I’m going to write this in the context it arises in my life. I have a hunch it applies more broadly. A variation pops up at least once-a-week in casual conversation.
Ten years ago, a wise preschool teacher shared a quote with me. I liked the quote so much, it’s been on my fridge ever since.
I have used the quote to guide my life for the last ten years.
- Give time, not money.
- Share experiences, not spending.
There’s another aspect of the quote… If you run into an adult who’s childhood emotional needs were unmet… assets, and spending, will not fill their void.
The void cannot be filled from the outside. This is an area where we need to heal ourselves.
Go further… to the heart of addictions…
Quite often, the attempt to “be a good provider” for these folks, makes their emotional problems worse. Further, they are going to feel crazy because they will be miserable while surrounding by conventional “success.”
Let’s step back from the underlying emotional issues and discuss how parents, and spouses, can guide family spending and investing.
First, we need to sort ourselves.
My spending sets a floor above which everyone will operate. This might sound backwards but it’s my observed reality. My choices anchor “down” everyone around me.
INVERT: constraining myself is less likely to trigger resentment.
I’m the most powerful (spending) role model in my children’s life. I do them a lifelong favor by setting a consumption standard they can easily attain.
Second, be brutally honest with yourself… Am I meeting the emotional needs of those around me?
When you are already a good emotional provider, it is very difficult for someone to trigger your need to be a good “financial” provider.
Rather than a high-stakes bargaining session… discussions about money end up closer to a 7th-grade math problem. An example… the ski-place…
- 20-25 days spread across five resorts
- Total cost of hotels/airfares ~$15,000
- Shows the folly of seeking to “save” money in a single location by locking up capital
Clothes => let’s start by wearing everything in our existing wardrobes first
Cars, Furniture, Art => is there a more effective way to scratch this itch?
Recreational assets, out-of-town commitments, 2nd homes => …are you sure you want to give me an incentive to be away from you and the kids?
On and on and on… think past the purchase to overall incentives, habit creation and the impact of repeating the action for the next 5-10 years.
Third, the “what are you going to do with the money” argument.
Related to, “but we can afford it…”
Ability to pay is probably the toughest one to control. It’s hard not to spend money in your checking account.
SIDE NOTE: this is a good argument to move cash out of places where it’s easy to spend. This was a (somewhat bizarre) benefit from a choice to STOP earning so much money when I was a young man. Financial success was making it harder to be who I wanted to be.
Here again, pause and consider,
- What game do my actions show I am playing?
- What is the game I want to be playing?
- What game would move us towards “better” five years from now?
If you have kids then these questions usually point towards up-skilling independence via parental investment of TIME, and modeling behavior.
Fourth, after you’ve done 1-2-3. Sit down and talk it over with the key people in your life.
If you are unable to convince them then have the humility to consider the possibility (albeit remote) you may be wrong!
In family systems, I’ve found it’s better to wait for a consensus to arrive than pulling rank.
Bonus: slower decisions are usually better decisions.
Finally, related to the what will you do with the money discussion…
If you are focused on sharing time with the one’s you love then, hopefully, you will favor “experiences with them” over “making more money for them.”
Trustees, entrepreneurs, managers, exemplars, fiduciaries, parents, students, citizens…
We care for what we’ve been gifted by circumstances and pass it on.
As a package, incorporating this process into your life results in a better allocation of time AND capital.
The expectation “we each take care of ourselves” is a good one. Even better when the parents model the behaviors required, and pass along the skills required to pull it off.
Let’s pull it together…
- Sort myself first
- When triggered, pause and look for the unmet emotional need
- Smart leaders set the anchor with intention => I anchor those around me via my effort, personal standards, emotional control and personal spending.
- Within family systems, remember my role is to meet emotional needs while teaching/modeling how to be self-sufficient financially.
- Have the humility to see: (a) when helping-isn’t-helping; and (b) my own capacity for error.