Myth #3: I Hate My Job, But Can’t Quit

Bill sat in my office, his knuckles white from grasping the arms of his chair.

“I only have to make it through twelve more years, and then I am eligible for early retirement,” he said. Bill worked for a government agency and hated it. He was forty-three years old.

“Twelve years!” I said, “That’s a lot of time. Are you going to make it?”

“I think so,” he said. “I’ll have my retirement income then.”

We did an analysis on Bill’s retirement plan and his future financial needs at age fifty-five. They didn’t add up. The plan was not going to provide him enough money for the lifestyle he desired when he left the work world. To provide for his wife and himself at retirement, Bill was going to have to work more than the twelve years he had planned. Not surprisingly, this news was about as welcome as a storm cloud at a picnic.

“What can I do?” he asked.

“Look,” I said. “Twelve years is a long time, and it’s going to take even longer than that before you can realistically retire. For you, it’s going to feel like an especially long time because you hate your job. I’m guessing that it’s not the length of time you dread, it’s the prospect of spending the next twelve years doing something you do not want to do.”

“I don’t have any choice,” he said.

“What about doing work that you like?” I asked. “Since it’s going to take you longer to get to retirement than you hoped, you might as well do something you enjoy.”

Bill’s situation is true for many people—their retirement funding is not going to be adequate. Pension plans are no longer guaranteed, benefits are continuously being scaled back, and people are losing their jobs to corporate outsourcing. What our parents took as a given—namely, that the company would take care of us—is rarely even in the realm of possibility today.

Add the fact that the cost of living continues to rise, and it becomes clear that most of us will have to work longer than we thought before we can retire. The time will not seem as long, however, if you spend it doing something you really like to do or work with people you enjoy.

I am not just saying “follow your bliss, the money will follow.” While this might happen, to go blindly in pursuit of a business or career scheme based on unrealistic expectations can be financially disastrous and cause as much—if not more—stress than staying at a job you dislike. Most of us have other people in our lives who are at least partially, if not wholly, dependent upon us to take care of them financially.

You will be more likely to find an alternative to a crummy job if you are open and receptive to the possibility. The discovering of a job that you enjoy doing may take some time. It may require some soul searching and some research. Then when you have an idea of what that job might be, you have to do something. You have to take some actions to make that new job a reality.

In Bill’s case I asked him, “Okay, what are you really passionate about? What do you think about most? What excites you?”

“Chess,” he replied. “It’s what I love to do most. I read about it. I play it. I go to tournaments.”

We explored ways that Bill might turn his passion into real income. Obviously, we were not going to replace his entire salary with income from chess activities—at least not right away. But we played with a number of ideas. Could he author a book about chess? How about a DVD? Could he organize chess tournaments and invite big name players?

Bill didn’t waste time. Since our meeting, he has organized a number of local chess tournaments and is even beginning to see a little income flow from this activity. Who knows where it might lead him from here? And even if his income from these activities is never substantial, by doing what he loves, the time until he can retire will not seem so much like a prison sentence.

Even if your search for a better work situation doesn’t lead to the job of your dreams, it can help you find people with whom you like to work and like to be around.

Myth #2: Don’t Talk About Money (part 2)

We generally believe that other people are more on track, in better shape than we are financially. We’re convinced, especially if they put on a good show, that they know more than we do. We keep up our own good appearances, and hope no one brings up the subject.

Mary, a client of mine in her mid-thirties, managed a $1.5 million budget at work. She consistently received bonuses, promotions, and pay increases for doing such a brilliant job.

At home, she hadn’t balanced her checkbook in a year. Each month, she was spending $1,500 more than she made. She practiced “retail therapy”—if she had a bad day, she compensated by buying new clothes or going out for an expensive dinner. Emotion drove her personal spending habits. At work, on the other hand, she based her decisions on responsible and rational thinking.

Mary hadn’t told anybody about her personal financial situation until she finally gathered the courage to see me. Together, we started to address her money problems. She faced the fact that if she didn’t do something about them, her financial future would remain forever unstable.

Mary had to overcome a great deal of embarrassment to call me. She thought she was too old to be having these kinds of problems—that it would be an admission of ignorance to talk to someone. But together we reduced her stress, and she began to turn her financial ship in the right direction.

