helps us withhold judgement.
- Commit to the vision of our own story with flexibility in the detail. This helps us develop gratitude.
- Self-awareness of when to push and when to scale back. This helps us find contentment.
Stay calm. Stay invested.
Thanks for reading,