“I don’t care too much for money, money can’t buy me love” Paul McCartney
My typical days the last 16 years may involve some combination of reading the latest academic research paper, running different scenarios of minor adjustments to a model portfolio or keeping tabs on the newest investment vehicles available to clients- all in the hopes of trying to eek out a few extra basis points of return. When this far in the weeds, it can be easy to forget the reasons we invest our money in the first place.
Growing up in the Bay Area of California, I frequented the Oakland and San Francisco zoos with family or during school field trips. While I was grateful for the time outside to play and admire the amazing animals, there was always something I was envious of: those other kids who had the cash to buy a zoo key.
A zoo key is a silly little plastic ‘key’ shaped like an elephant that allows you to play a recording at designated areas that gives background on the animal you were looking at. It probably cost $2.00 back then. It wasn’t even the recording that I was excited about, it was what that key symbolized. Having a key meant you were one of the cool, rich kids for which money was no obstacle. It was like the Tesla Model X for an eight-year-old in the 1980s.
Last month we took a family trip to the Oakland zoo with our two young children. Below is a picture of my 2 year old son turning a key into the same recording box at the Giraffe exhibit that I wished I could have all those years back.
It hit me- does this mean I’ve made it in life? Because I can afford these minor luxuries that were beyond my family’s modest reach a generation ago, does that make us wealthy? After all, the couple dollar purchase won’t keep me up at night. My money worries center more around funding 529 plans for the kids, determining the right neighborhood for the next house we buy, or helping our parents prepare for their retirement.
This seemed to bridge the gap in my mind between money and meaning.
Perhaps these thoughts were heavy on my mind because I had just finished reading The Geometry of Wealth by Brian Portnoy, a fantastic book that prods the reader to evaluate their relationship with wealth and how it can help them live a more meaningful life- whatever that means to each individual.
An old saying came to mind at this moment- that money can’t buy you love. But in some ways it can help free you up to be able to enjoy experiences that make you happy, like going to the zoo with your children whenever you’d like. The end goal of earning wealth over time wasn’t the ability to invest in a hedge fund or own a vacation house. The goal was to have the financial freedom to enjoy those experiences with the ones we hold dear.
Financial planning expert Michael Kitces wrote, “The fundamental problem with goals-based investing… is that we don’t really have any real clue what our goals actually are”. This rung true to me, as 10 years ago I had no notion of what feelings I would have as a parent. 10 years from now I might feel strongly about a certain charitable cause or want to pick back up with the global travel we often did before having children. What being financially successful, or wealthy, meant to me in the past is likely to change over time.
The book mentions four C’s that wealth may be able to be employed towards in order to bring deeper meaning to one’s life..
- Connection: Social connections
- Control: The ability to direct and define your life
- Competence: Being good at something you care about
- Context: attachment to something bigger than ourselves
What are you investing for? What ability do you hope to have in the future that you don’t have today? If you hit the lotto tomorrow- what would you do with your time? Where would you live?
Using the framework of the four C’s above can help formulate goals. For example, it may be something like, “I enjoy volunteering for a certain nonprofit, and the ability to spend more of my time using my skills to help them is going to bring great satisfaction to me.” Or “I’d like to get to the point where I could pursue that architecture interest I’ve always had by taking some college courses.”
The author summarizes the book with the statement: “The ability to underwrite a meaningful life is achievable for anyone who combines the right mindset and the right plan.”
We at Cardinal Point couldn’t agree more.
While I spend most of my days ensuring we have an investment strategy that is grounded in academic research that can be tailored to our clients’ evolving and complicated cross border needs, we believe working with clients to help understand how we can best position their assets to help meet those future aspirations and needs is the foundation of a successful financial advisory relationship.
In my distant future that might simply mean the ability to bring grandkids to the zoo, and maybe even splurge for a plastic zoo key.i