How Money Destroys Relationships

Originally in ForbesMoney destroys relationships because people can’t compete with money. Money, after all, doesn’t disappoint you, or express disappointment with you.

It’s not that money is inherently bad or evil, but it’s not inherently good or righteous either. Money is simply a neutral tool that can be used well or poorly. It only has the value—the personality and the relational standing—that we give it.

One of the few criticisms I have of the movement to explore the psychology of money is its use of the phrase “your relationship with money.” Unintentionally, this gives money entirely too much credit by implying personhood. Indeed, if you have a “relationship” with money, you’re likely elevating it unnecessarily, and maybe even subconsciously devaluing those in your life who actually have a heartbeat.

How did we get here, to the point where we’ve personified—and in some cases deified—the “almighty” dollar? Yes, I’m sure it’s due to our culture of consumerism, the perpetual marketing machine, but I primarily blame institutions of which I am a part: the financial industry and the business that has grown up around consumer personal finance experts. In these realms, money has been made the goal or end, when in reality it is only the vehicle or means. What, then, can we do to relegate money to its rightful place?

First, we can better understand how we deal with money by better understanding ourselves.

What is your first memory of dealing with money? Typically, it doesn’t take more than a few seconds for us to recall our first allowance or cash gift, our first theft or childhood extortion. The incredible impact these experiences had on us is apparent. Events decades past immediately spring to mind. Would you rate your first money memory as a positive or negative experience?

Now take a few moments and jot down your prominent memories—both good and bad—of dealing with money, especially early in life. Include anything particularly impactful later in life as well: The job loss that forced an unwanted move away from childhood friends; the windfall that came just in time; the formative investment experience that burned or elated you.

Behavioral science suggests that our money-related hardwiring occurs largely in the first 10 years of life and that our proclivities—for better and worse—are formed by our experiences. Don’t be shocked to discover that the negative experiences seem to have an even bigger impact, as studies show we suffer more (about twice as much) from the pain of loss than we benefit from the joy of gains.

Consider creating a list of your most prominent money memories. Catalogue your estimated age, the event and the impact it had on you, positively or negatively:

“5 – Received an allowance – Felt great; my first taste of independence.”

“8 – Parents divorced – Horrible; insufficient income to manage two households.”

Keep going. See if you can come up with a Top 10 list of momentous money memories. Then review your personal money story and bask in the glow of self-awareness. It explains a lot, right?

Second, we can share our story with those we’re going through life with and learn more about their story. The number-one reason cited for the divorces that split more than half of American families is financial disagreement. This is because we have the capacity (and for some, the tendency) to demonize our spouses for their apparently wayward ways. “You’re a spendthrift!” “No, you’re a miser!”

Completing this exercise will help you see your spouse for who they are—a collection of their experiences. But don’t stop there. Share your money memories with your kids and ask them about their prominent memories (if you dare).

Lastly, it’s helpful to understand an economic term that could help improve your relational money dealings: sunk cost. Sunk cost is water that’s already gone under the proverbial bridge. The rational economist doesn’t weigh what has already been spent and can never be retrieved when making present financial decisions or future plans. The best plan forward is simply the best plan forward, regardless of the past. (That stock or mutual fund, by the way, doesn’t know the price at which you purchased it, and it doesn’t care where you want it to go.)

How helpful might this be in navigating your future? To acknowledge that what’s done is done, opening the door to forgiving your parents, your significant other, your children and, most importantly, yourself?

The good news is that people who see money as it is—a lifeless but effective tool—typically end up managing it better and often accumulate more of it in the long run. The great news is that people who don’t develop a relationship with money tend to have better, richer relationships with the living, breathing humans in their lives.

Finding and Mastering Fulfilling Work

Live Out Your Calling as an Artisan

Originally in ForbesYou likely feel as though you don’t have enough time to watch a video that is 17 minutes and 47 seconds, right? But what if watching it allows you to penetrate beneath the scar tissue of busyness and distraction and transform your view of work and the satisfaction you derive from it? Would it be worth it, then?

If you’re willing to watch the video, please feel free to stop reading here, because I’m convinced that, though seemingly out of context, you’ll get the point by the end of the video—the point that there’s a vastly different, far more rewarding way to do what we call “work” than what most of us have been taught and have experienced. It’s the work of an artisan.

craftsman working on stone isolated on hands

But first, a bit on the evolution and etymology of work: What’s the difference between a job and a profession? I ask this question more than you’d think, and the summary response I receive is, “A job is something you have to do while a profession is something you want to do. A job is a necessity—it puts food on the table—while a profession is something that you train for and build over time.”

Fair enough. What, then, is a vocation? The answer I hear most often is, “It’s a calling.”

Long thought to be the exclusive domain of pastors, priests and rabbis, it was actually a “man of the cloth” who invited me to consider that anyone—everyone—is worthy of a calling and in possession of a unique blend of skills and proclivities to be utilized in the service of their community, even if such a pursuit would more likely receive the label of secular rather than sacred.

That was a liberating thought to me. I didn’t feel called to the ministry, but I loved the notion that my purpose could be just as important as those who were in the soul-shaping business.

Although I don’t believe that one’s calling is always/only found in paid work, I dedicated myself many years ago to perpetually working toward work—a profession—that I felt I was made to do. (I’m getting there.)

Os Guinness, the great-great-great-grandson of legendary brewer Arthur Guinness, says our calling “… is ‘the ultimate why’ for living, the highest source of purpose in human existence.”

As much as I love a pint of his forefather’s handiwork, and Guinness’ poetic description, I fear that its grandiose implications may intimidate the skeptics among us. So in my book, Simple Money, I offer a list of features I’ve found consistent in those who clearly seem to be living out a higher-than-average purpose.

An activity, role or pursuit might be your calling if the following are true:

  • You can say without hesitation, “I love doing this.”
  • You’re good at it.
  • It’s life-giving—the activity generally doesn’t tire you (mentally, at least).
  • The activity is consistent with your values.
  • Your goals are complementary to your calling (and vice versa).
  • You’ve received recognition from multiple sources that this is “your thing.”
  • It benefits others.

(For more on this, see Chris Guillebeau’s practical new book, Born for This.)

But I think there’s a step even beyond a calling that not only is evidenced in the aforementioned video but everywhere you look for it: the people who are living out their calling as an artisan.

If you Google the word artisan, here’s what you find:

Screenshot 2016-05-27 14.46.10

Much like the definition of “calling,” I find the short definition of “artisan” to be unhelpfully narrow. What if we expanded the term beyond simply those who used their hands to make their work to those who adopt a similar philosophy and methodology. Then, I believe, we’d discover elements that would improve all of our work.

Artisanal work is:

  • Deliberate, almost to the point of being timeless. This doesn’t mean that it needs to be slow—Handel finished his legendary masterpiece, Messiah, in three weeks—but it’s certainly not hurried.
  • Effective, but not necessarily efficient. Who wants the most efficiently cooked steak or the most efficiently distilled single-malt Scotch? Efficiency is overrated while optimal effectiveness is under-delivered.
  • Creative, customized by the artisan and for the patron. It’s more one-of-a-kind than one-size-fits-all. It’s personal—allowing the artisan’s personality to come through—but it’s also personalized for the product or service recipient.
  • Beautiful, but without sacrificing its utility. While we might tend to think of artisans as artists, the term has historically been applied most often to tradesmen and craftsmen (and women, of course). The butcher, the baker and the candlestick-maker, if you will. This means there are artists who aren’t artisans and there are plumbers who are.

Are you an artisan? Yes, I realize that it is more conducive to some work than others, but what would it look like if you did the work in your job, profession or calling as an artisan?

Would the work be better? Would you enjoy it more? Would your customers or clients be more satisfied and more likely to do more business and to refer?

Instead of telling me how it can’t be done, consider how it might be.

(And if you haven’t yet, invest 17 minutes and 47 seconds in this video where an artisan singer-songwriter tells the story of how he connected with several other artisans to craft one of the most gorgeous—looking and sounding—acoustic guitars you’ll ever see or hear.)

You Can’t Do Anything You Want

Chris Guillebeau's Surprising Career Advice

Originally in Forbes“A lot of career advice begins right back at age six,” writes author Chris Guillebeau in his newest book, Born for This: How to Find the Work You Were Meant to Do. But in case you’re expecting some fluffy self-help propaganda that over-inflates your ego in an attempt to win your purchase of the book, Guillebeau hits you with a helpful dose of reality early and often:

Born For This“‘You can do anything you want,’ adults usually promise, without any explanation or assurance of how ‘anything’ is possible. Nice as it might sound to our young ears, this advice is absurd,” says Guillebeau.

Please don’t get the wrong impression. Guillebeau isn’t a bully or a browbeater. I actually find him surprisingly soft-spoken for someone who has built an enormous online following, written four bestselling books and created one of the hottest-ticket annual conferences in the World Domination Summit. He just refuses to buy into the implicit (and often explicit) promise of the many “success cult” leaders who sell books, courses and videos offering you a slice of their success if you’ll only follow their footsteps (across a pile of burning coals).

And why doesn’t following successful people necessarily make you successful? For at least two reasons:

1) You’re not them.

2) They’re not you.

How, then, does Guillebeau fill 300 pages with advice on finding your dream job, if not by telling you how he did it and imploring you to do the same?

Simple Money Is Here

A No-Nonsense Guide to Personal Finance

Unfortunately, personal finance has been reduced to a short list of “Dos” and a long (long) list of “Don’ts” typically based on someone else’s priorities in life, not yours.

But personal finance is actually more personal than it is finance.

Learn More and Get Your Copy of Simple Money

That’s why what works great for someone else may not work as well for you. Money management is complex because we are complex. Therefore, it is in better understanding ourselves—our history with money and what we value most—that we are able to bring clarity to even the most confounding decisions in money and life. As an advisor, speaker and author, I’ve made a career out of demystifying complex financial concepts into understandable, doable actions. In this practical book, I’ll show you how to

  • find contentment by redefining “wealth”
  • establish your priorities, articulate your goals, and find your calling
  • design a personal budgeting system you can (almost) enjoy
  • create a simple, world-class investment portfolio that has beaten the pros
  • manage risk—with and without insurance
  • ditch the traditional concept of retirement and plan for financial independence
  • cheat death and build a legacy
  • and more

Learn More About The Author

The problem with so much personal finance advice is that it’s unnecessarily complicated, often with the goal of selling you things you don’t need. Tim Maurer never plays that game. His straightforward, candid and yes — simple — prescriptions are always right on target. Jean Chatzky
financial editor of NBC's 'Today Show'

Here’s what others are saying about Simple Money:

“Reading this book is like having your own personal financial advisor.”—Kimberly Palmer, senior money editor at US News & World Report; author of The Economy of You

“You can’t manage your money without thinking about your life—and the system that Tim proposes can make a radical difference in both.”—Chris Guillebeau, New York Times bestselling author of The $100 Startup and The Happiness of Pursuit

“Maurer teaches us how to literally redefine wealth in a way that will both honor your life values and priorities while simultaneously reducing your stress.”—Manisha Thakor, CFA, director of wealth strategies for women for the BAM Alliance; writer for The Wall Street Journal

“Amen! