I had a conversation with myself on the way home today. It was a bit of a Smeagol – Gollum moment (for the Tolkien fans out there).
Gollum: You should get a Shellac mani-pedi for the Christmas party and holidays.
Smeagol: That’s a solid 70 bucks. You don’t need that. You have a mortgage. And an extensive collection of nail polish.
Gollum: But you have the money. Treat yo’ self!
Smeagol: Yeah but if you keep saying that, you won’t pay off your mortgage early and live a sweet life of early retirement.
I’m pleased to say that the thrifty Smeagol won the day. Almost – I did pick up a new nail gold nail polish from Priceline, but it was half price! And behold:
I tell this story because it happened after two interesting conversations this week, with two seriously wealthy guys. The first one was an ex-investment banker telling me why he can’t retire at 58: he can’t afford it. I was bamboozled. I imagined he was sitting on a pile of stock options, had millions in the bank and was set for life.
But he reckons he has set up his life in a certain way, and it’s costly. And when he listed some of his expenses, all I could think was ‘That sounds like a prison’. Imagine being locked into all those costs, so that you had to keep slogging away in corporate purgatory.
(I’m sure for some people, the grind itself is the point. I work for a self-made millionaire, and I have no doubt he loves doing deals more than the money itself.)
Then today, I was talking to another successful CEO. I ribbed him a bit about having money, and he got quite philosphical about it. He invests money on behalf of other, seriously rich people, so he knows a lot of them.
He said that wealth is a mindset. I’ll paraphrase: “You can have someone worth $5 million, who thinks they’re doing really well, and who is satisfied with their money. But then you can have someone with $100 million, but it never feels like enough, and they’re always searching for more, and never feel secure”.
Now I know what you’re thinking: “I’d be pretty fucking over the moon about having even one of those millions”. But that’s beside the point.
The point is this: it’s not about how much money you have; it’s about how you see it. Do you have an abundance mindset, or a scarcity mindset?
What does money really mean?
When I think of money, I tend to think of it as a tool for creating the life I want. I don’t want to slog my guts out for a finance company one minute longer than I need to.
I want to build my wealth to a point where I can work part-time, write a novel, work for a charity … or whatever. But I still want a comfortable lifestyle that involves travel and cool stuff.
Now, I know not everyone thinks like that. Maybe you think of money as a means to physical self-actualisation – to have the clothes, hair, nails, body or whatever else you want to look and feel your best.
Maybe you see money as a way to reward your hard work and flag your success – a brand name bag or car tells you (and the world) that you’ve worked hard and achieved success. (While I am over here enjoying my new $15 K-Mart bag).
The fact is, money is never just money. It’s part of a deep and complex set of beliefs. It’s bound up in the way you see yourself and relate to the world.
Nor is that relationship static. It changes over time and in line with your life experiences.
I found myself earnestly lecturing a 24-year-old friend at the pub the other night: “Nobody cares what brand your handbag is, and if they do, you shouldn’t be friends with them anyway”.
God, when did I get so old and parental? It’s a long way from when I had my first job and coveted a Fendi baguette bag (hey, it was 2001).
One lesson that my investment banker friend highlighted is the danger of unconsciously ratcheting up your cost base as years go by. It’s easy to end up as a prisoner of your own lifestyle.
When you get stuck in the merry-go-round of things like salon nails, it’s one more thing that you have to fund (which I have written about here).
Sure, the K-Mart lifestyle isn’t for everyone. I’m not saying give up everything nice and be a boring tight-arse. But focusing on keeping your tastes and expectations modest can be very powerful – especially when it lets you do other, more interesting or meaningful things with money.
The secret to being wealthy is wanting less. If you can consistently create a surplus – so you have a little left over each month to save and invest – then you’re on your way to wealth creation.
As you set your goals for next year, and maybe have some good intentions around money, I would ask you to consider this idea.
More than just making a budget, how can you shift your thinking about what -and how much – you need to be happy?
I know, that is some serious inner work, and harder than downloading a budgeting app*. However, it may be the most effective way to build your wealth over time.
*Please download a budgeting app as well.