Thursday, December 17, 2009


It may be easier if your styles of handling money are similar, but here, as with other characteristics, opposites attract. Ideally, couples should have a serious talk about their individual financial preferences before differences erupt. But in the era of romantic love (from the late nineteenth century on), we have felt that it somehow tarnished the purity of love to discuss it in the same context as money. As a result, the importance of money is generally ignored during courtship, yet it becomes a primary focus of contention during marriage.

In my years of counseling practice, the complaints I hear from married clients have changed little. A typical scenario might be: “My wife is an emotional spender. She’s not realistic about money.” “Money with him is a power struggle. My husband doesn’t hear me when I ask for things. He doesn’t know what it takes to run a family.” Some other classic mismatch combinations are: a serious money saver paired with a person who is admittedly ‘born to shop,’ a high roller/risk taker paired with a safety seeker afraid to take risks, and a materialistic status seeker paired with a bohemian. While these and other combinations all come with their own challenges and issues built in, there is hope.


Be involved and invest in your relationship. It is one of your greatest assets in life. Understand your differences and plan around them. Take equal responsibility for managing your money so both of you are informed. For example, if one person routinely pays the bills, the other should file the paid invoices.

Respect each other’s differences instead of judging them. Look for patterns and issues that continually crop up and then look at what attitudes and feelings about money and what emotions are creating those behavioral patterns. Next, discuss ways to avoid falling into those patterns in the future. You might want to schedule a monthly “money talk” as a forum for these discussions. Remember that good financial communication works both ways – listening as well as talking. The price of not communicating is to proceed to the point where differences appear irreconcilable.

Watch for telltale signs of financial compatibility while courting. Deal with these issues when they present themselves. Don’t think it will get better when you are married or living together.

If you don’t deal with issues up front, your differences may get blown out of proportion. The key is to try to understand your partner’s feelings about money before lashing out in response. One of the most reliable ways to work with your partner is to take Moneymax®. It’s positive, eliminates emotions getting in the way, it’s fast and easy, non-threatening and objective. It shows potential problem areas to be discussed and considered, and reveals ways to manage money more harmoniously as a couple and ultimately in a way that will satisfy the needs of both partners.

In every couple, no matter what your income level is, there are daily decisions to be made about the allocation of money. Among low-income families, money is a constant source of irritation because of its short supply, but it may also be a chief irritant among the more affluent. A shortage of money is not usually the real problem in a money fight. The problem may be differences in attitudes, preexisting grievances, or any number of factors. According to the Family Service Association, of marriages ostensibly threatened by money arguments, only 6 percent of the couples were actually short of money. The most ferocious marital money conflicts occur when there are irreconcilable differences in money personalities, such as when a saver marries a spender.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Even if you haven’t met your ideal financial match, you can learn to diffuse the money conflicts in your relationship by discovering, understanding and working with your financial personalities. So turn your much ado about money into much ado about nothing.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009


Three years ago, Jim and Laurie were on top of the world, rich in money and spirit. They had done well in the stock market with their 401k plan. They were so confident in their future that they decided it was time to plan for retirement.

They had been researching second homes in the Southeast, and settled on the west coast of Florida—a good value for a waterfront condo. They stretched themselves and spent more than their budget allowed. As a result, they had to refinance their principal residence and take much of the profit that had accumulated. They put more money down on their new vacation home so the monthly payments would be affordable with their current monthly cash flow.

Like so many other couples, they never dreamed the market would plummet and that they would experience the “Great Recession”. They never dreamed they would lose 60% of the wealth they had accumulated for retirement. Moreover, Jim never dreamed that his job would be eliminated—yet Laurie and Jim were indeed hit with this double whammy of financial challenges.

When I met him, Jim had found another job. However, his salary was two-thirds of his former salary and he had the same level of responsibility. He worked long hours, seven days a week.

Jim and Laurie are similar to other American couples who had to digest and adapt to significant losses—both financial and emotional—that they weren’t anticipating. They could no longer afford the lifestyles they were living.

They were faced with the very scary pressures of meeting monthly payments that they no longer could afford. They thought they might lose their home. They were also starting to borrow money on their credit cards and unable for the very first time to pay off their monthly balances. Throughout 18 years of marriage, they had always made a point of paying off monthly balances.

When I met Jim and Laurie earlier this year, they were living with a great deal of financial and emotional stress. Laurie was feeling the effects physically. Jim was just trying to make it through day-to-day with his heavy work schedule; but he, too, was feeling the effects in not sleeping well and not getting any exercise.

