Right now, I’m in debt-reduction mode, but the more I’m reading about personal finance, the more I’m thinking about my long-term goals. Currently, I have Nice Girls Don’t Get Rich: 75 Avoidable Mistakes Women Make with Money on loan from the library. It was written in 2005 by Lois P. Frankel, who also wrote Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office. She divides her advice into major categories like “Learning Money Basics,” “Saving and Investing for Future Wealth,” and “Maximizing Your Financial Potential at Work.” The first section, appropriately, is “Getting in the Money Game.” I’ll write more about the later sections in future posts, but today, I want to focus on that first section, especially since that’s where I am: just getting into this whole approach.
Change Your Thinking
Frankel’s opening advice is to shift your paradigm. Think about what you need to do to create wealth, not just live paycheck to paycheck and don’t be afraid to be wealthy! Like many people, I grew up with some distrust of the rich; they must be corrupt or cheating in some way to have what they have. I also grew up with a value system that didn’t emphasize bank accounts. Instead, family, security, and education were more important than having the right car or the biggest swimming pool. Of course, I’ve daydreamed about what it would be like to be wealthy. I do love shopping, so for a while my benchmark for wealth was a Neiman Marcus credit card. But, mostly, I haven’t ever thought I’d be someone who would be “rich.”
Like anything in life, building wealth takes clear long-term goals. I’ve been talking over the idea of “vision” with the future husband lately. When I think back in my life, many of my accomplishments came from a really clear visualization of what I wanted. Yes, I know I’m wading into The Secret territory a la Oprah, but you do need a dream that resonates with your deepest values in order to succeed. For me, ten years ago, I imagined my life in a small town, sitting on the front porch, prepping for classes. Along the way, I’ve had a million and one other ideas and thoughts, but I’ve always come back to that vision. I think that’s because the sense of stability and community that is the base of that vision lines up with my deepest sense of who I am. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to finally realize that vision. However, it took ten years, some clear plans and sacrifices, and some serious luck. My latest vision is me bringing lunch and fresh flowers to the future husband’s business on the main street of our town. Currently, his practice is in a town about twenty miles north of us. However, he’d really like to open one in the town where we live. Both of us are motivated by community and want to live in a place where we know our neighbors and the people who work around us. That flash of me walking over to his office on a bright, sunny day, with a basket full of tomato sandwiches and homemade bread, suddenly resonated with my strongest values.
Frankel says one big mistake women make is to not “balance the strategic with the tactical.” Here’s where the plan comes in. Yes, you have to set goals. And I think that visualization is a powerful technique to find the goals that really line up with who you are. I also think, for me, the details in such visions motivate me day to day. I can see that I don’t have to wait for that perfect day to nurture my family or create a loaf of bread. I can do those things now to make myself happy, and do other things to set us up for that bright, sunny day in the future. You have to have the big picture and then a realistic sense of the details it will take to get there. For us, we’ll need to save enough money to have a cushion as he brings a partner into his existing practice and opens up a new one. Ideally, we’d like to own the building as an investment. To save that kind of money, we need to pay off all our current revolving debt, spend less than we earn, and sock away the difference. To do that, we need a budget and a better sense of priorities when it comes to spending money. To stick to the budget, I have to make minor choices like whether to clip coupons or not and when to bring my lunch from home and when to buy coffee. Isolated from a vision, clipping a $1 coupon seems senseless, but in the context of a clear budget, it helps limit our grocery bills, which will help us save money, which can go to a down payment, which can lead to me walking down Main Street with my basket of goodies, secure in the knowledge that we have the money we need. Without a concrete plan, we’ll just keep letting money slide through our fingers. Apparently, based on my student loans, I can let about $10,000 a year do just that. If I change those habits, that’s a nice down payment in three years! Realizing our vision in three to five years seems totally realistic, but only with a good sense of the road map we need to get there.
Willy Loman’s Vision and Ben Loman’s Plan
In my American literature class, we just finished discussing Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. For those of you who haven’t thought about the play since high school, Loman is a 65-year old salesman without any pension plan. Over the course of the play, originally titled “The Inside of His Head,” Miller takes the audience through what he hopes “would literally be the process of Willy Loman’s way of mind.” Willy has a clear vision for his life when he is nineteen. His older brother Ben, who represents the “get-rich quick” approach to capitalism, tempts Willy with an offer to go out west. Willy wants to, but has a wife and family. Instead, he fixates on the funeral of a salesman who was famous throughout his territory. For Willy, this sense of celebrity seems to be the foundation of his idea of success. So, Willy certainly has a vision. However, the play ends at his sparsely-attended funeral after he commits suicide, so most audience members are left with the sense that he tragically never realized his dream. Clearly, having the dream is not enough. One thing that fascinates me is how Ben keeps popping up with his incantation “when I walked into the jungle, I was seventeen. When I walked out, I was twenty-one. And, by God, I was rich!” Every time Ben says that, Willy wants to know how he did it. Ben never reveals his plan. Certainly, this is a critique on the obfuscation that is necessary to exploit raw resources in order to drive the capitalist system, but on a simpler level, Willy is longing for the plan. He has no real sense of how to put his dreams into action. The only advice he can pass on to his sons is “to be loved.” If you’re popular, like that dead salesman, you’ll be rich. I’m learning that is not enough. As Finkel says, you need both things: a vision and a plan.