Money Winners, Money Losers

Image by rawpixel from Pixabay

Image by rawpixel from Pixabay

Steve and Kerry came to see me because they wanted peace of mind. Steve was a consultant and Kerry worked for a Fortune 500 company as a manager. They were in their early 60s, and they could see the end of their working careers on the horizon. Their two children had graduated from college and were beginning careers of their own. Like many people, Steve and Kerry had piloted their financial decisions by themselves. They hoped they had made good decisions, but they were seeking an independent eye to assess how they were really doing.

The financial picture they laid out was one of simple elegance. They had no debt, other than what was left on their mortgage. They had both contributed to retirement plans and accumulated a nest egg that they hoped would take them through the rest of their lives.

“We are simple people and that’s what we like,” they told me. “We don’t have extravagant tastes. We are not hoarders of stuff, and we’re not looking to leave untold wealth to our children. We feel very grateful for what we’ve worked for and that we’re all healthy. We don’t want to burden our children in our next stage.”

They envisioned a retirement in which they’d travel a bit and do volunteer work, with Steve continuing his consulting work part-time and maybe finding a job as an adjunct professor in a local community college. They didn’t want a complicated lifestyle.

Another couple, Linda and Rob, came to my office for a ”fit” meeting, in which I ask potential clients to tell me about themselves and what they’re seeking. They were clearly a very stylish pair, decked out in designer clothes and lots of high-end bling. They were in their late 50’s and were worried about their future. Rob was a trial attorney, and although he made a substantial income they didn’t seem to be making any progress at accumulating wealth. Their three children were approaching college age. Linda and Rob had always said they were going to send their kids to the best schools they could get into, regardless of the cost, but they had saved barely enough for one year at a state university. Further discussion revealed that they had significant debts and a lack of liquidity should their income falter. At the end of our conversation, I asked if they’d like to schedule another meeting. They said they would contact me after their three-week European vacation.

 “We want to be financially okay, but we want to live and enjoy our lives too!” Linda said as they departed.                                                     —

How can you tell a money winner from a money loser? These two couples were an easy lesson in contrasts. You certainly can’t tell by the window dressing. But I’ve learned to detect one from the other quickly by their spending and saving habits and their values. Money winners put their thoughts into action, while money losers might say the right words but lack the will to act.

Money losers employ excuses, magical thinking and avoidance tactics. Money winners confront reality.

Money losers are concerned with what others think of them. Winners are clear in their own minds about what they want out of life, and it has nothing to do with trying to impress others.

Money losers tend to seek instant gratification. Money winners have well defined values and move steadfastly in that direction, forgoing an expenditure if it cuts into saving for something more important.

We’re all a product of what I call our money imprint—that’s what we learned about money growing up—and what we believe to be true. It’s hard to be a saver if you had parents who were on a quest for status and spared no expense in pursuing that goal. Yet it is possible to shift your way of approaching money. For anyone who is holding onto a loser’s mindset, I recommend seven basic steps to becoming a winner:

  1. Know your numbers. What do you earn and spend? How much do you save? Are you in debt? Why?
  2. Come to terms with your spending decisions. Consider your motivations. If you’re concerned about the opinions or judgments of others, maybe you have the wrong friends?
  3. Know your values. Come to terms with your values and why they are so important to you.
  4. Ask for help and guidance. You might seek out a counselor or therapist if you can’t shake off habits that you know are getting you into a financial hole. You might want to work with a financial advisor who can help you make strategic decisions and monitor your progress.
  5. Be realistic. Test your values against reality. You might dream of an 85-foot yacht, but is it really worthy of being part of your value system?
  6. Don’t let setbacks stop you. Change doesn’t happen instantaneously, and humans make mistakes. Be prepared for missteps, but if your values are well grounded, getting back on track should not be insurmountable.
  7. Celebrate successes. No, I don’t mean fly to Paris every time you pay down a credit card. But acknowledge your efforts and applaud yourself for each step forward.

We are not born to be winners or losers. We can accept the messages we received in childhood and live that experience, or we can shift to another reality that will give us peace of mind. You can be a money winner; it all begins with your mindset.