Previously posted on Equities.com.
“Buy the fancy car.”
“Invest in the big house.”
“Take the international vacation.”
We live in a culture that teaches us that having more money is always better — no matter how much money you already have. The truth is not that simple. In fact, studies show that happiness declines as net worth grows beyond a certain point.
As it turns out, the phrase “more money, more problems” is actually quite true. I see it frequently in the field of Behavioral Wealth Management™. When net worth grows beyond $15 million, the question about what to do with all the money grows ever larger. It is not an easy one to answer.
Families with high net worth face challenging questions and complications that require nuanced strategies to navigate. Let’s discuss a few of those challenges and the ways it’s possible to overcome them.
1. The Line Between “Self-Worth” and “Net Worth” Blurs
When anyone starts basing his identity on a dollar sign, there’s going to be a problem. Unfortunately, this happens far more often than you might imagine and is particularly prevalent among men. A friend going through a divorce recently said he “would be half the man he had been” after the papers were signed. I had to remind him that the measure of his manhood has very little to do with his net worth.
This attitude is not surprising. In our competitive world, winning is celebrated, and money is often how we keep score. Those who have the most money are the winners. In reality, a healthy sense of self-worth comes from engaging in activities and relationships that give us a deep sense of satisfaction. If we’re lucky, it comes from us living our personal sense of purpose. Finding and pursuing the activities that fill that need is a crucial step in addressing this challenge.
2. The Feeling That Net Worth Dictates Security is Common
When things get tough, wealthy families expect their money will leave them feeling secure. They understand that, on paper, they have enough money to take care of themselves and their loved ones. Yet these families still feel anxious about the future.
Why? Because money is emotional. No matter how much money we have, we can always imagine a scenario in which the money goes away before we need it for retirement or an emergency. Families with less money, on the other hand, are more likely to base their feelings of security on their relationships with family and friends, knowing they will help one another. The trick for very high-net-worth families is to think of their money as one element — but not the only element — of what keeps them secure.
3. Family Dynamics get Complicated
As parents, we hope the money we give or leave our children will enhance the quality of their lives. We dream they will use it to pursue their passions. But we also understand that receiving an abundant amount of money or inheriting lots of money can also make things difficult for our grown children by robbing them of confidence and initiative. How much is enough — but not too much — to leave children and grandchildren?
These complications also carry over when thinking about giving to extended family or friends: Will it make the relationship awkward? Will it make the person dependent on future gifts? These concerns are why it’s so important to give gifts with clear purpose and expectations, whether you’re giving to children, extended family, or friends. A Behavioral Wealth Management™ advisor can help you talk through your options and come up with language to use when giving those gifts.
4. Giving Back Isn’t as Simple as it Seems
How much money, if any, do we give to causes we care about? This seems like a very simple question to answer. The money should just go to a worthy cause, right? Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. How do we figure out which causes or charities to support? How much money do we give to each charity?
I believe the answers to these questions can be found in our individual senses of purpose. Purpose is not something our culture spends much time discussing, yet it is a key component of an exceptional life. An in-depth discussion of purpose is beyond the scope of this article, but I will say that finding your purpose takes time, thought, and soul-searching. Start there and pursue causes that align with what you uncover as your personal passions.
We live in a culture that believes wealthy people have no problems, but the truth is more nuanced. While monetary wealth certainly does cover many basic needs, it also comes with its own set of costs. The good news for high-net-worth families? With careful forethought and planning, it’s possible to apply monetary wealth to build a truly joyful and meaningful life.
JOYN CEO David Geller has gone beyond wealth management to discover ways to bring meaning and joy to his clients’ lives. His quest resulted in JOYN’s Behavioral Wealth Management™ approach to financial advising, which merges superior wealth management with expertise in behavioral financial science to help clients make better decisions.