One of the most wonderful parts of being a personal financial planner is that I get to see inside the lives and heads (and neuroses…of which I have my fair share, too) of lots of people. My clients share a touching amount of their lives with me. I try quite hard, indeed, to cultivate a relationship and environment in which people feel comfortable doing that. I believe the fleece jacket goes a long way.
Over the course of hundreds of conversations with people about their lives, I start to see some recurring themes, and they’re fascinating. I muse on these themes with my husband, my friends, and my closest colleagues, and the resulting conversations can be engrossing. And sometimes I think they even have the potential to be important.
So, in a fit of alliteration, I decided to start a new series of posts for this blog entitled “Meg’s Musings.” No advice. The rare conclusion. Mostly open-ended thoughts inspired by conversations with clients. On money, values, culture, family, and community.
I’ll share a few of my musings occasionally. I find that the finance industry writ large is depressingly uninterested in intellectual curiosity unless it leads directly to More Money. I, for one, enjoy simply thinking about stuff. If you find any of my musings worth further exploration, I would absolutely love to hear from you!
Cutting Food Costs
I do a spending review with each of my clients. Not a budget, but simply reviewing how much they spend in total, and how much in each category. I’ve written before about how my clients tend to spend most of their money in the same categories.
Oftentimes my clients are surprised (and sometimes appalled) by how much they spend each month in total, and then they start looking for expenses to cut. Want to guess what the #1 category is that almost all of my clients look to cut first? Food.
And I find this fascinating because, for most of human civilization, we’ve spent…almost all? most? a lot? of our resources procuring food. I mean, in hunter-gatherer days, to be extreme, your daily job was basically: Go get food and avoid being eaten by giant animals.
Nowadays when we spend, what…5%, maaaybe 10% of our financial resources (income) on food, we see that as the first thing we should cut? What an interesting historical anomaly.
Children and Our Existential Crisis
I do “values work” with all my clients. Conversations and questions and exercises to try to get at what’s of core importance to my clients. This work creates the “Why?” foundation of all the future “How?” decisions we make with their finances and career.
I ask questions that boil down to:
- What do you want your legacy to be?
- How do you want to spend your time?
- What’s the best use of your money?
If you have children (at least, young children), the answer is easy, and it’s the same every time: My children. My children are my legacy. I want to work less so I can spend more time with them. I want to make sure I have enough money to pay for their college or to give them the experiences or stuff I think they should have.
For people without children, however, these are really hard questions to answer. The answer isn’t clear. It requires real soul searching. Many clients are still chewing on these questions years in to our work together.
It’s ironic, isn’t it, that while having children makes our financial and logistical lives way harder, it makes those existential questions a cinch. Feels almost like a cop out.
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Disclaimer: This article is provided for general information and illustration purposes only. Nothing contained in the material constitutes tax advice, a recommendation for purchase or sale of any security, or investment advisory services. I encourage you to consult a financial planner, accountant, and/or legal counsel for advice specific to your situation. Reproduction of this material is prohibited without written permission from Meg Bartelt, and all rights are reserved. Read the full Disclaimer.