In my marriage, I have developed an expertise: Saying no. I have become so adept at this that often I don’t need to actually say anything. I immediately cast a disapproving look when my wife suggests changing something that I know may enhance our lives. My face can shape-shift like a transformer. I may tense up, emitting a negative energy to counterbalance her positive energy. Unfortunately, this is a skill in search of an outcome.

My response is one of fear. And it’s become a habit. While I generally have a pretty sunny attitude, when it comes to making changes in my life, I get tense, regardless of the sense/cents. This serves two purposes, neither of which are particularly useful: 1) I end a discussion that never really got started, and 2) I make something that could be enjoyable (envisioning), annoying.

To break the habit, I have to notice when I’m doing it and point it out before my wife does.

I see this fear reaction occur all the time in client meetings. One of our clients wants to bring their adult children and grandchildren on a special trip. This will be expensive and memorable. They can certainly afford it, but the husband (is it always the husband?) was resisting. Eventually, this trip is going to happen. In the meantime, both parties could be miserable with the process of it. His intransigence impacts her excitement; her enthusiasm makes him dig his heels in deeper. When the trip happens, it will be slightly diminished for both. As we notice this occurring in the meeting, we point it out so that both partners can express themselves. We go back to what they’ve said is important to them as they age — family and experiences. We also discuss how this fits into their budget and their objectives. We get to yes more quickly, which unifies them so they can happily move forward.

Sometimes, though, fear manifests itself in yes rather than no. We have clients who come in spending more on their kids’ education, their houses and their cars than they can afford. Why would they do this if not for fear? Maybe it is a fear of not having enough or a fear of not being enough. But it’s still a fear.

One of our clients has two sons at very different colleges. One child is struggling at a top-tier school, while the other is thriving at a lesser-known school. While the struggling child gets more attention, the other child’s success is somewhat diminished. Especially with college, the best fit is more important than the best college. And kids, when left to their own devices, generally know what their best fit is. When we act out of fear, we rob our children of their own struggles and successes.

We had clients come in who had received a large bonus. They wanted to take this money and join a country club and buy a cabin. But those are competing experiences — you can’t spend time at the country club and at the cabin. It became clear in the discussion that they wanted to do both of these things to elevate themselves in the eyes of their peers. This may be the quickest route to becoming submerged in fear. There will always be those who have more than you do. When you focus on position, you’re always playing catch-up.

Money can enhance our lives. But appreciating what we already have makes fear go away, allowing us to get to yes on those things where yes matters.

Spend your life wisely.


Ross Levin is the founding principal of Accredited Investors Inc. in Edina. His Gains & Losses column appears on the last Sunday of the month. His e-mail is