Jim and Laurie had options they hadn’t explored. For example, they hadn’t thought of renting their condo, which had the potential of being a great vacation rental. They also hadn’t thought of meeting with their bank and other creditors and asking them to modify their monthly payments so they better reflected their current monthly income..

Although Laurie was initially upset at the thought of strangers living in her home, she quickly adapted to the idea when she learned how much rent their beautiful condo would provide—it would practically pay for itself with just the high-season rent. They would use it themselves, off season, when they could afford to get away. They wouldn’t have to give it up at all.

Jim and Laurie were fortunate in having the focus and persistence to make their new circumstances pay off for them. They took a realistic look at their circumstances, reached out for help, and then applied themselves in achieving the goals that mattered most. Their open and flexible mindsets empowered them to regain control of their money and their lives.

Friday, November 13, 2009

On The Delicate Subject of Money

Money permeates every relationship in life, every interpersonal interaction: friendship and courtship, living together and marriage, divorce and death. Dealing with it, however, is still a major issue for couples today because it is not a comfortable issue to discuss. Even during these challenging economic times, partners avoid talking about money and dealing with the emotions it evokes. Money is certainly still a taboo in couple talk.

Money, of course, has always provided plenty of fodder for partnership discord. Many of the complaints I hear have changed little over the years. A typical husband’s lament: “My wife is an emotional spender. She’s not realistic about money.” His spouse’s refrain: “Money with him is a power struggle. He doesn’t hear me when I ask for things. He doesn’t know what it takes to run a family.”

What have changed are financial roles. It is an era of his, her and their checking accounts; a time when wives are likely to make as much as or more than their husbands and to have their own, often divergent ideas about handling money.

Money differences or incompatibilities are just a symptom of some underlying dynamic, not the cause. Money is a commodity which takes on other meanings and emotions. It becomes the emotional football that partners may use to throw back and forth at one another and never resolve their real issues. Family finances may be a forum for disputes over responsibility and commitment, need for attention, lack of trust in others.

Here are some suggestions for trying to work things out on your own. If money problems persist, you may want to seek professional help.

• Talk over financial matters regularly, at a time when money decisions are not pressing. You might consider setting up monthly “meetings” when you and your partner can discuss major goals, lifestyle issues, investment strategies as well as dreams and hopes for the future.
• Both partners should keep abreast of the financial situation. Some couples find it helps to trade off responsibility for paying bills; others delegate the job to the partner best suited to perform it. Each partner should feel he or she has access to money and knowledge of their financial status.
• Agree on at least a few financial goals over the next six months, talking over those things most important to you. Write down your decisions so both of you remember your goals and your top priorities for planning.

Above all, remember that arriving at a workable money strategy is a negotiation process. It’s very healthy to admit who you are when it comes to money and what you really value. The health and wealth of the partnership depends on both partners being aware, involved and committed to working together to achieve what’s most important to them individually as well as what works best for their relationship.

You can check out to learn more on this topic.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Are You Financially Fit? Three Ways to Boost Your Financial Fitness

With our psyches and portfolios in a state of flux, we'd all like a crystal ball to predict the financial future. We’re all obsessing on the question: Will I be okay? What should I be doing to make sure I will be okay?

We can no longer depend on a paternalistic society to assure we have a sound financial future, a long-term employment, or the ability to care for our health and wellness.

More than ever, we need the skills and knowledge to build appropriate financial plans to drive our career and lifestyle goals. It’s not enough to earn money, we have to know how to make the most of what we have. We can't even depend on asset allocation to be our mainstay as the experts are now predicting.

Less than 1 in 5 Americans have a financial plan in place . The majority of us (76%) would like to become more confident in making financial decisions about our financial futures.

Today there are tens of thousands of investments and saving vehicles available to us. We have access to over 15 million web sites of information and research on the web to assist us to make appropriate decisions. There are hundreds of thousands of financial professionals to assist us in our planning--yet we still feel anxious and insecure about financial planning. It is not surprising that we also suffer further stress from information overload. Most of us are not certain that we are doing the best we can do with our money.

How Fit Are You?

