You wake up tomorrow and everything about your life is exactly the same except you have no possessions other than the clothes on your back and a bag of money equal to your financial worth today. Tim Maurer asks: What would you change?
Is that you? Are you fortunate enough to be in the tiny minority of people who don’t have a financial care in the world?
If not, I’ll bet you know that person who, to the best of your knowledge, lacks nothing. You probably even have a picture of them in your mind right now.
They’re financially independent. They have all the material possessions they could want, take all the vacations they want, dine wherever they want. They live where they want, in the house that they want, with all the upgrades they want. And they certainly drive the car they want.
All earthly goals … CHECK!
In that case, there’s no need for financial planning, right?
Well, let’s put that question to the test with a simple exercise I believe will deliver meaningful insight, whether you have everything—or not.
Imagine that you wake up tomorrow morning and everything about your life is the same as it was today—your professional calling, your relationships, your interests—except for one thing: Other than the clothes on your back, you have no possessions whatsoever.
How do you feel?
What would you do next? Where would you start?
Does that thought grip you with fear? Or is your mood unchanged? Perhaps you actually find some freedom in that thought?
Could you still be happy?
Tough questions, right? To make the very most of this exercise, consider taking a few moments to deliberate on them. Jot down a few notes, at least, or journal, if you’re inclined, before moving on.
Let’s assume the best potential outcome from this exercise. Despite the fact that you’re wealthy enough to have all of your needs and wants met, wealth isn’t the source of your happiness. It’s just a tool to be utilized well in pursuit of worthy goals.
Great! But, taking this financial self-examination another step, how can you be sure that you’ve really pointed your resources in the direction of the values, endeavors, people and causes you hold most dear? Let’s consider one more hypothetical.
You wake up tomorrow and everything about your life is precisely the same except, this time, for two things: You have no possessions but the clothes on your back and you have a bag of money, the contents of which are identical to your net worth today.
Now, how do you feel?
What would you do? Where would you start?
Would you buy the exact same house and car? In the same neighborhood or region?
Would you reinvest all of your financial resources identically (tax consequences notwithstanding, of course)?
Would you give to the same causes?
Would this financial slate cleaning also affect how you spend your human capital? Would you invest yourself in your household and community the same way?
What would you change? Perhaps this final question is the most telling.
Unless the answer is nothing at all (and if we’re honest, it’s not), you can clearly see that even the person who has everything has much to gain from examining their deepest-held motivations and the degree to which they’re acting in accordance with them—also known as financial and life planning. Indeed, in my experience, those with the most financial resources also have the most to gain from regularly and conscientiously exploring the distance between where they are now and where they could be, and then casting a vision for where they will go.
Without engaging in this process of “visioneering,” life naturally will devolve into a pattern dictated by external circumstances and the dreams of others rather than our own self-directives.
To be clear, all of the questions posed here are just as pertinent to those who have less as they are to those who have more than enough. The perpetual challenge for all of us, regardless of net worth, is to ensure that our possessions do not possess us.
Indeed, the ultimate end of financial life planning—wealth management—is to help ensure the possessions that might bind us instead are unleashed as a source of freedom.
Special thanks to my friend at the Kinder Institute for Life Planning, Louis Vollebregt, for introducing me to this incisive exercise.
This commentary originally appeared July 15 on Forbes.com
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