Halloween and the upcoming election are not that different from each other. Children and candidates come to the door with their hands out, threatening bad things if you don’t give them what they want. You try to figure out who they really are. It is easier to determine who they aren’t.
Figuring out who we aren’t is also helpful when it comes to financial planning. If we are conscious of who we aren’t, we are more likely to make decisions that connect our actions and values. When our behaviors and beliefs intersect, we tend to be less scared about money. So think about who you aren’t.
We are not our money. And we are not our jobs. We spend all this effort in making a living. Some of our work is to simply put food on the table, but often much of the money from our careers is to signal to the outside world something about ourselves. How we would spend our money if no one was watching is likely to be different from how we make money decisions today. And how we spend if we aren’t watching how others spend would also make us more likely to live in accordance with our values.
Our family history affects this relationship that we have around our money or our work. What were the messages with which you grew up? Those stories — and they are simply stories — create expectations around how we are supposed to live and who we are to be. Take some time to write your money autobiography to help you see the money messages that you had growing up and how they affect your actions today. Start with how your parents viewed money, what narratives were passed down, and how you describe your own position in life. Then decide which aspects of your story are ones you wish to continue and which ones get in the way of your happiness or comfort. The stories are not who you are, but they can serve as a caricature of yourself if you are not careful.
We also are not our children. Yes, you had influence over their values, but they are still their own people. We may describe which college our children go to as a way to bask in their light. We may be apologists for them when they make choices different from ours. We may be proud of them rather than proud for them. But we are not our children. What you choose to do to support your children does not change who they are. If you choose to help your children, help them to give yourself peace rather than to try to create theirs.
Halloween and elections can be scary, but not nearly as frightening as not knowing who we are.
Spend your life wisely.
Ross Levin is the chief executive & founder of Accredited Investors Wealth Management in Edina.