Ask yourselves these questions and see how you stack up:
1) Do you feel confident you are making appropriate financial decisions?
_____Yes _____ No
2) Are you satisfied with the way that you are managing your money and investments? _____Yes _____ No
3) Do you know how to use investment information to identify appropriate investments to achieve your lifestyle goals? _____Yes _____ No
4) Do you avoid making the same financial mistakes over again?
_____Yes _____ No
5) Do you update your financial goals and plan on a regular basis?
_____Yes _____ No

If you answered “No” to more than two of the above questions, chances are you rank high on work ethic, and your focus is on earning an income more than accumulating wealth. The next step for you is to learn how to make your money work as hard for you as you work for it. You would benefit from boosting your financial fitness by taking more control over finances.

If you answered “Yes” to more than four questions, chances are you are getting value from your money management and are fiscally fit.

There are three key steps which will boost your financial fitness and put you on the road to greater financial confidence and success:

• Choose and prioritize your financial goals—One of the most common mistakes people make is not knowing what they want from their money. We often set career, holiday and lifestyle goals but do not set money goals.
• Pay yourself first—Paying yourself first is understanding how you want money to serve you best in your lifetime. Then take control of making it happen.
• Make your financial education pay off—Focus on acquiring new skills and then training with those skills so you feel confident that you are making the best use of your money.

Start your financial fitness regime with learning more about yourself and your unique needs and goals.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Money in A Marriage of Opposites

Joanne and Peter have been married for three years and have just started to deal with the reality of blending their money and making joint decisions. Planning to buy their first house has forced them to face the fact that there are conflicts they've been avoiding--conflicts because they have very different opinions and styles of approaching money.

Peter has no problem spending money he doesn't have. His parents lived beyond their means. They had what they wanted, when they wanted it. The stress of paying off debt was a familiar scenario in Peter's household.

Joanne's parents were just the opposite. They never spent money they didn't have. They saved for the new furniture and the new car. Likewise, she always earned her own spending money and never received an allowance for helping with family chores. She said she was not spoiled--like Peter whose parents never said "no" to him or his brother.

I met Joanne and Peter through Joanne's parents; instead of dealing with the crises in her marriage, she was running to her parents for advice. She was afraid of setting limits on her husband's spending and cowered in any conversations about his spending. Those conversations always turned into confrontations with resulted in her feeling guilty that she was being the money cop.

What I could offer as a third, objective party, was to help them in setting up a joint plan for "their" money. Even in marriages that work well with separate accounts, the partnership is an entity that has financial implications when planning a joint purchase, whether that be a vacation, car, house or for a child. If there is some agreement about mutual goals, couples can usually agree about the steps they will take to achieve those goals.

With their agreement in creating a 1, 3 and 5-year plan that they both felt satisfied them, there would be certain steps they would have to take to assure they would achieve them. It became a joint plan instead of Joanne's plan. They also were asked to include any barriers they perceived might prevent them from holding up their end of the commitment.

This was the part of the exercise that gave Peter the most challenge. It also changed his life, and saved his marriage. With a non-judgmental third party, Peter was able to discuss his style and habit of rewarding himself on a weekly and sometimes daily basis. Perhaps more importantly, in that discussion he was able to see what was previously a blind spot for him: the consequences of his free-spending style.

He had to admit that the thought of having their own home, his own garage and back yard would bring him much greater joy than buying the latest digital camera or stereo equipment. Once he saw the payoff for what he would have to change, he was willing to make that commitment. Once it was his decision and not just Joanne's, it became easier to do for him.

The last I heard, Joanne had very positive conversations about her marriage with her parents. She and Peter had bought their first home, and were already starting to save to landscape their yard.

From the outside looking in, perhaps the greatest payoff for their joint planning is a compatible marriage. Instead of dreading and doubting their future, they will be planning and achieving what is valuable and meaningful in their life together.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Subconscious Savings: Put Savings on Autopilot and Avoid Will Power Decisions

American values appear to be changing from conspicuous consumption to more responsible savings and spending, but we’re all wondering whether this behavior shift will really be an enduring change in our values and behavior over time. Will we continue to save when we feel the tough times have subsided and we’re somewhat back to a normal economic life as we define it?

We’re hoping that we will be able to develop and maintain a healthy savings habit and make better use of our money. But obviously spending habits are a challenge to change. According to the latest survey data (August 2009), it appears that Americans are starting to spend again.

Over the last two decades, I’ve discovered that financial habits and behavior are subconsciously motivated and a result of how we think and feel about money. To make any significant impact in changing old habits and acquiring new financial behavior, we have to focus on our attitudes and feelings about our money as well as how we behave. Attitudes drive behavior and behavior drives attitudes. There’s a reciprocal relationship between the two which enables us to change and maintain that change so we can achieve our goals and realize our dreams.

