We live in a materialistic society, and we are constantly bombarded with messages telling us that we need the latest new thing – bigger, better, faster, and more luxurious. We want to keep up with the changing times, so we dig deep in order to have the newest piece of technology, the coolest car or the biggest home. Unfortunately, such sensibilities can take a toll on seniors both mentally and financially. Of course, money is critical and we need it to survive, but we need not have it impact all aspects of our lives. It shouldn’t define us. Stealing a line from Suze Orman: “Money will never define you. You define your money.” We owe it to ourselves and our families to understand this equation or we sacrifice our overall happiness and well-being.
I’ve had a successful life by most financial measures. I came from humble beginnings but managed to build a company that compensates me well and enables me to live a comfortable lifestyle while accumulating modest wealth. I’m proud of these accomplishments but there are times when I’m envious of what others have, whether it’s a Manhattan apartment, the newest Rolex or a luxury yacht. It’s always fun to dream but I quickly snap out of it when I realize that financial success and financial security are relative concepts. I may think the guy with the mega yacht has it made, but a blue-collar worker assessing my lifestyle may think the same thing of me.
What’s the Price Tag on Joy?
We can’t equate money with happiness. Believe me, the relentless pursuit of money has costs: opportunities to be with friends and family, attending once-in-a-lifetime events with children, and general chances to spend quality time with our loved ones. We can’t put a price tag on going to a ballgame, teaching life lessons to our kids or just hanging out and laughing with those close to us.
We may think that having more money will mean that we have a better life, but that isn’t always the case. As in most things, balance is key. We have to earn enough to support our family but not at the cost of our relationships. We must spend enough time at work to be successful but not at the cost of missing major milestones. We must make money to support our lifestyle, but the race to that lifestyle need not define or cripple us. Money doesn’t equal joy.
When you realize this then you are on the right path.
Listen, I know that worrying about money is tough. I ate my share of ramen noodles in my late teens and early 20s, and I know that concerns about your financial future can cause significant anxiety. Even though my personal financial situation is solid, running a business can be incredibly stressful as the incomes of dozens of families are at stake beyond mine. So, I can relate.
Fight the Emotional Toll with Family Support
When financial stress is weighing you down, my recommendation is to fall back on those who give you emotional support, such as your family and friends. Remember that “you can’t take it with you” and that in the grand scheme of life, money is inconsequential. Be happy that your family and friends support you and care about you – regardless of your bank balance.
The Power of Perspective
Case in point: A friend’s son was recently in a bad car accident and even though his car was totaled, the young man escaped with only bumps and bruises. From the images of the accident, the kid could easily have been killed. Have you noticed that when something like this happens, we quickly step away and “don’t worry about the money” as we are likely feeling happy and blessed that our friend or loved one will be around to breathe another day? Life is quickly jolted into perspective, yet we tend to lose that perspective as financial concerns once again edge to the forefront. We also notice that many of life’s financial concerns wilt away when compared to a cancer diagnosis or the passing of a loved one.
Here are few ways to cope with financial stress and keep life in perspective.
Understand and Have a Say in Your Finances
On numerous occasions, I have heard stories about recently widowed individuals who get a massive reality check when they learn that their now-late spouse kept a messy financial house. The same thing happens in divorce cases. Human beings thrive on having control of their lives and everyone should have some level of control of their finances. Sure you may not be a numbers person, but if you want to feel more secure about your financial situation, then take part in financial decisions and be sure that you understand your household’s income and expenses. You can’t plan for the future if you don’t understand the present; so dig-in and learn at least the basics about your finances.
Learn that Money Won’t Solve All of Your Problems
Remember the main point: Money doesn’t define you. Yes, you have to continue to work and pay your bills, but we have to learn that there is more to life than the almighty dollar. Studies have shown that wealthy people aren’t any happier than those of modest means. Sometimes wealthy people just have bigger problems. If we are constantly striving to earn more by working more and by spending less time with our loved ones, we will miss out on many of the joys of life. Earn enough to live but don’t sacrifice your life for a buck.
Spend and Enjoy Your Money – Within Reason
OK, so we are learning not to tie our sense of happiness to our financial situation, so don’t deprive yourself of life’s joys. Live a little! If you believe that fixing your financial situation means that you have to completely deprive yourself of joy, then you are misguided. Removing fun and joy from your life may get you to a financial goal a little quicker, but the cost may be your mental well-being. And just as crash diets don’t help you lose weight in the long-run, not spending any money won’t lead to complete financial health either. So, take time off, enjoy your weekends and spend some of your cash on your hobbies, your children or your pets. And don’t forget that no matter how bad your situation might be, there is likely someone in worse shape, so consider making a charitable donation every now and then. One other thing to remember, for an economy to grow, it needs spending too. So, don’t be afraid to open your wallet and enjoy your money – just do it within reason.