We listed everything she spent, determined her top financial goals and how much it would cost to reach them.  She changed her spending habits, paid off debt and even started an investment portfolio. By talking about her situation, she was able to get over her embarrassment and hopelessness. Only then could she get the coaching she needed to change how she operated with her personal finances.

Another client, Lisa, is a teacher. She belongs to the Washington State Teachers’ Retirement System, which offers members nearly thirty different options for retirement tax shelters. It is overwhelming. Lisa knew she should be saving more for retirement, but she didn’t know where to start. She didn’t know how to evaluate an investment, and was afraid she’d buy into a bad one, so every year she ignored the enrollment date.

She waited until she was forty-nine years old to call me. By not talking to anyone sooner, and therefore not contributing to her retirement plan, her financial assets had lost years of appreciation. I evaluated the options for her and she finally decided to act. She was regretful she had not done anything earlier, but had been too embarrassed to take the first step and ask anyone about it.

If you are concerned that your finances are not heading in the right direction, it may be time to seek out a professional. If you work for a company that has a benefits department, talk to them about your retirement options. Tell them you need help and ask them to work with you until you do understand. In my experience, any time you start a conversation like that, people will be more than willing to assist you.

A Certified Financial Planner™ professional is another resource for advice. Ask friends, coworkers, or your human resource department to give you a referral.

Find a professional who is willing to listen to you and who takes the time to understand your concerns, fears, and goals. You want someone who can help you establish a personal spending plan, a set of financial goals, and an investment and retirement plan that you are comfortable with.

Find someone you can trust and start talking about money. As with anything that is challenging, talking and learning about it will help reduce stress and get you started on the right track.

Myth #2: Don’t Talk About Money

Whenever I give a speech or teach a class, I ask the audience, “How many of you feel that everyone besides you has money figured out? That your coworkers, neighbors, or friends know more than you do?” Without fail, hands fly up across the room.

Each of us harbors the deep belief that he or she is the only one who is screwed up about money. Everyone else has it all figured out—they have all the things they need and never spend more than they make. We are sure that they must have a fully-funded retirement plan and a lucrative investment portfolio. They certainly understand all of their 401(k) plan choices, and they have just the right amount of insurance for their needs. They can’t be over their heads in credit card debt like we are. We see many of them leading affluent lifestyles, which serve as all the evidence we need that our perceptions are true.

Since we believe that other people know more than we do, we don’t talk about money. We don’t want to expose our ignorance. We are like the teenager afraid to talk about sex or understand it in a meaningful way. We feel that everyone else at school knows more than we do. So we pretend to know, hoping somewhere along the line that we will learn the secret. And everyone else around us pretends to know too.

At parties, we talk about the latest hot stock or give an opinion about the real estate market. We might even brag about the high return we’re getting on our investments. But if our checkbook hasn’t been balanced in two years, or if our paycheck is spent three days before receiving it, then these conversations leave us uneasy. Underneath, we feel inadequate. But we keep on, not mentioning our concerns to anyone, because—somehow—we are supposed to know all about money.

The problem is that if we don’t talk to people about our financial issues or our money problems, then we will do the same thing month after month, always hoping it will turn out differently. Rita Mae Brown defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” In the arena of money, many of us fit her definition of insanity.

We get most of this programming from our families. Most of us never really talked about money when we were growing up. In seminar after seminar, I ask, “What did your parents say about money?” Invariably, someone in the group says, “Nothing.” Money was taboo. It wasn’t a thing you talked about. For some unknown reason money was a “hush-hush” subject.

This is not to say we didn’t receive clear messages. In most cases we did, implied or nonverbal:
There’s not enough.
You have to work hard to earn money.
We can’t, because we can’t afford it.

Or if Mom and Dad paid for everything, then the message may have been: Don’t think about it, someone else will take care of you. And later in life we wonder why it all didn’t turn out that way.

Simply put, we never had a chance to really learn about money. At the dinner table our parents may have asked us about school, or how we felt about getting a new puppy, or where we wanted to go on vacation. But no one ever said, “Okay, let’s talk about money.”

This silence surrounding money was further reinforced by a school system that rarely, if ever, brought up the subject. We were not taught about home finances, investing, the basics of financial planning, or retirement planning.

So we’re supposed to know about money—but we’ve never been taught. Imagine going down to the driver’s license office and taking our driving test without ever having been taught how to drive.