This was a key part of my message that I delivered last week as I toured five cities: New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Houston, Dallas and New York with Capital One Bank who recruited me to educate consumers in how to develop healthy savings habits. It was also my goal to give people an understanding of how to start to save effortlessly and then maintain the savings over time.

Capital One is interested in consumers being able to use tools like their new offering, SmartCents Checking, which is available at Capital One Bank retail locations. The free personal checking account transfers 50 cents from the customer’s checking account to a linked savings account for every eligible online bill pay or debit card purchase. Capital One will match 100% of all eligible customer transfers for the first three months, and 5% thereafter. It seems to be an excellent tool to automate savings and help remove any will power decisions that might sabotage best intentions of saving on a consistent basis.

So, it was my goal in speaking with groups of consumers at each of five Capital One Bank locations to emphasize the importance of understanding how to use our personal financial traits to our greatest advantage and avoid powerful and unconscious emotional triggers which can sabotage our best intentions to change. We all know what happens to our New Year’s resolutions—our best intentions are defeated by our powerful, unconscious and ingrained mind-set or personality pitfalls that trip us up.

We all agree that we don’t want our money to serve our emotions which may not be in our best interest. Today more than ever we have to use this opportunity of the “Great Recession” to focus on what it takes to become more financially secure. As a result, we’ll become more confident and make more rational vs. emotional decisions that will ultimately bring us greater joy and less regret.

In my conversations with some of the people I met last week, it was obvious that they don’t lack the desire to improve their financial situation; they feel they lack the understanding of how to make more suitable decisions for themselves. They whole-heartedly accepted the fact that their attitudes and feelings about money make an impact on their financial situation and they were motivated to learn more about making the best use of their money personality. Couples were particularly interested in how they could use their perceived differences in personality so they could manage their money more harmoniously. All were eager to read my book, “Your Money Personality: What It Is and How You Can Profit from It” which Capital One Bank gave away. Many went a step further and expressed a desire to discover their money personalities by taking the Moneymax® questionnaire online so they could receive a personalized report of their trait scores and how to optimize them.

I was convinced, as I usually am in my conversations with people, that we lack personal education more than personal motivation in making the best use of our money. If you are interested in learning more about your individial money personality and how to profit from it, follow the link:

Remember your money personality makes an impact on how you use your money and the satisfaction you reap from it. To make any positive impact, you have to focus on your attitudes and feelings about your money as well as how you behave.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Women, Wealth and Charitable Giving: Personality, Demographics or A Bit of Both?

Robert Frank recently wrote about the charitable giving of women vs. men in his blog, Wealth Report,

He reported the findings of a new survey by Barclay’s: Wealthy women give away nearly twice as much as of their wealth as their male counterparts. The survey of 500 people with investible assets of $1 million or more found that men give an average of 1.8% while women give an average of 3.5% of their wealth to charity.

And it isn’t just a U.S. phenomenon. In the U.K., women give an average of 0.8%, compared with 0.5% for men, the survey shows.

“Yes, the finding confirms stereotypes. But it also has big implications for the future of philanthropy,” states Frank. The study also highlights how the charitable decisions are made with women looking for input and collaboration and men often making decisions on their own. According to Frank, “wealthy women donors, therefore, will be more likely to work in partnership with charities, rather than dictating terms. That is in stark contrast to the “My-way-or-highway” tendencies of venture philanthropy.”

“The future of philanthropy may ultimately lie in understanding how men and women might work in partnership,” says Matthew Brady, Managing Director, Barclay’s Wealth in the Americas. “It’s going to be much more collaborative.”

It’s been my experience that women are motivated by affiliation and desire input and collaboration. Even if they have earned their own money, they are motivated to establish and nurture relationships with their money. They still look for input, others’ needs for the money and terms vs. dictating all of the terms and conditions. It’s just their tendency to have a stronger need for affiliation than for power.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Money Personalities: Bliss or Bickering?

Money permeates every relationship in life and acts as a powerful force in enhancing similarities and reinforcing differences. In my research and work with couples over the years and helping them in their money management challenges, I found it fascinating that the most compatible couples shared similar money personality traits and values , The old adage, "opposites attract", just didn't hold true among the couples that seemed to use money well together. The opposites I did see in money personalities came to see me because money became the symptom of emotional differences and discord and the scapegoat for all that was going wrong.

