There are more important things than money. Honesty, gratitude and generosity all have roles in a life well spent.
My wife and I have very different travel styles. Even a flat-tire episode has not reformed her last-minute travel predilections. I drove on the rim and kissed her goodbye as she nonchalantly stepped out of the car and into the airport terminal.
I, on the other hand, am a far more careful (neurotic?) traveler. I like to be at the airport two hours early, plastic bag carefully packed with liquids, belt tucked neatly away in my suitcase. If the taxi is supposed to arrive by 8, I am outside by 7:45 and calling the cab company at 8:02.
That is why it was somewhat surprising when I misread our connection tickets for a recent vacation. Not only did we miss our flight, we stood a good chance of being stuck in Central America for a few more days trying to get back home during the busiest travel days of the year. But things somehow worked out, and we were tucked safely, if not calmly, onto the last flight home.
If you have been reading my columns over the years, you know that things hardly ever go as planned, they rarely work out in the way that we think that they will, but somehow, some way, they work out. Because this is my last Sunday column for you (I'm moving to Mondays in February), I wanted to share with you some of the themes that I have expressed over the years regarding how to spend your life wisely.
First, take time each day for appreciation and thanks. With the stock market bouncing around faster than the presidential candidates' positions concerning immigration, it's easy to focus on what is not going right. By taking the time to think about all the things that are working and to be grateful for them, you put yourself in a better position to deal with the things that are not going well.
In his book, "Authentic Happiness," psychiatrist Martin Seligman teaches us to "let go of an ideology that your past determines your future; to increase your gratitude about the good things in your past; and learn how to forgive past wrongs."
Reflecting on these three things will help you much more than staring zombie-like at CNBC.
Second, be honest with yourself. When we look at what our contributions have been to a situation, we give ourselves the opportunity to effect change. When we blame others, we are requiring them to change. So if your portfolio is not where it should be, consider your own role in that outcome. Did you abdicate all participation in your investing? Did you do things that did not feel instinctively right for you? Did you spend more money than might have been reasonable so that your need for investment returns becomes unrealistic given market conditions? Are you asking your advisers questions when something does not seem right, or are you acquiescing to their "superior" knowledge?
Third, think "more good than bad" rather than "right or wrong." Most of the decisions that we make are based on incomplete information. We need to act when the information is good enough. And when we ultimately make a choice, we need to understand that the stakes are hardly ever as high as we might imagine. For example, the 30-some people in our company have come from 20 colleges. It is ludicrous to think that getting into the right school is going to make all the difference in your child's future. While it's true that the odds for the future may increase with the choices we make, we often really don't know the results until far after the fact.
And hardly any decision that you make is irreversible. With investing, we don't like to lock our clients into investments that have significant costs to change or don't have marketability. If we made an investment choice that was more bad than good, we want to be able to change it.
My wife and I have reevaluated house, cabin, school, work and a number of other decisions throughout our lifetimes. Every decision we made provided information for us to either make a change or improve on the next one. There is nothing wrong with making mistakes -- just try not to respond with encores.
Fourth, it really isn't about the money. Money is to be spent or given away. Money is simply a tool we use to buy things. Some things are essential, such as food and shelter. Most things we buy come with emotional attachments -- the type of car we buy may be a statement about our status or our environmental consciousness. When you think about what matters most, it is usually about relationships and experiences, not things.
Fifth, give away the things that matter. Planned, systematic giving to charity helps dislodge the hold that money may have over you. Sharing your experiences and your hopes can have a huge impact on those around you. You get to choose to make a difference.
For those of you who have taken the time to drop me an e-mail or a note, thank you.
I have savored each of them and have saved many of them. I hope you find your way to me in the Monday Business section.
Spend your life wisely.
Ross Levin is the founding principal of Accredited Investors Inc. in Edina. He is a certified financial planner and author of “The Wealth Management Index.” His Gains & Losses column will appear on the second Monday of each month beginning in February. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.