We can’t hide bad driving skills for too long. But we have gotten highly skilled in masking our ignorance about money. We “compare and despair.” We look at other people and grade ourselves based upon how we perceive we are doing financially in comparison to them, but keep our thoughts to ourselves.

Money has become synonymous with personal identity and self-worth. If we don’t have enough money, then we feel we aren’t good enough. We don’t talk to people about money because we are worried that we don’t have as much as they do. And if we think we have more than they do, then we don’t talk about it because we don’t want them to feel uncomfortable. We believe people wouldn’t like us if they knew the truth.

Myth #1: Money = Happiness

The greatest myth is the idea that money will make us happy. And the more money we have, the happier we’ll be. People feel so certain about this that they act as if I am crazy to challenge this seemingly sacred truth. Reality is that happiness is a choice, and the amount of money you have ultimately has little influence on this choice.

To illustrate why money can’t buy happiness, I often use the example of an extremely wealthy woman I interviewed a few years ago. I spoke with Amanda (not her real name) about her experience with money and wealth. Amanda was a millionaire many times over. She disclosed that she had inherited much of it when she was thirteen years old, following the death of her mother. Millions was set aside in a trust and invested until she was twenty-one. She now had so much money it embarrassed her.

I commented on how her money must enhance the amount of free time she had.

“Enhanced? I’m afraid it has only diminished it,” she said.

“How could that be?” I asked. “You don’t need to spend time earning money.”

“No, but I have to manage my portfolio. I have acquired properties that need attention. I have a staff to manage. The more money a person has,” she said, “the more complex his or her life becomes. Having money doesn’t necessarily mean that you have more time.”

“But certainly, you are happier because you don’t have to worry about money,” I said.

“Consider this,” she said. “When someone wants to be my friend I have to wonder if they are being nice to me because they truly like me or because they are interested in my money. I have to distrust people’s intentions until they are perfectly clear.” She added, “This is not the most fertile ground for sincere and lasting relationships. Wouldn’t you agree?”

Amanda looked out the window of my office to the trees in front. “You know, when you have this much money, you don’t even get to have a bad day,” she said. “When I am feeling lonely or low and I call up a friend, they immediately say, “Ah, how can you have problems—you have so much money.” They won’t even allow me to go into it. They believe that all their problems are related to money. And since I have a lot of money, I must not have problems. I simply am not permitted to have them!”

Amanda was the richest person I had ever talked to. Though some might think she was just spoiled and ungrateful, I could see she was one of the most miserable people I had ever met.

I realize that most people reading this blog have much less money than Amanda does, and that she represents an extreme example. But I tell her story because her experience flies so clearly in the face of the myth that money buys happiness.

Take a look at the lives of many of the world’s rich and famous people and you often see a repeating pattern of broken marriages, drug or alcohol problems, and deep discontent. We all know people who have more money than we do: money for travel, more fashionable clothes, or bigger cars. But are they really happier than we are? We are so conditioned to think that money is the solution that we idolize and emulate people who have lots of it. We continue to lust after what they have.

Freedom, time, peace, happiness, and security—these are qualities dear to our souls. We all yearn for them, but their existence is not dependent upon money. These qualities are not derived from the outside world.

Are you happier than you were three years ago? Aren’t you making more money now? Surely you’ve increased your earning potential since college. Do you remember saying back then, “If I had this much money, I’d have it made?” You’ve probably made that much by now. Has it really increased your freedom, time, peace, happiness, or security?

Step back for a moment. What does bring you happiness? Is it playing with your kids? Taking a stroll in the woods? Listening to beautiful music? Do you do these things often enough? If not, it’s not a lack of money that keeps you from doing them, but a misguided priority system.

Our culture has at its core the idea that more is better. Many of us design our lives around this belief. And yet the underlying qualities that truly affect happiness are not advanced one bit by having more material things. More peace of mind is gained by allowing ourselves to be satisfied with what we already have. More joy is not bought; it is found in our hearts.

What Does Money Mean to You?

Nothing has a broader and more far-reaching influence on our lives than money. It represents security and survival, prestige and power, elegance, energy, and control. It represents the potential to realize our dreams and be more helpful to others. It contains some of our greatest fears: the fear of being without, of being powerless, of not being worthy or accepted.

