Live on the sunny side of the street

  • Article by: Ross Levin
  • May 30, 2009 - 7:04 PM

I was parked at a stoplight, lost in a song from my iPod playing through my car stereo. As I belted out the words at the top of my lungs, I glanced at the car next to me where the driver was staring at me, mouth agape. I sheepishly waved and we both started laughing.

I don't think I need to be defensive about not having MPR's Gary Eichten or Kerri Miller emanating from my radio at all times. In fact, I have learned many a financial planning lesson from my MP3's play list.

In the song, "Gotta Be Somebody,'' Nickelback accurately portrays many of our moods, singing: "Everyone wants to know they're not alone. There's somebody else that feels the same somewhere."

The fact that this economy is generally hitting all of us is comforting (in a disquieting way). Shared pain should cohere us, after what seems like many years of such broad economic separation. If we have not been directly affected through job loss, income reduction or portfolio drops, we certainly can better relate to those who are experiencing some or all of these things.

These times have helped us to determine what it is that we really need and what it is that matters most. Grand plans may have changed somewhat. India Arte, in "There's Hope,'' says: "Back when I had a little, I thought that I needed a lot. A little was overrated, but a lot was a little too complicated."

Ironically, many people fought hard to achieve the American dream, only to feel a need to simplify once they reached it. The fact is, not having enough and having too much can be two sides of the same coin. Most of the happiness studies have shown that once we are above a certain level of income, our marginal happiness does not increase equally to the increase in our incomes.

But we keep on plugging away, not really thinking about why we are doing what we are doing. For example, we always heard about all the benefits of home ownership, but many people now feel imprisoned by owning devalued property. They don't think that they can look for a new job in a new area because they are underwater on their mortgage.

Not examining alternatives more completely before making choices or acting impulsively can leave us "dug in deep, [because] the price is steep," according to REM in "Bad Day.'' Many little decisions can lead to a big, trapped life.

We have to consciously determine which decisions really matter and which ones we can simply let go of, especially during times like these.

As we struggle to regain control of a complicated world, we should be thinking about the things that we don't need to control or can't control. Desire for certainty in an uncertain environment will lead to very flawed decisions. Take charge in those areas where it makes sense to do so. Spending in accordance with your values is one such area. With other areas, "surrender, but don't give yourself away," as Cheap Trick so artfully put it in "Surrender."

Most importantly, don't let the money stuff get in the way of the other facets of your life that truly matter. Second-guessing yourself or your partner is common when you are under duress. When things are going wrong in one area, we often feel as if things are going wrong in all areas. In "Living on a Prayer,'' Bon Jovi sings: "We've got to hold on to what we've got, 'cause it doesn't make a difference if we make it or not. We've got each other and that's a lot."

Money decisions can have good or bad results, but almost all of us can deal with those results. Turning toward each other rather than on each other is the best thing you can do to move forward. Cast aside the blame and work on your action plan.

The days will pass whether or not we try to influence what they look like. As you review your life, or if "the whistling ways of [your] younger days, too quickly have faded on by," as Bill Staines sings in "River,'' remember that our tomorrows are built on hundreds of todays. Allow yourself the grace of living every one of them.

If you do that, then you can take to heart the words of Peter Mayer in "Holy Now'': "The challenging thing becomes, not to look for miracles, but finding where there isn't one."

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 appears on the fourth and fifth Sundays of the month. His e-mail is

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