So, today when I read the article, "In Spending Matters, Opposites' Attraction Fuels Conflict" in the International Herald Tribune,, I wasn't surprised to find that researchers had found that people who were described as "spendthrifts" and "tightwads" tended to marry. These "dichotomized duos" reported more unhappy marriages than people with more similar attitudes toward spending. These "financially polar pairs" reported greater conflict over money and lower levels of marital bliss.

This makes sense to me because the spending/saving trait is the most obvious to see in action with couples. The tugging and control over the purse strings becomes obvious with all purchase decisions. Money becomes the symbol of differing opinions and values with a compromise hard to reach considering how far apart the saver and spender are on this trait.

In consulting with opposite money personalities like the Achievers (savers and accumulators of wealth) and the Hunters (emotional spenders), their conflicts were obvious. Achievers get turned on by watching their money accumulate while the Hunters' greatest joy is a great shopping treasure hunt.

You would think that this obvious difference in money personalities would be a warning signal in considering marriage and managing money together. Unfortunately, couples plunge ahead not wanting to make such affairs of the wallet a priority.

There is hope if couples are willing to do the hard work to reach compromise and compatibility. If they're willing to explore each other's perspective and reach the most suitable solution that satisfies both partner's needs without jeopardizing security, then whatever differences they have can be managed for mutual satisfaction.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Preparing for Retirement by Doing and Feeling

I read an article in the N.Y. Times, A Boot Camp to Prepare for Retirement;">and I was impressed by what two financial planners had developed. They created a simulation for their clients and allowed them to experience how they were feeling about a new phase of life. In many ways, I would imagine participants have a new understanding of what’s so intimidating and often depressing about the “R” word as many of my clients refer to retirement.

About 8 years ago, I was thinking along the same lines and had proposed a similar program to the local university. I was just moving to Sarasota and thought it would be a great venue for participants and a way for Sarasota to show off what a wonderful city this is for retirement by inviting pre-retirees for several weekends during the year to go through a weekend workshop.

Timing was not in my favor so the program was not accepted by the university but it’s been in the back of my mind ever since as a highly worthwhile endeavor; abbreviated versions have worked well so a longer process would be even more beneficial.

When I read about Tillotson and Kennefick, I was absolutely delighted; someone had actually developed such a program. Brava.

We don’t have many opportunities to reinvent ourselves and I have seen too many people misjudge, miscalculate and misrepresent their retirement plans. Being able to live out the “what-if’s” is a wonderful opportunity to get it right saving valuable time and resources.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Being A Wise Financial Consumer

Knowing your money personality—how you think and feel about your money; your habits, true values and priorities--is essential to being successful in money management. Yet, so many people are unaware that financial success begins and ends with their actions and responsibilities.

Financial Success Is Up to You

Whether you are attempting to develop a workable financial plan, a suitable investment strategy, or a relationship with a trusted advisor, your success begins and ends with you and the actions you take. Too many people leave themselves and their unique needs and wants out of the process for predicting success.

If It Works with Health, It Will Work with Wealth

We wouldn’t dare go to the doctors and be uninformed about our bodies. We’d be able to discuss exactly how we felt and what we needed from the doctor. We’ve learned to be “assertive and active patients”. Unfortunately, we have not done the same for our financial lives and well-being.

We’ve learned that we must be in control of the services and benefits that we receive to assure that we remain healthy. If we don’t take control, we become victims of the medical system.

It’s really no different in the financial arena and system.. We will either learn how to master the system or be victimized by it. It’s up to us to become better clients by knowing more about ourselves and what questions to ask and what is reasonable and realistic to expect from financial advisers and institutions. For too long, we have turned over money management to others to determine what’s right. We can still turn over the money management but it must be with knowledge, confidence and trust.

Become Your Greatest Financial Asset

Knowing more about ourselves—our financial personalities, needs for comfort and security, and priorities-- is imperative in becoming our greatest financial asset.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Psychology of Money: Where Money Meets The Mind

Have you ever wondered why money seems to work so well in some people’s lives and so destructively in others? Why some people control money while others allow it to control them? Or why some of us can manage it so effortlessly to fulfill life’s plans and goals, while others never stop to question how they want it to serve them?

Questions like these are not typically explored. Why not? I believe it’s because the answers do not lie in cold financial facts. One must look at both the financial and psychological factors involved in money matters to make sense of why people do what they do with money. This blog, as well as others on this site, attempts to do just that.

