Landon's Money Musings Newsletter: April 2023
In April’s installment of my newsletter I wrote about the mindset of scarcity and its impact on finances. Many clients have struggled with saving or giving because they felt they didn’t have enough to spare.
Exploring these conclusions turned my head to the converse; I’ve had clients with an enormous sense of abundance. I have seen it drain their money.
So I set about to write about the meaning of these other conversations. My first draft led me to do an informal survey about attitudes towards capitalism, redistribution, and wealth. (If you’re asking why, stay tuned.)
The answers I got were fascinating but left me wondering what on earth I was writing about. Katie asked, “what do you want to get across?” and I mumbled something about “understanding the feeling of complexities”.
A couple weeks later with only a few days left to bang this thing out, I talked to my sister, an introspective engineer, about the tenuous bridge I was trying to build between topics. Then it hit me that the reason the data felt so random was that a sense of abundance is not really related to political viewpoint, even though it felt like it to me. As Alicia pointed out, people on the right also donate money just to different causes. Indeed, the capitalists* in the survey were twice as likely as anti-capitalists to say they would give everything they had to save a family member in danger. Actual conservatives donate more than progressives, due in part to religiosity.
After all Jesus said to the young rich man, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
When I was 26 and living in a micro studio, reconsidering my life, sleeping in a bed arms reach from my kitchen cabinet, I had a quote about anatta (the spiritual realization that you don’t exist) that spoke so deeply to me that I wanted to read it every time I looked up.
"She saw that all phenomena arose, abided, and fell away... She saw that knowing this arose, abided, and fell away. Then she knew that there was nothing more than this, no ground, nothing to lean on stronger than the cane she held, nothing to lean upon at all, and no one leaning, and she opened the clenched fist of her mind and fell into the midst of everything."
When someone gives at a level that is likely to derail their personal goals, I help them consider all the factors and advise them as a sensible financial planner should. But in my mind I think wouldn’t it also be cool to OPEN THE CLENCHED FIST OF YOUR MIND AND FALL INTO THE MIDST OF EVERYTHING?
So I suppose to look at the mixed results of the survey, I realized that when I interpret a client’s motivations, I may be biased by my own literal take on what justice asks of us. And also that my view of justice is informed by literal martyrs, despite the fact that the mission of my work is queer survival.
One of the honest questions I wrote in my draft were “do I deserve a body if others are starving?” So yeah.
In practice, giving so much often stems not from core values, but from misjudging the extent of one’s personal resources.
Although I may have missed the obvious connection before, it’s similar to the common issues coming up around spending. When you spread your paycheck over all your upcoming expenses, you may realize it’s just enough, not a huge surplus. Without checking in advance you end up in the red before payday.
I often say that giving should be thought of as an expense and budgeted for. If you need to give more, you spend less, and vice versa - while saving an amount that aims at a stable future.
And if you come into a large sum of money and crunch the numbers to gauge how much it will provide over your lifetime, you may not feel that rich anymore. Of course a minority of people actually do have much more than they need, and that comes to light by doing a thorough review as well.
That projection is hard to do without being a financial planner, so let me give you an (oft-debated) rule of thumb. A retiree expects to spend 4% of their investment assets per year without going broke. By this logic, $100,000 might give them $4,000 a year for a few decades—not really enough to quit working, though it would sure be fun to spend it all at once. If this sum of money is all you ever can expect to get, you may regret giving away half of it to someone in need.
Of course, the person who receives your passionate gift is better off no matter the sentiment it sprouted from. But that may just be the sound of my deep ambivalence to private property, and not your voice speaking.
Thanks for all who helped me mull this over including Katie, Alicia, the Radical Planners, and the 62 friends who generosity shared their views with me. I’m so happy that I actually finished this.
*Responded No to “Do you identify as an anti-capitalist?”
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