We’re deep in the throes of our summer trip preparations. This summer we’ll be gallivanting around Europe (specifically Denmark) which means lots of midnight suns, Carlsberg and design museums. And lots of flights. Which brings us to the age-old flashpoint in our marriage: do we upgrade to Premium Economy?
This year, the question is more fraught: RadReads has seen strong revenue growth (but still below cash flow break-even), we’re geographically farther from Europe and our youngest is now two and needs her own (Premium Economy) ticket.
Ramit Sethi’s Money Rules
It’s a good thing that Lisa doesn’t follow RadReader (and friend) Ramit Sethi on Instagram because she would’ve stumbled upon his Money Rules. Specifically number 6: “Business class on flights over 4 hours.”
Business class? Four measly hours? I’d write it off to the fact that Ramit’s recently married and doesn’t have to ship an entire gaggle across the pond. But in the 10th anniversary edition of his book I Will Teach You To Be Rich (which btw was the first personal finance book I ever bought) he challenges us to reexamine the powerful (and potentially insidious) invisible scripts that we’ve internalized about money. These scripts come from all directions: our parents, peers and society writ large.
In our relationship flying Premium Economy (sorry, I ain’t never getting to Business) cuts at the heart of these scripts. The decision arouses scarcity thinking, delayed gratification (vs. living in the moment), and our human yearning for control (vs. trusting that things will work out). Is having a clear set of Money Rules a way to bring intentionality back into your spending? Do you reach a tipping point where you need to remind yourself why you earn money in the first place? I figured I’d give it a whirl and try to write out my own Money Rules.
Let’s Begin with Goals
In Ramit’s Money Rules I observe three types of principles:
- Formulas around spending and saving (i.e. Emergency funds)
- Broader life principles (i.e. Who to marry)
- A calibration between lifestyle and spending (i.e. Business class)
The formulas can be useful, but given the breadth of readers’ life situations, I personally think that formulas are too prescriptive. The life principles are hugely important, but I’ll save that for a more comprehensive post.
Aligning lifestyle and spending is the juiciest and one of the pillars of my Money Coaching practice. I typically start with the simple exercise of identifying straightforward goals:
This list was inspired by the Morningstar paper How Behavioral Nudges Can Help Investors Discover More Meaningful Goals. The authors argue that creating a Master List of goals has a few advantages:
- Sharpened Focus: The common answer “Growing wealth” isn’t specific enough.
- Focus on Outcome over Emotion: Where scarcity and financial security rear their heads.
- Reduce behavioral blind spots: A recency bias could lead to short-term thinking.
Too many damn goals
Once I had identified my top goals, I got stumped. How could I prioritize seemingly distant goals like “Tending to aging parents,” “not becoming a financial burden as I got older,” and “paying for future medical expenses?” (I’m pretty clear on the inheritance part.) Nobody wants to scrimp on these purchases, but as a young family it didn’t make sense to set aside specific funds to prepare for these.
The list of goals reveals a few tensions for us. First, how much trust should one ascribe to earnings potential, spending tendencies, and resourcefulness as you look decades ahead? And second, where does one stand on the spectrum that tomorrow may not be given – while being responsible about the future for our loved ones?
Consider your future self
To be clear, there’s not “right answer” to these contemporary existential questions. Jesse Mecham’s book You Need A Budget (aptly named around RadReaders’ favorite budgeting app) sheds some light around this dilemma.
First, Mecham reminds us that if you’re debating whether you should take the family on a Europe trip or adding a swing set to your backyard – you’ve got a high class problem. Next, he describes how prioritization is muscle to be flexed and that “black-and-white decisions become riddles to solve.” He suggests a few questions to help solve this riddle:
Imagine your future self having done each thing on your list. Which feels better? Seeing the kids and their friends enjoying the yard? Bike riding through Amsterdam as a family? (…) Or imagine your future self explaining to a good friend why you chose one over the other. Does it feel right?
Back to the Money Rules
Money Rules can provide a “bridge” between the day-to-day practicalities of how you earn and spend with your future self. A compass, not a map. Here are a few prompts to ponder your own set of Money Rules:
- How do we enjoy spending our time?
- Who do we enjoy being around?
- What change do we want to advance in the world?
- Do we value experiences over “stuff?”
- How much value do we place on physical and spiritual health?
- How important is learning?
- How important is status?
Here’s a list of categories to help crystallize your own Money Rules:
Just remember, they’re by no means comprehensive and will inevitably change with your life circumstances. You’ve patiently waited for my Money Rules, so here they are!