The dollar you have right now has more time than any dollar you will ever have. Put another way, that dollar is the most powerful dollar you will own for the rest of your life. Like Spiderman’s uncle would say, that dollar arguably has the most responsibility too. Yet, especially with people who are young, you hear things like “I have the rest of my life to make money.” 8.2 million people in the US as of 2021 with severe enough disabilities to receive government assistance might disagree with that statement. But for most, it is technically true.
That said, people can become wealthy by casting aside the idea of having the rest of their life to invest. If they simply start to invest, incredible things can happen. And it does not have to be mutual funds, stocks, real estate, or even a bank account. Investing can mean investing in oneself. Committing to a degree, a new skill, the extra time to get a promotion, exercising, developing better relationships, starting a new business…they are all forms of investment.
For many people, what stops them from investing enough is their mentality. It is hard when you think of it as losing something or giving something up. It is even harder when you feel like it is “too late for me” or that it won’t make a difference.
But when you can think of investing as growing and building something, investing becomes easier and, dare I say, fun. Done long enough, it becomes a habit—a way of life. People enjoy chasing goals, especially when underneath the goal is a little hope. There is something edifying about seeing progress. Perhaps, instead of the word “investing”, we should think of it as “becoming”.
I guest lecture at the University of Puget Sound and enjoy showing a class of undergraduates what happens if they invest. A dollar can become ten, fifteen, even twenty dollars in their lifetime. But if they wait and put it off…that dollar’s potential changes dramatically. The goal is to share stories and examples that will change how they think about money.
Sometimes I encourage clients to evaluate how they think about money too. We all carry baggage, good and bad, about money from our experiences growing up—our own money stories. They can be stories of scarcity, when money was tight growing up and we weren’t allowed to have things we wanted (or needed). We might remember arguments between parents about money. Older generations in particular often struggle to even talk about money—their childhood coincided with the Great Depression. Their own parents avoided talking about money to protect the kids from worry, silently communicating the idea that money was taboo to discuss.
Of course, there are positive money stories too, like when you worked and saved up for the bike or car you wanted. You might remember your parents talking enthusiastically about how to budget for a fun vacation, or how they didn’t explode when the dryer broke because they didn’t live month to month. These stories influence and motivate people, guiding their own choices like a river’s current pulls a raft.
Clients come to us with all kinds of money stories. To their credit, most of our clients are impressively self-aware. Some want help overcoming those stories—they want to let go. Others want to act on their stories, and they want help expressing their own version of a story.
“Debt is bad.” Not always.
“I want enough. I want to leave my job, like my dad did.” There is a way for you to get there.
“My parents owned land. Real estate is the best asset to own.” Sometimes that is true. Sometimes other things work better.
“I need to leave money for my kids.” Wonderful. You can do that without giving up so much.
“College is too expensive; we are too late to help.” Actually, there is still a lot that can be done.
“This is my dad’s money, not mine.” This money does not have to stand for your father; it can stand for what matters most to you now.
“I can’t retire with a mortgage.” Actually, paying off your mortgage might delay your retirement instead of accelerating it.
Sometimes we have to pause when one of these little comments pops up in the middle of a longer conversation and examine it under a microscope together. Often the thought was said almost without thinking, taken for granted like the sun coming up or the tree you drive past every morning.
Sometimes it takes a third party writing in big bold letters the truth, reminding us it will be okay, to convince us. Sometimes it takes gentle reminders and nudges. Sometimes it takes years and baby steps.
Every once in a while, there is nothing we can do. Being deliberate and pulling yourself out of the context of your own life is incredibly difficult. For younger people, it is easier—if they know nothing else, they can create their own current rather than swimming against it. But it is entirely possible for anyone to make a change.
We have clients who reach out with big “money moments”. It could be an inheritance, selling a home, receiving a large bonus, or selling their business. The influx of money creates a mismatch; their wealth is misaligned with their current habits and skill set. What should I do with this money? How do I handle this? Their money stories don’t have the answers they need. Returning to Spiderman’s uncle, they are uncomfortable and worried about the sudden responsibility of money–the responsibility to be good stewards of once in a lifetime opportunities. They look to us as partners who can help shoulder that responsibility, helping them choose their own money stories and shape the story for the rest of their family in the process.
It can be a beautiful process; we see it because we have clients who are second, third, and even fourth generation clients. We see what parents pass down to their children–lessons as much as assets, heritage and ways of life as much as accounts. If there is one lesson, one money story we see parents try to share with their children the most, it is probably this: just start. Start becoming.