For most of us, money and our feelings toward it tend to veer to extremes. We love money or we hate it, we fear it or we worship it—but we certainly never ignore it. And yet, we know so little about why we experience these emotions toward money and the effects they have on our very existence.

As a psychologist specializing in money-related issues, I confront these money emotions every day. I have worked with hundreds of men and women from all backgrounds and income levels: company presidents who make million dollar-decisions in the board room but make disastrous personal financial decisions; couples who never cease arguing over “my”, “your”, and “our” money; parents who know better but spoil and indulge their children, never giving them a chance to enjoy the connection between effort and reward.

I’ve learned that most of us fail to realize how our feelings about money affect our financial habits and the degree of satisfaction we get from the money we have. There is an inseparable link between our unconscious attitudes about money and the way we relate to money in our lives. Like it or not, money can enhance happiness and prosperity, or it can destroy them. No one simply drifts to the pinnacle of success—you have to climb.

Not only do we have a physical self, an emotional self and a social self, but we have a financial, or money self. This money self influences the way we interact with our money. You have a healthy money self-concept when you know how you affect money and how money affects you. You have a healthy money self-concept when you like how you deal with money more than you dislike how you deal with money. If you have a negative money self-concept, you can alter your attitudes and formulate a new money style that provides richness instead of deprivation.

Ultimately, money success comes from self-validation: as you think about money and yourself, so you become.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Michael Jackson: A Life of Triumph and Tragedy

I'm sure we're on information overload with all of the media coverage of Michael Jackson's tragic death, but there's a fascination that people have all over the world with the "king of pop." He's another example of a celebrity that couldn't make a successful life for himself. He had it all but had nothing.

The media has tried to understand what went wrong with such potential for a quality life. I ask how he could have succeeded? Celebrity life takes a strong inner-core and ability to find serenity with one's self to deal with the fragility of fame. If your self-esteem is dependent on what others think of you and you're a sensitive person, you're at the effect of others' approval and love. Unfortunately, Michael's core of self-love and his sense of himself was always dependent on what the world thought of him.

He came into this world whole but his self-esteem was chipped away by his father whose message was "you're not good enough." Your nose is too big; you have to strive to be better; and your life is not your own to make." The hole inside him was so deep and the external world so threatening that he tried to fill it as best he could. Not being familiar with that currency that really matters for fulfilling a sense of self-accepatance and self-love, he sought the most obvious currency. His excessive shopping sprees are very characteristic of someone who is trying to fill a void and feel full. So, he both sought and rejected the rewards of fame as the money never filled the void. When he gave it away to others and saw their joy, he was most fulfilled.

What I find most triumphant in his life and what I would describe as one of his greatest achievements was his ability to father as well as he did. That was a remarkable feat as he had no role model to emulate and no innate sense of what it felt like to be loved by his father. Yet, he succeeded in giving enough love to his children that they felt cared for and loved unconditionally. His daughter gave him the ultimate reward for a life well-lived; she told the world how loved she felt by him. His children will have the potential to make healthy lives for themselves with core self-esteem and empowerment to take on this often times cruel world of celebrity as that will be their destiny. So he may not have been able to make a serene life for himself but he succeeded in filling his children's lives with a solid foundation. Unfortunately, he won't be around to see his great work fulfilled.

Monday, June 29, 2009

There's No Magic in Money

Today Madoff was sentenced to the maximum term of 150 years and his investor victims got their chance to have their say. The stories are tragic. One of the investors Burt Ross, a former mayor of Fort Lee New Jersey, reported to the press outside of court that his loss of money was tragic, but his greatest tragedy was his loss of trust. He went on to draw an analogy between Dante and "The Divine Comdey" theme and the sentence and future. The depths of hell, according to Dante, plagues those who have betrayed trust.

The loss of trust is far more painful than the loss of money, according to Ross and Dante. Ross says that he and other victims he has met share a loss of trust that is pervasive in affecting love and relationships which depend on trust to flourish. So, yes, they have lost money, but they have lost much more.

It occured to me that what Ross didn't say is that he has lost trust in himself--trust that he knows what is right for him. What barometer will he and other victims use to trust again? How will they protect themselves and make themselves feel safe?

Unfortunately, I have known and know many other people who have been dramatically plagued by this loss of self-confidence and inability to trust again. They now manage their own money or they hire managers who have no incentive or conflict of interest in managing their money.

