The Great Minnesota Get-Together is over. We saw record crowds, a variety of storms (weather and political), and our Fitbits fighting an epic battle between caloric intake and thousands of steps. But while the fair has ended, its similarities to our financial plans live on.
The midway is like the stock market. It may be easy to compare the stock market to a roller-coaster, but that would be wrong. A roller-coaster sends you up and down but leaves you in the same place you started. The markets rarely do that. Stock markets grow over time as economies grow. Since they skew positive, if the ride is long enough, you end up ahead of where you began.
The problem is that you have to jump on the ride when it’s moving — and you don’t know whether it is going up or down. After a long bull market, if you have some expenses coming up in the next few years, pull enough money out of the market to pay for them. If you received an inheritance, get on the ride at various intervals rather than leaping right on it.
The midway is also like the market because if you don’t know what you are doing, you can lose a lot of money. There is a trick to winning those large stuffed animals, and those who know the game grab the pink gorillas. Sometimes someone can get lucky and win, but the odds are against them.
Investing is similar, but there are no reliable tricks. Diversifying, paying attention to costs, and staying disciplined through the good and bad times will likely land you the prizes you seek — helping your children, enjoying experiences and building for retirement.
The food at the fair represents our temptations that in overdoing can clog our financial arteries. Remember, temptations don’t make us bad, they allow us to be good.
One of my daughters and I went to the fair a couple of years ago and challenged ourselves to eat as much fried food on a stick that we could take. After indulging in the fried candy bar, our work was done. The point is not to eliminate acting on financial temptations, but to limit acting on them.
The best way to do that is by pausing. A three-day waiting period rule before you make purchases will help overcome the impulses that cause us to overspend. If you pause, you often talk yourself out of something. If you find yourself continuing to talk yourself into it, then it is probably something you really want.
The barns are a metaphor for how we show up in the world. Our financial decisions are rarely purely our own, but are influenced by those around us. It’s not to say that we act like sheep, but there is a reason you don’t see solitary animals at the fair. Being influenced by others is not always a problem. Sometimes the actions of others can lead us to attempt things we otherwise wouldn’t or engage in prosocial behavior like volunteering or philanthropy.
Other times it can lead us to buy things that we really don’t want or need or cause us to try to elevate ourselves in relation to others.
The best strategy for dealing with this herd mentality is getting quiet so you can listen to what your true wants are. I find using a journal particularly helpful in this regard.
The grandstand and the band shell are our joy from experiences. When the (sort of) Beach Boys sing "Sloop John B," we don’t just hear it, we feel it. We reminisce about happy times in our lives and get to relive them. Since pleasant memories expand over time, creating these is a critical component to financial well-being.
Being irresponsible with your money can cause problems, but so can being too responsible. Under both conditions money has more power over you than it should. You want to calibrate your financial choices so that you reduce your regrets. I constantly think about Sydney Harris’ quote, “Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is the regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable.”
I have found with my clients that experiences limit regret. Experiences don’t have to cost a lot of money either. People come from all over the world to visit the North Shore for its hiking and its beauty, yet many of us have never even spent a couple of days there.
The weather at the fair is probably the most representative of our financial lives. We are often affected by forces that are outside our control. How we handle those situations is ultimately going to be our story.
The late minister Forrest Church said, “If we insulate our hearts from suffering, we shall only subdue the very thing that makes life worth living. We cannot protect ourselves from loss. We can only protect ourselves from the death of love.” We are going to experience suffering in our lives, but in order to suffer, we had to live. In financial planning, you can do everything right and still have things turn out differently than you hoped. Being able to deal with uncertainty is what provides the shelter from the storms.
Ross Levin is the chief executive and founder of Accredited Investors Wealth Management in Edina.