Money and Attention

storyGiven the firehose of media attention pointing at the US Presidential election, it’s easy to get tired, fed-up, angry, worried… you name it with regard to the state of politics.

It is worth remembering that the players have a vested, mutual, interest in getting us scared, and angry enough, to give them money and attention.

Rather than bringing fear and hate into the world, consider the following…

Take a characteristics of your least favorite politician and remove it from yourself.

  • You might have a concern about a lack of tolerance.
  • You might have a concern about a lack of integrity.
  • You might have a concern about a focus on personal wealth.
  • You might have a concern about fairness.
  • You might not like the way the person looks.

Whatever the trigger, we are going to be reminded of it, a lot, over the next five months.

Become aware of the trigger…

…and work to subdue the trait from within yourself.

Healthcare Tradeoffs

2016-05-13 12.25.44I’ve been helping an elderly friend navigate the healthcare system. It is easy to get present-procedure focused. No one took a long-term view of my buddy’s life path.

It’s going to be easiest to explain by putting myself in his shoes.

Let’s say I’m 80 years old and have a stroke, from which I will recover. At the hospital, they discover I need a pacemaker. The pacemaker is required because I have a condition, which is causing my heart to stop beating for up to 5 seconds at a time, mainly when I sleep.

The heart surgeon says I should fix my heart – he’s done the procedure close to 1,000 times. I am likely to see additional years of life.

Why would I hesitate?

I might hesitate because I know my family history.

By the time the pacemaker battery needs replacing (my late-80s) all my grandparents would have been dead, or nearing death.

Here’s what my family tree has been serving up…

  • Organ failure with Alzheimers (pacemaker kept on ticking until kidney failure killed the heart)
  • COPD with dementia
  • Cancer
  • Stroke

“Doc, I have a concern we are helping my body last long enough for me to lose my mind.”

No easy answers…

…but here are some questions:

  1. What’s my mental, physical, spiritual state now? How am I doing relative to peers and family history? There could be very good years left before dementia hits hard.
  2. Are there conditions/diagnoses where we switch off the pacemaker? Do I want to specify, now, what my power-of-attorney should do? It’s easier for a POA to follow my instructions than struggle to balance the considerations of: past self, ever changing conditions and future self.
  3. Does my POA have access to a medical advisor with the skill, and compassion, to navigate these decisions? Look for a middle-aged MD, with a large family tree, where the elders frequently live into their 90s.
  4. Do I have the capacity to continue to bring love into the world? I’d be willing to suffer quite a bit if it was a win for my children.

Lifestyle, diet and modern medicine can greatly reduce our chances of dying early. In each of our family trees, there comes a point where we’ve done about as good as we can expect.

I’ve preemptively forgiven my POA for the decisions that will need to be made.

I’ve had a wonderful life.

What’s the value of an extra day off, forever

2016-04-07 10.36.45What would you pay to have one day off, every year, for the rest of your life?

Once you have enough to cover your basics, you are paying an implicit price (in future time) for every dollar you spend.

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A case study to illustrate…

Let’s say you are considering a $10,000 trip of a lifetime…

My preferred way to view spending is relative to my net worth. My give-a-hoot threshold is set at 0.1% of family net worth. It helps me not sweat the small stuff.

Applying that heuristic to a $10,000 choice, you need a net worth of $10 million (!) not to be thinking carefully about the trip.

So let’s think very carefully!

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Realistic financial freedom comes from chipping away – day by day – at the requirement to work full time to fund your core cost of living

The value of a future benefit is undervalued by nearly everyone. A short-term focus makes sense from an evolutionary perspective but greatly limits the options in the second half of your life.

Let me reframe $10,000 of spending for a family earning $120,000 per annum.

Core cost of living = $120,000

Capitalization Rate = 4%

= Capital required to retire completely

= $3,000,000

Divide that by 300 working days per annum, and you get $10,000 of capital per working day.

So the vacation could be priced as one day working, forever.

When you look at a new SUV, you could see an additional week working, forever.

Jewelry, RVs, hobbies, private education… All can be viewed in terms of time.