To trust again--themselves and others--they have to acknowledge and forgive their own liabilities and contributions for their financial and emotional loss. Reasons may have included excessive greed, unreasonableness and lack of personal responsibility in doing adequate research. The important lesson is to recognize how powerful these personal dynamics are in motivating us to make inappropriate, and often times, dangerous decisions.

There is no magic here. There is no crystal ball which will enable a wizard to do the impossible; i.e. guarantee big or regular returns. If we fall for that promise, we have bought into a fantasy and self-deceptive ploy. When we give up our involvement, our sense of reasonablenness; we give up ourselves. We then become victims of others and of our own human emotions. Fear and greed are well-known culprits in playing havoc with sound money management.

I believe wholeheartedly in following the "3-R Rule" which has helped me and many others I have counseled and met. The 3 R's: Reasonable, Rewarding and Realistic are trust-worthy and reliable guide-posts for making sound and suitable decisions.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Greatest Fear Turns to Pleasant Surprise

Have you ever had the following experience: your greatest fear turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to you? Had you not been forced to play out the scenario, you would not have had the opportunity of being so pleasantly surprised.

Unfortunately, this happens all too often. We don’t experiment with something new because we fear the outcome which is a great unknown to us. We’re going through that scenario today with the prospect of making significant changes in our medical system.

The potential change pushes our fear buttons and sets off powerful emotional charges. Our health is so very personal and we want to be in control of our medical care. We want to choose what is best and not deliver that right to our government.

I understand all of the reticence and fear which makes sense when you know what you know, but don’t know what you don’t know. Most people hear nothing but negative facts about other medical systems around the world. They are led to believe that the U.S. medical system is superior and the only one that delivers professional, unlimited and personal care.

It was just four years ago that I had the same reactions. As we were moving to France for a few years I made my husband promise to bring me home to the U.S. if I needed serious medical intervention. I had no trust in any other country’s medical care as I had only heard the fear mongering about socialized medicine of the last decade in the American media.

That mind-set led me to being closed and prejudiced in my thinking of what might be possible. I am happy to say that I was pleasantly surprised and humbled by my medical care while living in France. In fact, I wish I could do something to bring that same level of care and experience to the U.S at the same cost to me here as there. The humanity and sense of individual care that I feared would be lacking outside the U.S. turned out to be very much present--everything that the U.S. has lost in recent years.

I was treated with humanity, expertise and great individual care. From mammograms to dental check-ups, I had fabulous care and experiences for a fraction of the equivalent cost here in the USA. My personal experience led me to conducting qualitative research among an ex-pat community to see if others shared in my positive sentiments. Unanimously, I found others singing the praises of their medical care. There were no long waits for procedures; they had a thorough and lengthy doctor visit covering all of their concerns; they were given whatever tests and services they requested without question.

We hear of all kinds of catastrophes in the press about other countries where people are victimized by lack of choice and an inferior delivery system. Some of those cases may indeed be valid, but I cannot say that I or dozens of people I surveyed had the same experience. Most said, in retrospect, that they were glad they happened to be in France when they found out that they had cancer or that they had a heart attack.

I realize I am comparing the consistently number one medical system in the world, the French system, to that of the US which is consistently ranked in the teen’s but I make the case nonetheless. I have often heard politicians ask consumers if they would like to give up what they have in the U.S. and risk having the inferior system such as the English, French or Canadian system. So the next time a fear-mongering politician asks me if I want to risk having a medical system like that in England or Canada, I’ll gladly respond affirmatively for the French System. Yes, please. I’d be happy to receive the highest level of healthcare at a fraction of the cost I now pay with the current health care system here at home in the USA!

Monday, June 01, 2009

Using Empathy As An Asset

I just read David Brook's column, "In Defense of Empathy" and found it very insightful and germane to so many of life's critical decisions. His basic premise is that empathy is not only potentially helpful in making suitable decisions but an absolute necessity. His hypothesis is that people without emotional empathy cannot make sensible decisions because they don't know how much anything is really worth.

For David Brooks, it's whether Sonia Sotomayor is able to understand and manage her own emotions in the decision-making process that will predict whether she will be a prudent and judicious member of the Supreme Court. It will be her ability to empathize the specific context of each case while valuing gradual change, small steps and modest self-restraint.

It's both my experience and belief that empathy is a critical component in effectively dealing with life's decisions if we want to produce satisfactory and personally relevant consequences. This is true in most contexts--not just the judicial system. For example in my work dealing with the psychology of prudent money management, I've discovered that those individuals who understand how to effectively manage their emotions make more appropriate and satisfactory decisions. They not only accumulate more wealth, but they are also more satisfied in how they use their wealth.

