I fear the clever marketing in the traditional financial services industry continues to confuse many people. They see the title “financial adviser,” “financial planner” or “financial” anything and expect to receive unbiased advice. This concern makes me think of the sketch above, which I shared many years ago in a…
Category Archives: New York Times
My wife and I are setting up a customs screening station in our driveway. No, we’re not starting an international airport. And it’s not for solicitors, strangers or gift-bearing guests.
It’s for us and our stuff.
From now on, before anything new comes into the house, resident buyers will need to answer a series of questions. How much did it cost? Are you replacing something you already own? Why do you think it’s amazing? And if it’s food, are you sure you’ll eat it?
We’re doing this because stuff is taking over our home. And right now we’re in the process of getting rid of things we never use. We’re organizing, sorting and throwing things out from one end of the house to the other. And it feels. So. Good.
Early Friday morning, a friend texted me. Here’s what he said: “Will you come talk to my co-workers?! They are talking about stopping their 401(k) contributions because of what’s going on! Driving me nuts!”
Still not quite awake, I replied, “What?”
Within seconds, he replied, “Stock market fell 500 points this morning, Carl! It’s all the way down to 17,537!”
My first thought: “Wow! The Dow is over 17,000.” And this is where things got a bit exciting for me as a financial professional.
I’m getting more questions about what this election will mean for people’s personal financial situations than I’ve received in any previous election that I can remember. Financial advisers almost twice my age tell me the same thing. While I’m sure there are many reasons for these questions, I submit that the primary one is this: Our collective anxiety around money has never been higher. People are scared, and at the root of that fear is money (or the lack thereof).
Money is an interesting actor that plays two roles in our lives. In the first, money equals money. It fits in a spreadsheet. It’s something to be calculated. In the other, money equals stories. It’s what we tell ourselves about our relationship with money.
Perhaps you’ve heard the expression, “Only the paranoid survive.” Ring a bell? If so, it’s probably because that’s the title of a book by Andrew S. Grove, the former chairman and chief executive of Intel. When I read this book in late 1999, I bought into the need to always be looking for opportunities and to live my life at full throttle. I was afraid that if I stopped for even a moment just to rest, relax and recover, I wouldn’t “make it” (whatever that means). I was paranoid, and I was surviving — but just barely.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a column about the growing tribe of people who value experiences over security in their lives. But there is something that I didn’t say then that I want to emphasize: You don’t necessarily have to trade experience and financial security off against each other.
I want to talk to you about scary markets. For the sake of this particular subject, I want to be blunt and a little bit in your face. So for the next few minutes, please, just think of me less as your friend and more as your Scary Markets Drill Sergeant. O.K.? Great.
In life, there are certain nonnegotiables we simply must have. Think food, water and shelter for starters. Nobody will ask, “Is it worth it to eat?” It’s just something you do to stay alive. But deciding what to eat? That’s a different question. Will I eat the bologna or prosciutto? Drink tap water or bottled? And anything discretionary — anything that has even the slightest element of choice in it — invariably deals with a question we find ourselves asking all the time. “Is it worth it?”
You probably know the refrains by now: Experiences trump stuff. Experiences tend to bring us happiness. More stuff tends to breed discontent. There’s a wealth of research to back up these ideas up. But the idea that you can leave a stable job, a 401(k), sell your house, retrofit your van and spend a couple of years living out of it by yourself, or with your spouse, or even with your kids, is something completely different. Not only is it different, it’s mind-blowing. This mind-blowing concept is not the choice of experience over stuff. It’s not even experience over stability. It’s experience over security. And that is a very fascinating development in our culture.