Money is a presence that follows us through every day of our lives. Yet our relationship to it, built upon faulty ideas, misinformation, and fears, has developed haphazardly. We don’t talk about it in any meaningful way—like with sex, we make jokes about it to avoid dealing with it.

Our relationship with money arises from the choices we make— yet we make many of these choices automatically. We often respond from a subliminal level.

We need to raise our awareness regarding the choices we make with money. Do our choices about money generate more frustration or more satisfaction in our lives? Do our choices give us more time or less? Do they make us feel like we are stuck on a treadmill, or do they open up possibilities only dreamed of?

Where did we get our preconceived notions on how to spend money? How did we buy into this mandate that requires us to pay for four years of college for our kids—a $74,000 to $175,000 investment—even when it might not be in their best interest to go to college at all? Where did we get the idea that a bigger house is always better, or that a home is a good investment? Who told us we have to suffer through forty years of working at jobs that gradually kill us, so we can begin to live the life we want when we are sixty-five?

Most of us first learned about money from our parents—not by talking about it in any meaningful way, but by observing. But our parents may not have been the best role models in the management and spending of money. After all, they probably learned about money by observing their parents.

Then we spent from twelve to sixteen years of our lives in school with little or no mention of how to manage money effectively.

Now, we are bombarded by advertising that encourages us to consume more. Peer pressure influences us as we compare what we have to what others have, and try to keep up with them.

Yet somehow, we’re expected to know how to maneuver our way through a complex and economically driven world, fraught with temptations of pricey goods, expensive lifestyle habits, and credit cards. And if we get in over our heads, with whom do we talk about it? Our friends? Our coworkers? I doubt it. We’re sure they have it handled, and we’re too worried about what they’ll think of us.

Money should be a tool for positive growth and possibility in our lives. It should allow us to lead more fulfilling lives and give us the opportunity to help others more. However, for most people, it does not do these things. It causes anxiety and strain instead. This stress can take many forms, from worrying about how much to buy for our kids, to spending too freely on them but not feeling good about it. It can manifest itself as a growing belief that no matter how hard we work, we’ll never get ahead. Money stress can grow into anxiety about funding a realistic plan for retirement, which may even lead some people to not fund a plan at all. It can negatively influence marriage and family, spawning defensiveness or resentment about not getting “what we deserve.” Just imagine how our personal effectiveness, health, and sense of well-being could be enhanced if we weren’t worrying about money!

In the blogs to come, I am going to ask you to take a look at your life. I’ll ask you to pay attention to the attitudes and automatic beliefs you have about money, and how you use it.

I want you to challenge the assumptions that keep you working at your current job. I want you to reconsider your plan to fund entirely your kids’ college expenses. We will look at whether an expensive car is really worth the cost, and we’ll reconsider the heart of the American Dream: that you should own a home.

I am not your typical financial planner—I want you to think again. By the time we’re done, you will see new money choices and you will have left behind your old money myths.

I’ll see you next week!

It’s Time to Think Again

We’re so screwed up about money. We think that it will solve all our troubles—that if we just had more money we would have more freedom, more time, more peace, and more happiness in our lives. If we only had more.

For more than 22 years I have provided personal financial counseling to hundreds of people who earn adequate income. Yet they come in to my office with the feeling that no matter what they do, they never have enough.

Perhaps you feel this way. You work hard trying to provide for your family or to improve your lifestyle, and what you get in return is chronic burnout, perpetual stress, and the feeling that you will never get ahead. However, there is nothing wrong with you and you are not alone. Millions of people share this problem.

In this blog I will reveal the 21 myths that people have about money. These perceptions drive most of our lifestyle decisions—often in the wrong direction.

This won’t be a blog about how to become a millionaire or how to act like one when you aren’t. I won’t write about the nuts and bolts of investing. I will show you how much more prosperous you can become using what you already have. My goal is to transform your relationship with money so that it can become a friendlier presence in your life.

In this blog I will offer practical advice for dealing with the day-to-day realities of money and overcoming the frustrations that stem from financial problems. It will be a guide for getting what you want now, while still providing for your future needs.

What if you could have more financial contentment in your life right now, without having to earn any more money than you do currently? What if you could achieve your financial goals without having to suffer deprivation?

It’s easier than you think.  Are you ready to get started?  Tune in next week!