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Keeping it simple…

…every ten grand you invest in a balanced, low-cost portfolio, buys you an extra day off for the rest of your life.

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…and while it can be tougher for a young person to accumulate capital, the time payoff is FAR greater.

$1 million of family capital can buy you four-day weekends, for the rest of your life.

After you’ve bought it, don’t wait too long to spend your time.

Building Bridges

2016-02-12 18.28.49A few years back, I identified my relationship with my daughter as an area that had the potential to greatly improve my life. At the time, I was devoting excessive energy to her via worry and stress. She was always in my mind, even when I was away from her.

How can we reduce the impact of our not-helpful obsessions within our minds?

I use two techniques:

  • Be kind and generous to as many people as possible – lots of tiny actions
  • Express the same habit, directly, to the person with whom I want to improve my relationship

Now, it’s important to bear in mind that it only takes one person to torpedo a relationship. So I might not be successful.

That’s OK – “success” isn’t my goal.

If the goal isn’t “success” then what is it?

Take a minute and consider what your words to your children indicate about your definition of success.

When I’m stressed, my words might indicate a desire for compliance, quiet and solitude. Is that what my family really needs?

Those same desires can be satisfied via personal, internal serenity within whatever relationship I have with people.

What’s this have to do with the “one-on-one” trip?

Taking the toughest member of the family on a road trip was a way to “step up” within my household. I’ve been taking my oldest on the road since she could walk.

ax_zenMy young children have a simple agenda with me…”do stuff with Dad.”

It’s simple, but not easy.

It’s not easy because “dad” has a preference for strong coffee and exercising uphill. I also like to be left alone to read, write and think.

To do fatherhood “right.” I have to make the commitment to be with my child, on the child’s terms.

A habit of service spills over into other aspects of my life, for example my marriage.

  • Just me and the child
  • Focus on doing things the kid likes
  • Never more than three nights away
  • If the kid is awake then my agenda is put to one side

Truth be told, the trips started as a way to get my Alpha Child out of the house. The fact that I ended up with better relationships with everyone was an unexpected bonus from seven years of sticking with it.

ax_mexico

Non Financial Aspects of Estate Planning

2016-03-09 15.23.39A friend asked me to give this talk to his firm, but I prefer to write short articles.😉

When families talk about estate planning the discussion can center around cash flow, assets and tax minimization. While those topics need to be sorted, dollar-centric living can lead to regret.

If you apply last week’s tips about family leadership, you might discover certain realities about financial wealth.

2016-03-16 13.56.23Namely…

The highest use of an asset lies in its capacity to enable better choices…

  • flexibility to allocate time towards shared experiences
  • the ability to control one’s schedule
  • the opportunity to tag along when other people are doing what they enjoy
  • health in the context of body, mind and spirit

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2016-03-13 21.51.50Cash flow without education, connection and meaning can be a negative. Examples are the challenges faced by lottery winners, professional athletes and young, highly paid professionals.

With cash flow, I would go further and point out that excess family cash flow will ultimately be consumed by the least responsible adults in a family system.

You might tell yourself that you are “doing it for the kids” but the money ends up being blown by someone’s aunt or uncle.

2016-03-11 20.04.44-1What to do?

  • In your lifetime, use money to acquire time.
  • Share time with people you wish to influence with your values. Be the brand.
  • Remember that it’s better to earn, and spend, our own way in life. It’s what you did.
  • Have a bias towards “assets used for shared experiences,” rather than cash flow.

Ask the question, How do I wish to be remembered?

Be that person, today.

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2016-03-10 08.52.21Shared experiences, both positive and negative, bridge generations across time.

As a child, I had four grandparents and three great-grandparents. Of my childhood elders, only one made the transition into my children’s consciousness. The elder that bridged across did so because my daughter and I were involved in her end of life care.

Love, not money, is what travels across time.

2016-02-24 16.51.20

Family Leadership

2016-02-08 10.36.04I’ve written about the concept of the good-enough parent — a combination of showing up and not retaliating. It is a simple strategy but quite challenging in the face of a disgruntled preschooler!

