The curse of money

“Some people spend money that they don’t have, for things that they don’t need, to impress people that they don’t like.” Danny Kaye

“A man wants to earn money in order to be happy, and his whole effort and the best of a life are devoted to the earning of that money. Happiness is forgotten; the means are taken for the end.”

Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays

Money rules us.

In fact, it’s worse than that. It’s a sick joke.

It doesn’t matter which way you cut it, we can’t escape money — even in retirement.

The foregoing isn’t wholly accurate. It’s our relationship with money that dictates how we live. This doesn’t mean for those who’ve amassed a fortune, they’re in any better shape than the rest of us. If we worry about not having enough they worry about losing what they’ve got.

What does money mean to you?

Write down it down.

Security?

Freedom?

Stuff?

Prestige?

Independence?

Chances are, you’ve not given it much thought.

And in case you think I’ve got this money thing sorted, you’d be wrong. I haven’t. In fact, it’s only recently — in the last few months — that I’ve started to investigate my relationship with money. How does that make me feel? Stupid. It’s dumb arse in not having looked at a subject that, whether I like it not, has ruled (and ruined) my life for as long as I can remember.

At the risk of boring you stupid, I think my relationship with money can be distilled into a few lines; namely, in the beginning my parents made me appreciate everything, even when I thought them wrong-headed. This made me and has meant that I look after what I own but it sometimes makes sharing difficult. At the start of my career, I didn’t think money a motivator (and still don’t, per se) but I should have looked more closely at the link between earnings and financial independence (FI). On starting a family, I didn’t understand the profound effect it would have on my (our) life (lives), including my marriage. And, now, I realise that if I don’t take control, in a serious and organised way, I’m going to have to work until I drop dead. That last point isn’t true, but, as things stand, I’ll be working until I’m 70 — the same as my father. (Unfortunately, most of his pension went up in smoke with the demise of Equitable Life, which necessitated him working a lot longer than he’d planned.)

I could put this money thing down to my time of life, but it doesn’t feel like that. It feels more liberating. But actually, I could go further and say the moment I decided not to proceed with trying to build a business the money thing came upon me like a sharp intake of breath. I suppose what I accepted was the fact that I wasn’t going to be able to exit with a capital sum (from the business) and, therefore, I had to look to my (our) income and savings to achieve FI. That’s not to say that I won’t try to earn additional money outside of paid employment but it does mean that I’m in the process of taking much greater control of my finances.

If I need inspiration then there’s more than enough material to go around. In fact, little did I know how abundant is the FI community. Here’s a few sites if you’re interested:

Early Retirement Extreme

The FIREstarter

Simple Living in Suffolk

Mr Money Mustache

Retirement Investing Today (perhaps my favourite site)

What they all have in common — so far as I can tell from my early reading — is control. Not control over their money, although, in the end, that’s key, but control over their approach to life.

Wasn’t it Peter Drucker who said, “…you can’t manage what you can’t measure”. And what is it I’ve measured? In short, how I want to live my life post FI. You see, having had a few months off in 2016, what was brought home to me was the joy in being able to get up each day and create. It was utterly liberating not just in the sense that I could do what I liked when I liked but also to follow my instinct for writing, reading and calligraphy. I appreciate that that makes me sound like a lout but why shouldn’t I dream of waking up each day and doing what I truly love? (I accept that I don’t have to wait until I achieve FI to create, and, indeed, my ‘deep work’ plan — I’ll talk about this more in a separate blog — is already focused on a daily creative output, but there’s a big difference between working and fitting in my creative output and not having to work and spending all my time creating. Does that make sense?)

Perhaps, previously, I should have taken things more seriously. I mean, I’ve a wife, three children and not insubstantial financial responsibilities but, the thing is, if I am going to bust my arse for the next 10 years then I need something more to motivate me beyond being debt free, managing my money and having a few investments that might help with my/our FI lifestyle.