This prudent and effective money management process is developed over time and with sufficient self-analysis, reflection and focus. The financial decisions are made within the context or framework of what's preferable, meaningful and most advantageous both in the short and long-term.

I totally agree with David Brooks that emotional empathy should be defended. "It's not whether judges rely on emotion and empathy, it's how they educate their sentiments within the discipline of manners and morals, tradition and practice." He understands that emotions can be a wise guide in some circumstances while a deceiver in others and what it takes to make it an asset.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Wealth Inside Out

Each of us has our own definition of wealth--what it feels like, looks like. We might even be able to describe it in financial terms; i.e. how much money we have, how much we want, how much we need.

Would you be able to describe it? Would your definition include external factors and trappings such as net-worth, number of personal dwellings, ability to fulfill your dreams, have financial security? Would you describe your feelings, attitudes and beliefs about your wealth?

Whenever I've asked individuals, families and/or groups to think about their personal wealth, I've found a common reaction and initial response. Most people of all levels of financial wealth are mystified and a bit perplexed. They really have to think about it. More perplexing is how they feel about it. They often reiterate the question aloud, "How do I feel? Do I feel wealthy? Hmm. That's a very good question. I'll have to think about it."

As an example, having and taking the time to enjoy a favorite hobby; spending relaxing time with family and close friends; finally engaging in a wish-list hobby could be ways that we feel wealthy.

It's obviously a complex issue which requires some contemplation, reflection, soul searching. Yet, the financial industry of which I am familiar, defines wealth in numerical terms for the most part. It's how we've become accustomed to judging our financial advisers; i.e. how much did I make? how are they performing?

Wouldn't it be more meaningful if we could describe how we wanted our money to serve our life's activities and purposes so that we felt wealthy inside and out? For me and the many people I've known, the answer is unanimously "yes".

So let's always think about our wealth holistically and be aware of wealth not only from what it might look like from the outside but how it will serve our very core of what matters most to us in life.

I'd enjoy hearing your ideas and definitions of what "being wealthy" means to you personally.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Blind Spots in Our Money Personalities

Blind Spots in Our Money Personalities

We all have blind spots in our personalities that serve as barriers to seeing what is real, reasonable and rewarding in how we view our particular circumstances. These blind spots are so much a part of our personalities that we are literally unable to perceive them and their hidden but powerful influence in creating our familiar and frustrating scenarios and consequences.

The problem with blind spots remaining unconscious is that they lead to black holes that we can’t climb out of easily. We all know people who are constantly facing the same problems, making the same mistakes and never learning from their past mistakes and misfortunes. They just can’t seem to see how they could change their financial and personal circumstances.

I have seen some very common issues and themes over the years. In studying how people attribute the causes of their financial successes and failures, it becomes obvious that the clarity of the perception of cause and effect accounts for the ultimate success. In other words, those who didn’t experience handicapping blind spots to their role in shaping their realities were far more likely to succeed. Those who were blinded by the role that their attitudes, beliefs and behaviors played in shaping their realities were continually disappointed and frustrated by their financial circumstances and distress especially in challenging financial times.

People, who could see the direct influence of their own efforts, beliefs, and behaviors as shaping the future event, were able to successfully change the outcome so that they achieved success. Success could be developing a successful financial plan, providing well for family, being happy at work, living within one’s means.

In these recessionary times, just as in the last recession of 1991 and the market downturn in late 1999/early2000, consumers have had a wake up call that prompted their desire to change their financial behavior and eliminate the stress that they were enduring.

They no longer could be blinded by their belief that the market is always a benevolent parent that will provide growth and windfall gains for them. Nor are they able to live off their credit which postpones facing the reality that they can’t afford themselves and their false lifestyles. They are no longer able to turn a blind eye to what’s real and are forced to become aware and deal with their circumstances or fall deeper into the black hole.

Unfortunately, it’s human nature to see what we want to see and hear only what we want to hear. The pain of changing has to be less than the pain of remaining the same for us to transform how we deal with life’s opportunities and events.

Blind spots don’t miraculously disappear; it takes consistent vigilance to make sure they’re not acting as barriers to achieving a more rewarding life. In time with consistent focus and efforts in making adjustments to our sabotaging beliefs and behaviors, we begin to see our role in creating consequences more accurately. If we don’t know who we are and how we create our realities, we’re blind to our abilities and opportunities.