Like the age-old institution of marriage, the relationship between humans and money is a topic of endless debate and conjecture. If the agreed point of departure is that we all require money in varying quantities in order to survive (and hopefully thrive), then it’s safe to say that we are all in a life-long partnership with money. As with any relationship of considerable duration, the journey of togetherness is likely to be littered with successes, failures, celebrations, fear, miscommunication, anger and possibly even confusion. Like any relationship worth nurturing, there are a few guidelines worth considering when it comes to our relationship with money:
1. Pay attention to it
Regardless of how important money is in your life on the scale of I can live on love and fresh air alone to I wake up 2 am to check my share portfolio, no one can get away with not paying attention to their money. Know how much you earn, quantify your spend, understand your investments, insure yourself against risk, but don’t make money your god because, as the ever-wise Henry Fielding so aptly said, “If you make money your god, it will plague you like the devil.”
2. Make time for it
Think of it as a “date night” with your money – without the candles. Spending a small amount of time now taking cognisance of your fiscal affairs will save you precious time in the future. As brain-numbingly boring as budgeting can be, it’s difficult to put a price on financial peace-of-mind no matter how mathematically gifted one may be.
3. Prioritise it
Assuming you start work at age 25 and intend being in a position to retire at 65, you only have 480 pay cheques with which to fund for retirement. While you’re invested, the magic of compound interest can work miracles on your portfolio. Conversely, while you remain un-invested, the same magic serves only to compound your retirement funding shortfall and sentencing you to a life-long game of catch. There’s a lovely Chinese proverb that reads, “The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time is now.” Get advice on your retirement and make money a priority, but not the priority.
4. Celebrate it
As with any milestone or important event in your relationship, there will be occasions in your financial flight that are worthy of celebration. Whether it’s paying off a student loan, securing a promotion, purchasing your first home or cutting up your credit cards, acknowledge the successes, no matter how seemingly small, and savour the moment.
5. Keep a sense of humour
Whilst there’s nothing innately funny about money, it’s worth reminding oneself not to take it too seriously. The chances are that, if you’re too serious about your money, you’ll end up spending more time charting the markets and less time seeing the things that really matter. Those who think that time is money don’t understand the value of time.
6. Respect it
Although money is an inanimate object and wields no power at all, respect the fact that you hold within you the power to achieve wonderful purposes if you put your money to good use. Know what good you want to achieve with your money, and then do it. More than anything else, helping others is a gift to the giver.
7. Don’t manipulate with it
Nothing in life is worth achieving if it took manipulation to obtain it, and money is no exception to this rule. Live your life in such a way that those you come into contact with value you for what’s in your heart and not what’s in your pocket.
8. Don’t blame it
One of the first steps to true financial freedom involves learning not to blame money for one’s circumstances. Overcoming debt can only be countered by spending less or earning more, or a deliberate combination of the two. In the words of Albert Ellis, “The best years of your life are the ones in which you decide your problems are your own. You do not blame them on your mother, the ecology, or the president. You realise that you control your own destiny.” Take the blame and then take control.
9. Seek to understand it
If there’s something you don’t understand about your financial plan, ask questions and seek answers. If you’re not sure about the difference between a pension and provident fund, find out. If you don’t know how your tax works, learn. If you’re not sure whether your group life cover provides you with disability benefits, ask. It will be too late to search for answers when you’re bed-bound and regrettably uninsured.
10. Talk about it
From abortion to cross-dressing to human cloning, we live in an age where seemingly no topic of conversation is taboo – and so it should be when it comes to the topic of money. One’s financial plan is only as sound as its relevance to the greater inter-generational plan. Know and understand your parent’s financial circumstances so that you can plan ahead adequately for their old age, if necessary, without them becoming a surprise financial burden on you at a time when you should be reaping the benefits of careful planning.
11. Know the difference between want and need
As Bear Grylls so often reminds us, we can’t survive without water, warm and shelter. We can, however, survive without the new Samsung Galaxy S4. I am living proof of this. A deep and honest analysis of what we really need as opposed to what we think we really need is sure to cause all kinds of inner turmoil.
12. Practise delayed gratification
Practise the not-so-common art of delayed gratification by focusing on your longer-term financial goals. If purchasing a new vehicle is an important goal for you, use this as a touchstone for any potentially impulsive purchase. Viewing a pair of seemingly must-have Ray Bans against the joy of your dream wheels may well have the effect of delaying the purchase or settling for a pair of Bondi Blues instead.
13. Don’t lose yourself in it
Although money is important and will be with you (hopefully) for the rest of your life, be sure to create an identity that is separate from your bank balance. Oprah Winfrey once said, “Everyone wants to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.” Surround yourself with people who will be happy to take the bus with you, and create a self worth that is completely separate from your net worth.
14. Understand how much is enough
Two of the world’s wealthiest men, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett launched The Giving Pledge in 2010 which challenged 40 American billionaires to give at least half of their fortunes away – all of whom accepted the challenge. Through experience, these billionaires understood that money doesn’t buy happiness and that giving is far more enjoyable than hoarding. Decide how much is enough in your life.
15. Have faith in the long-term
Every marriage begins with mutual faith in the long-term survival of the relationship, and so should it be with our relationship with money. Investing to for the long-term can be enormously frustrating because it requires the investor to exercise patience while compound interest works amasses your retirement wealth. But as Paul Samuelson said, “Investing should be more like watching paint dry or watching grass grow. If you want excitement, go to Vegas”. Once you’ve obtained sound, independent advice, have faith in your financial plan and your future wealth creation.
This Valentine’s Day, while we celebrate love and human relationships, let’s make sure that our relationship with money is geared for long-term success.
Have a blessed weekend and a wonderful Valentine’s Day.
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