Seven years in, I’ve managed to make non-retaliation a habit. If you are still working on it then remember to practice all-the-time…

  • Yield in traffic and queues
  • Breathe into tension
  • Slow down

New habits are most easily created when we are capable of self-control — away from the kids, in low stress environments.

I’ve been at it for over 15 years.

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What’s next?

I’ll start by sharing what’s definitely not next.

A habit of constant correction will make you, and everyone in your house, miserable.

An easy way to make this visible… track your positive-to-negative interactions with your kids, spouse and friends.

Another way… ask a close friend… When I talk about myself, what do I say?

If this is an area for improvement then it’s already obvious to everyone around you.

It was shocking when I did this with my oldest. I became so aware of my error in approach that you can get a quick rise out of me by constantly correcting her in my presence.

Correcting less, in ALL areas of my life.

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2016-03-09 15.27.20What about next-level positive habits?

De-escalationbecome skillful in draining the energy out of situations.

Most of us didn’t grow up in an environment that taught us these skills.

Becoming an effective family leader will require education, motivation and daily practice.

Two things helped me here:

  1. learning the methods of outstanding preschool teachers – if they can teach preschoolers to de-escalate then they can certainly teach us!
  2. reading the secular writings of spiritual masters

2016-03-12 10.34.52Opening To Experiencethe most valuable experiences shared with my family serve no purpose, other than sharing an experience with my family.

Often, my shared experiences are activities that I would not choose for myself. Recent examples, collecting sea shells, swim races, downhill skiing and art shopping.

2016-03-12 10.31.31Most of the leadership we were shown as children was about saying “no.”

Constantly being told what not to do.

Consider becoming the embodiment of what to do.

Is it any wonder many of us rebelled and left as soon as we could?!

Is it any wonder that many of us continue to hold resentments about events, and people, that haven’t existed for 20, 30 or 40 years?

To break this cycle, I say “yes” as much as possible. Yes to beachcombing. Yes to downhill skiing. Yes to painting. Yes to card games.

Stay open to experience.

Stay open to love.

2016-03-10 08.42.33

My Children’s Laughter

Loading UpIn my mid-20s, it dawned on me that I had saved enough money to sail around the world.

Instead of a trip, I took a promotion.

By my early 30s, my net worth had grown and I took a leave of absence, to effectively, exercise all-day everyday.

It wasn’t a feeling of financial security that pushed me to make the change.

It was a set back, an unexpected divorce.

Other major changes have been triggered by unemployment or massive financial loss. In buddies, I’ve seen health issues as the trigger.

Most recently, it’s been misery. Unexpected misery has proven to be the most useful part of parenting.

A story about coping…

BelleSince 2008, I’ve done, or seriously considered…

  • Studying ministry
  • Teaching my kids, my wife’s family’s religion
  • Selling my house, buying a catamaran, sailing around the world – this would include boat-schooling my kids
  • A bioscience degree
  • Various start-ups
  • Returning to finance
  • Pursuing a world-title in a niche sport
  • Pursuing a world-title in another, even smaller, niche sport
  • Relocating to Australia
  • Relocating to California

Pretty big list but I’ve discovered that major change is unlikely to be the solution to a question, that I’ve had difficulty framing.

In my search, two mantras popped up…

2016-01-28 10.03.11Everything I need can be found at home – there is no happiness available in a new sport, new town, new house, new job, new partner… that isn’t available within my existing life.

2016-01-27 11.38.06Meaningful work is part of the solution – everything that I’ve enjoyed in my life is a result of effort. I’m constantly trying to fool myself that doing less will create more happiness. I have the means to make myself miserable through sloth.

Road tripBut what to do?

There are two traits with guaranteed huge payoffs to myself and every person with whom I interact – patience and kindness.

Patience moves my inner life towards serenity.

Kindness vaccinates my mind against anxiety and the opinions of others.

At some stage in your life, I hope you realize that you are free. When that realization touches fear, and a feeling of “WTF now?!”, I hope you remember to fall back on kindness and patience.

What does all this have to do with my kids’ laughing?

After five years of effort, I wouldn’t describe my inner life as jovial. However, I live with three of the happiest children in the world.

When I listen to their frequent laughter, I know that I am happy enough.