One of the primary concerns of the women we work with is a sense of overwhelming busy-ness. If they were granted three wishes, finding a sense of “time spaciousness” would be at the top of their wish list.
They feel similarly about their financial lives, always searching for more “breathing room,” and often want nothing more than to clear away the cloud of uncertainty and anxiety about money that so often hangs over their heads.
Since these issues are so important to our clients, they’re always in the back of my mind. So I was delighted to find some fascinating lessons on both topics in the oddest place: at the top of my holiday-break reading queue.
In reading Oliver Burkeman’s Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals, I found a fascinating meditation on the scarcity of time and what we ought to do with it—and, as I soon realized, many of its lessons could be applied to our financial lives as well.
I gathered up some of the most notable parts of the book that I thought could help these women—maybe even you!—get not only some more time spaciousness, but money spaciousness, back into your life.
Manage Your Risks, Sure. But Then Get on to LIVING.
A life spent focused on achieving security with respect to time, when in fact such security is unattainable, can only ever end up feeling provisional—as if the point of your having been born still lies in the future, just over the horizon, and your life in all its fullness can begin as soon as you’ve gotten it, in Arnold Bennett’s phrase, ‘into proper working order.’
At Flow, we like to talk about the practice of financial planning as one of risk management as well as opportunity planning.
We’re the first ones to admit that we relish diving into the details of whether or not a client’s long-term disability insurance coverage is adequate, or assessing the robustness of a client’s emergency fund in case of…well, you know.
That is the necessary work of financial planning. But it is not sufficient.
Yes, we make plans for retirement, and yes, we emphasize creating a stable and secure financial foundation for ourselves here and now—but not in order to experience a present that is simply “provisional.”
Rather, risks are addressed on an ongoing basis so that the juicy, fun stuff can remain the focus: determining what your ideal life looks like, clearing away the obstacles to that exciting vision, and taking concrete steps to making it real, ASAP.
Share Your Wealth to Create Joy.
You can grasp the truth that power over your time isn’t something best hoarded entirely for yourself: that your time can be too much your own.
If you’ve achieved the digital nomad’s holy grail of complete time and location freedom, Burkeman argues that your freedom may not actually improve the quality of your life unless your free time overlaps with the free time of the people you care most about.
And while money can’t buy happiness, it can purchase a plane ticket that puts you and your loved ones in the same physical space at the same time, creating the opportunity for making memories.
I have more than a few friends who can attest to this fact, having spent money whisking their parents away on special trips together that they wouldn’t have been able to afford on their own, like a grand three-week tour of the American West’s most beautiful national parks. Those are trips that they all reminisce about to this day.
When it comes to giving to charity, research supports the notion that spending money on others (“prosocial” spending) makes us happier than spending on ourselves. Make sure your needs are taken care of, yes, but with some of that discretionary “extra”: ask yourself what values you want to uphold with your giving, consider what organizations are doing that work in the world, and then relish the heck out of sharing your resources with groups creating the kind of community you want to live in.
Make Purchases That Fill Your Life with Wonder.
The world is bursting with wonder, and yet it’s the rare productivity guru who seems to have considered the possibility that the ultimate point of all our frenetic doing might be to experience more of that wonder.
The world of finance is rife with complexity. In the effort to make sense of these complexities, it’s really easy to (inadvertently) start living in them. But as Ramit Sethi says so often, “A real rich life is lived outside the spreadsheet.”
Is it important to understand the ins and outs of your company’s equity compensation? Yes! We’re all about gaining that knowledge, applying it as necessary, and feeling empowered by your mastery of the subject—and then going on to use the resulting proceeds to purchase experiences that let you live in awe more of the time, and bank memories that will pay joy-dividends whenever your mind inevitably wanders back to them.
My first big financial goal in early adulthood was to pay off my student loans, and I spent two years focused on rolling myself an ever-larger debt payoff “snowball.” But midway through that process, I decided to spend some of those dollars on a trip to Croatia.
Would the funds I spent on airfare have gotten me to my debt-free goal a couple of months earlier? You bet! But thirteen years later, I still enjoy memories from exploring the old city of Split, the pebbled beaches of Hvar, and that long, winding bus ride I took into Bosnia to see the old bridge at Mostar.
I’m proud of myself for the debt payoff goal I achieved—and I’m equally happy for the glorious detour I took along the way.
Do more things that leave you “bursting with wonder.” Bask in the afterglow of these experiences. Rinse. Repeat.
Avoid Activities, and Purchases, With Intention.
The harder you struggle to fit everything in, the more of your time you’ll find yourself spending on the least meaningful things.
The real measure of any time management technique is whether or not it helps you neglect the right things.
In an effort to clear my schedule for the activities that are most important to me—finding a few hours to go on a hike, or focus on my favorite creative hobbies (like photography)—I often fall into the seductive busywork of responding to email, cleaning up my house, or otherwise “getting things out of the way” in order to make room for more important stuff.
Equally as often, this simply means that I’ve whiled away the day doing tasks that don’t particularly matter to me, albeit in the name of “making space” for those that do.
There’s a simpler solution: just do the meaningful activities first, even if there are dishes piled in the sink, or items remaining on your to-do list. It’s a lesson akin to the notion of “paying yourself first” in personal finance, by saving for big, meaningful goals—starting your own business, an upcoming dream vacation—before you fritter away dollars on forgettable items here and there.
You’ll Be Tempted to Hurry. Don’t.
In a world geared for hurry, the capacity to resist the urge to hurry—to allow things to take the time they take—is a way to gain purchase on the world, to do the work that counts, and to derive satisfaction from the doing itself, instead of deferring all your fulfillment to the future.
As the Financial Independence / Retire Early (FIRE) movement has reached broad popularity, one side effect has been that some folks who’ve maintained a goal of a more “traditional” retirement age of 65 are starting to feel (erroneously, I may add!) like they’re falling behind.
This angst has only intensified among the tech-worker crowd that we work with here at Flow. IPOs and direct listings have abounded in the last few years. Among those who haven’t experienced a major wealth-creation event themselves—and are instead plugging away consistently at their own retirement goals by saving 10-15% of their income—many feel as if they’re not moving quickly enough.
Every time it feels like you’re the financial tortoise to someone else’s hare, it’s helpful to reflect on why it feels so urgent to reach this particular finish line—especially because until just recently, reaching financial independence has been considered the work of an entire lifetime.
To be sure, getting to that moment is a huge, exciting accomplishment that feels a lot like freedom. At the same time, life doesn’t start at the finish line. It’s happening right here, right now. Enjoying the ride, and finding freedom within your circumstances as they exist in the present moment, is a beautiful goal in and of itself.
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Disclaimer: This article is provided for educational, 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. We 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 Flow Financial Planning, LLC, and all rights are reserved. Read the full Disclaimer.