In a sense I’m doing no more than millions of people have done or plan to do, but for me, having got caught up in so many things — mostly I think they’ve pandered to my ego (that bloody ‘me’) — I definitely feel as if I’ve taken my eye off the money ball.

In terms of the things to do, I’ve got a long list. As I’ve discovered, it’s not simply a case of earning more and spending less, albeit that’s an excellent place to start. First and foremost it’s about understanding my relationship with money. From there, I’ll budget like I’ve never budgeted before (I’ve invested in a money programme called Bank Tree Personal Finance), and after that it will be a case of paying off debts, planning for the odd contingency and understanding how best to save what little money Alli and I can squirrel a way for the next few years.

In time, I fully expect to share with you some hard numbers and to give you greater insight to what’s changed. But for now, I’m simply highlighting the fact that I’m taking much more seriously the idea of going to work on my life than I’ve ever done before.

I should say that as well as the nuts and bolts of money management — key, of course, for FI — I’ve read the work of Peter Koenig, including his book, 30 Lies About Money: liberating your life, liberating your money. I didn’t come to his work by accident. Instead, I started to read the wonderful writing of Charles Davies (who you may have seen me mention a few times on Twitter) when researching his work on Very Clear Ideas (VCI). It’s a long story, but when I was coached in 2012/3 by Kashyapi, she used the process of VCI with my business and work. I found it hugely liberating to test things out and come up with something that was and still is 100% me. I’d actually forgotten about VCI when I first stumbled upon Charles’ work on Medium but the lightbulb soon went off between personal transformation — awaken, to true self — and our relationship with money. (Charles has worked with Peter Koenig and has been teaching money workshops for the last 10 years.)

Sorry, that’s a bit circuitous, but my reason for mentioning Peter Koenig’s work is that money is much more than just getting a number on a spreadsheet. In my case, even though I’ve gone back to legal practice, I’d be lying if I wasn’t looking for a way to combine practice with something transformative of those I serve beyond sorting out a legal problem. I mean qua coach, qua consultant is one thing but moving people forward, by understanding the link between money and personal transformation, is something complete different.

How do I put this in a way that is less personal and more rational? Well, put it like this, even in the “follow your passion” or “do what you love” paradigm, there’s still the need to earn money. In the past, I’d assumed that doing the work was enough. But now? I think that you can’t ignore the money or at least you have to look very carefully at your relationship with money.

To try and wrap things up, I’d love everyone to consider their relationship with money. Is it a means to an end? Does it have special power over you? Or, like me, have you paid scant attention to the interplay between work, retirement and your calling?

Like I always say in these closing remarks, I’d love to hear from you if only to understand your own journey and how you too might benefit from (a) an analysis of your relationship with money and (b) a consideration of FI and whether that’s something that is or should now form part of your life.

In summary, I’ve decided:

  1. To understand better my relationship with money;
  2. To better manage my (our) money;
  3. To work on my life so that I do work that furthers my aim of FI by the time I’m 60;
  4. To continue to talk about money beyond the banal and slightly simplistic way I’ve done up to now; and
  5. To share with my family the need to tighten our belts and appreciate more of what we’ve got so that we can all benefit over the long term.

I’ve not decided what I’ll blog about next week, but I think I’d like to investigate the work of Arthur Schopenhauer — see in particular the quote of Einstein: “Man can indeed do what he wants, but he cannot will what he wants.” The reason I’m interested in his work is because none of, or very few of the writers I’ve explored in the personal development space, every come to consider why we do what we do. Why’s that relevant? Well, to an extent it’s not but I think if we’re to go deeper than a simple observation of our thoughts or what’s appearing day to day, we need to consider how mysterious this whole will thing actually is.

And?

Well, for me at least, coming to that realisation on reading and listening to the work of Darryl Bailey (and others) has been highly significant in my life.

Anyhow, we’ll see. I may continue with the money theme.