Financial Independence: How to Make It… How to Spend It
by Alexander Green, Chairman, Investment U
Friday, July 25, 2008: Issue # 827
At FreedomFest in Las Vegas two weeks ago, conference promoter Mark Skousen invited me to join a panel discussion on financial independence called "Libertarian Millionaires: How to Make It, How to Spend It, How to Give It Away."
My fellow panelists were Dr. Jeremy Siegel of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and author of the investment classic "Stocks For the Long Run," John Whitney, Professor Emeritus of Management at Columbia Business School and former Presidential candidate Steve Forbes, Chairman and CEO of Forbes and Editor-In-Chief of Forbes magazine.
(Forget for a moment that putting me on a millionaires panel with über-wealthy Steve Forbes is like putting Shirley Temple on an actors panel with Robert DeNiro or Marlon Brando.)
It turned out to be a lively discussion with varying points of view. Here are just a few highlights.
Financial Independence - How to Make It...
Since the audience was made up of several hundred affluent, educated, worldly, financially independent, well-read, well-traveled individuals, "How to Make It?" was a tough question. (Most attendees could have enlightened the panel with a few thoughts of their own on how to make it.)
Those of us onstage agreed that perhaps the first ingredient for success in business is education. Education, however, is not always synonymous with academics. Sure, if your goal is to become a doctor, a lawyer or a scientist, you are going to spend a long stretch in academia.
But in today's business world, an increasing number of employers are more interested in how you think than what you know. For example:
- Tech companies like Microsoft, Google and Apple aren't looking for fancy degrees. They're looking for creative minds, specialized skills and well-developed aptitudes.
- Other employers are looking for more generalized knowledge or a high level of social intelligence. If you don't have these skills, you'll need to develop them to maximize your earning potential.
I'll never forget that at my college graduation ceremony, the university president stood up and said, "Congratulations. You've just completed the first step in the lifelong process of becoming educated."
This is a message worth taking to heart. (And a fundamental premise here at Investment U.)
Financial Independence - How to Spend It...
My view on the question of "How to Spend It?" per financial independence is straightforward:
- You made your money.
- You paid taxes on it.
- You have the right to spend it however you please.
If you want to blow it on Lamborghini's and dance-hall girls, that's your prerogative. (Whether that will provide you with any lasting satisfaction or make you a role model for your kids or an inspiration to your community is another question.)
More importantly, if your goal is to accumulate and build wealth, the key is to:
- Make as much as you can.
- Save as diligently as you can.
- Manage your investment portfolio as intelligently as you can.
However, you'll never get out of the blocks if your spending keeps rising to meet the income available.
Financial Independence - Is Buying More "Stuff" Better?
I'm fortunate that, while I have financial independence, my favorite past times are playing tennis, hiking, swimming, reading, listening to music, and playing with my kids. The cost of pursuing these hobbies - with the exception of an occasional court fee or racquet stringing - is essentially zero.
If I were to suddenly inherit $20 million tomorrow, I would not start yachting, racing thoroughbreds or collecting Faberge eggs. (This last comment, as I expected, elicited a cry from collector Steve Forbes.) No, if I were suddenly worth $20 million more, my primary interests would still be tennis, hiking, swimming, reading, listening to music, and playing with my kids.
Experience has taught me that accumulating "more stuff" provides a short-time high at best. When that wears off, you invariably find that all this "stuff" you had to have needs to be stored, cared for, maintained and insured. Hence the old saying, "do you own your possessions or do they own you?"
And ask yourself this: If you stepped in front of a bus tomorrow, as you lay there on the pavement, would you really regret the stuff you never bought? Or would it be the things you never did?
Spend a moment thinking about the things you've always wanted to do and still haven't done. Maybe the best way to spend your money is to get busy doing them.
It costs a lot less to collect experiences - memories - than expensive stuff. And you'll probably find it a lot more rewarding.
In my next column, I'll share our panel's thoughts on another important topic - how to give it away.