Money Isn’t Everything – Its Nothing

NOTE: A version of this post appeared in the San Antonio Express News

Opposites Day

Caesars Coin
What is Caesar’s coin but a dull bland thing?

Today I’ll take a break from our regularly scheduled program on money to exhort precisely the opposite focus in our lives.

Today, money doesn’t matter. At all.

No, its not really “opposites day.”

But it is Thanksgiving week, so it seems like the right moment for this break.

Probably the first and last time you’ll see me referring to Scripture

In church the other day we read the classic Gospel story about the Pharisees trying to trick a canny JC[1] into advocating either dodging taxes owed the Roman Empire (effectively, prosecutable treason), or betraying his religious followers, the Jews, who felt oppressed by the Roman Empire.

His clever response began with noting the profile on a Roman coin and asking the Pharisees to identify the image. As we know, they replied “Caesar’s.”

That prompted JC’s politically savvy response-for-the-ages:

“Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.

Finance guy now says ‘forget the money’

In my private life and in my writing and teaching, I play the role of “finance guy.” When a political or personal topic arises in discussion, I begin my response with “Well, as a finance guy, I see it this way,” or simply “follow the money,” and I give a rational, money-optimizing or finance-informed perspective. That’s my role.

In other words, I’m constantly urging friends, students, and readers how best to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.

But you know what? Forget about all that this week. Because, again, this is Thanksgiving week.

Money has nothing to say about all of the most important things in my life. My birth family. My wife. My daughters. My physical health. My inner peace. My limited time.

My birth family

Like everyone else I had no control over this, but wow, did I get lucky. My family of origin is smart, kind, and successful. Money cannot buy this kind of luck.

My wife

I won the relationship lottery. And thankfully, I know it. Had I not won, well, there’s no price I could pay to get someone like her in my life.

My daughters

Money has really not entered their world yet. I love that about them. They can construct a Halloween costume out of a discarded cape, a leotard, and an ironic moustache necklace, as long as it involves glitter. At Christmas, the box and wrapping will fascinate them as much as the present itself.

They are shockingly beautiful and just like the girl in that One Direction song, they don’t know it. They absorb the world’s energy and reflect it back so brightly that it makes me squint sometimes when I look – I mean, really look – at them.

What is Caesar’s coin but a dull, bland thing?

 

My physical health

I am temporarily blessed with excellent physical health. Do I deserve this? Not really, because I eat a lot of donuts. But wow, I appreciate it. Yes, my access to modern health care – I know, that requires money – helps me quite a bit. But in the long run, like everyone else alive right now, I’ve got a limited amount of fine health remaining. Money will never effectively stave off the inevitable decline.

Could a couple billion dollars halt that process? Nope.

I’d better appreciate it now, because my good health is a precious, miraculous, temporary, gift.

 

Inner Peace

Sure, I’m just as periodically wracked by undulating waves of anxiety, self-loathing and megalomania as the next 42 year-old white guy – so I don’t mean to imply that I’ve achieved Dalai Lama status here[2] – but I also appreciate that I have my moments of clarity and simple, happy, contentment.

That feeling never comes from money.

No amount of 401K padding can buy those moments. No high-interest money market account yields me an ounce of that contentment.

Adding three more zeros to my net worth – and I’ve met a few people in my life who have that – will not expand the frequency or duration of my moments of peace. Based on the evidence I’ve seen, the opposite occurs with additional zeros tacked on to one’s net worth.

Mo’ money, Mo’ problems,” as the late 20th Century American poet Notorious B.I.G. once wrote.

Mo_Money_Mo_Problems

Time

You can’t buy more time at the store.

Money cannot halt time, freezing my daughters at this point in their lives.

Money will not grant me another perfect Saturday with my wife.

Money cannot provide the endorphinous joy of a long healthy run along the San Antonio River.

That hour I spent reviewing a finance spreadsheet while my four year-old tugged at my arms to pay attention to her last week? Yeah, I know, I can recite that Harry Chapin song.

Don’t blow any more of those chances, I try to remember to tell myself.

 

Forget Caesar this week

This Thanksgiving week, I’m trying to render unto God all the things that are God’s – as long as that God is not money.

 

 

————-

[1] Referring to ‘JC’ just makes me happy because it reminds me of Owen Wilson’s born-again-Christian character in “Meet The Parents,” in which he tried to find a common bond with Ben Stiller’s Jewish character by saying earnestly “Hey, JC was a Jew!”

[2] Not yet at least!

 

 

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3 Replies to “Money Isn’t Everything – Its Nothing”

  1. Health!! Count your blessings every day for your health. Most of us have few limits physically in our 40s and 50s so enjoy the heck out of them, but be prepared to scale back expectations for physical activities in your 60s and 70s. Some make it to their 80s without slowing much, but the rest of us start facing reality earlier!

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I founded Bankers Anonymous because, as a recovering banker, I believe that the gap between the financial world as I know it and the public discourse about finance is more than just a problem for a family trying to balance their checkbook, or politicians trying to score points over next year’s budget – it is a weakness of our civil society. For reals. It’s also really fun for me.

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