How You React Plays Big Role in Money Decisions

I e-mailed some friends and colleagues a tweet I saw comparing European and American out of office replies. The European response was: “I’m away camping for summer. Please e-mail back in September.” The American version: “I have left the office for two hours to undergo kidney surgery, but you can reach me on my cell anytime.” I thought this was funny, not descriptive, but based on the responses I got, it turned out to be instructive.

We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are. Therefore, financial planning cannot be meaningfully done by algorithm. Who you are is a cocktail of values you developed over time, messages you received growing up, your DNA, the relationships you have or desire.

While some people sent back the typical “Ha Ha” response to my e-mail, others took deeper dives. Where do you fit?

A colleague wondered, what if we wanted to have more of a European approach, but a client wanted us to respond while we were in the recovery unit? This question isn’t about business; it is about how we manage our anxiety in relationship to that of those with whom we are dealing. In most couples with whom we work, one person is more anxious than the other. Anxious-to-anxious responses lead to reacting rather than contemplating. This results in quick decisions that often hurt your financial and personal well-being. But calm-to-anxious doesn’t work. The anxious partner feels alone in their fears. The other partner needs to move toward the anxiety first to validate those feelings before coming up with ideas to manage (not remove) those feelings. Creating money agreements before chaos ensues helps. For example, if the market is falling, determine in advance to rebalance rather than sell.

A couple of other people wrote back saying that they would not want to have the European approach. That misses the point. Neither the European nor the U.S. response is more legitimate. Many of us move to the extremes in our planning because it feels more controllable. We want conviction, yet almost all financial decisions are more good than bad, rather than right or wrong. Money choices are experiments; information that disproves our thesis isn’t failure, it is useful information. Money is not like being on the operating table facing life or death. Don’t make money stakes greater than they are. If you disagree with anything I have written, please e-mail me in September when I am back from camping!

Spend your life wisely.

Related: Is a New House a Key to Happiness?