A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a column about a young man in our Start Investing community who came into some big money thanks to stock options he held at work. "Newbie Rich," as he called himself, felt paralyzed by his sudden wealth. Now, when I wrote that column, my editor, Dan Fisher, warned me that many readers would not feel sympathetic to such a problem.
Was Dan right or what? Yesterday I returned from a short trip to find more than 100 new email messages, the bulk of them responses to my column about Newbie. No one actually suggested I should be stoned. But one guy thought Newbie should be. "This country would be far better off if the rich were imprisoned for their greed," he wrote. "They are the parasites of the world. If they suffer, I think that's wonderful! It will give them a taste of what's to come in hell."
Wow! Not all the responses were quite so harsh. Still, I'm startled by the reaction -- or overreaction. The only explanation I can find for it is that many people don't feel good about where they are in life, and they assume the reason for their problems is that Newbie has the $10 million and they don't.
A couple of the folks who wrote are truly in need. One woman said she was approaching payday with five bucks in her purse and had to decide whether to buy gas or cross her fingers and hope her quarter-tank lasts. I remember plenty of days like that myself.
Another group wrote to say that Newbie should help his family. I'll buy that. One woman said that her sister-in-law got a $7 million settlement when her husband was killed in an accident, and she paid off the debts of the whole family.
But the bulk of the people who felt disgusted with Newbie were eating sour grapes. My guess is that they have some money issues themselves. I think they probably need to take a look at what's going on in their own lives and sort through those issues.
Where Money Meets Values
We spend a lot of time here at
writing about how to set up an investment portfolio and how to increase your wealth. But that doesn't do you any good if you don't know what you're going to do with that money, or how you're going to live.
Setting up an investment portfolio is the easy part. The hard part is dealing with the juncture where money intersects with values and emotions. We're always hearing that the best things in life are free. Yet every truly important thing we do in life involves money and emotions: Getting married, having a child, planning for retirement, facing a major illness, leaving a legacy, getting a divorce, contributing to the community. Name a major life event, and money's going to be part of the equation.
Psychologists say that most people simply can't sort through money issues, that they erect intricate barriers around money and wall off whole sections of their lives because of their money fears.
I spend a fair amount of time giving speeches to investors and to financial planners, and this is one of my favorite subjects. I believe that few people achieve all they could in life; few find the happiness and completeness that are possible for them. In most cases, though, it's not because they lack money. It's because they can't figure out what they want their money to buy.
What Is Happiness?
The best financial planners agree with me here. When Charley Haines, a planner in Birmingham, Ala., takes on a new client, the first question he asks is: "What brought you here?" The second question is: "What's your definition of happiness?" Charley knows that if the client can't answer that question, no financial plan he can come up with is going to satisfy that client.
Or take George Kinder, a planner in Cambridge, Mass., who wrote a book called
The Seven Stages of Money Maturity. Kinder, too, believes he must understand the role money plays in a client's life if he is to succeed. He asks a new client these four questions:
- Suppose you had far more money than you will ever need. How would you live the rest of your life?
Suppose a doctor told you that you have five to 10 years to live. What would you change about your life?
Suppose the doctor tells you that you have 24 hours. What would be your biggest regrets?
What is your definition of freedom?
These are important questions. Jeff Noble, a reader who wrote to us about Newbie Rich, agreed. "First," he said, "we have to ask ourselves: 'What is happiness?' " For him, happiness is not having to worry about how he's going to pay the bills and not having to be somewhere at a certain time.
Dino White, another reader, struck the same note, saying that we each need to think about what is important to us in life, no matter how much or how little money we have. "Newbie should have been doing what he wanted with his life before he hit it big," Dino said. "Then the money would not have been an issue." I agree.
Newbie's Not Alone
Some folks wrote to say they identified with Newbie. One 47-year-old said he recently quit his job over an ethics disagreement. That's my idea of freedom: To be able to walk away from a job where I feel like I'm giving up a piece of my integrity in exchange for a dollar. I'd rather be poor and honest.
But this man isn't poor. Like Newbie, he can afford not to work. So he's looking for something meaningful to do. So far, he's gotten involved in his son's sports leagues, and after some research, in
Habitat for Humanity
, the nonprofit organization that helps people in need build their own homes.
A successful stock trader wrote to say that when he began trading he struggled with feelings of guilt and worthlessness -- I suspect because he was making some quick money and wondering how he deserved it. But he says he realized that you can't make it as a trader if you don't feel self-worth and self-respect. He recommended three books that he found helpful:
Your Money or Your Life, by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin,
The Energy of Money, by Maria Nemeth, and
, by Dan Millman.
So let's give Newbie a break and focus on our own money issues. How would you live your life if someone gave you more money than you would ever need? Well -- why not get started on that life right now, as Dino White suggests?
Mary Rowland is the Start Investing columnist for MSN MoneyCentral. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. She welcomes your feedback at
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