Your Mind on Money

So here’s a proud moment. When looking through the kindergartner’s schoolwork this week we noticed that he responded to the “What do you want to be when you grow up?” question with, wait for it… “a dad”. Beaming, of course, I ask him why that was his answer. Like a cat stretching into its owner to be scratched behind the ears, my ego leaned in for a stroke.

And then he dropped it. The morbid punchline.

“Well, someone has to take care of Max when you die”.

While not quite oedipal, the sudden awareness of my mortality was actually lessened by something I had done earlier in the week — pored through our estate planning documents.

If you have kids, you should probably stop procrastinating, like we have for the past 5 years and do it. It basically spells out what happens to your assets, who takes cares of your kids, health care proxies, and other directives should the unthinkable happen. These are things you probably want to have a say in and not leave to probate courts.

Going through these documents, you take inventory of your assets and project some mental image of the future. If you have ever gone through the exercise of getting life insurance, when deciding on an amount, you did the same thing. These moments force you to consider the longitudinal impacts of your day to day, month to month, and year to year financial decisions. Here’s the best part. No matter what you have, it doesn’t feel like enough. In fact, many studies have shown that regardless of respondents’ net worth, people say that to feel comfortable they would need about 2-3x what they have. Teachers feel this way. Movie stars feel this way. While nobody is going to extend sympathy to George Clooney, it hints at how humans have a universally complicated psychology when it comes to money.

Don’t believe me? Let me rile you up with this article that caught fire on Twitter after CNBC re-tweeted it this week. The comments section exploded. Fintwit threads dove into metanalysis of these types of articles and their clickbaity siren’s call. Schadenfreude abounds as we watch undeniably wealthy people earnestly feel like they are just ‘scraping by’.

Yet, like our friends yanny and laurel, many of you, looking at the same exact article, will sympathize and nod. Even if on a cerebral level concede that 500k per year of income makes you a 1%-er even in CA, NY, and NJ, you will not be humblebragging when you say it’s a struggle.

To be clear, I don’t think the family making half a stick a year and maxing their 401k contribution deserves sympathy. What they need is a better relationship with money which we already saw is more about psychology than the facts about what you have.

So I’ll point to one of my favorite writers on the topic, Khe Hye. He always resonated with me. He’s a second gen American, with what he calls a ‘scarcity mindset’, who left a promising finance career as he was entering his prime 30s. He has deservedly gathered a like-minded audience because his admirable transparency strikes a nerve with many of us mid-career professionals who may feel like we are too old to be finding our path but too young to be planning our exits.

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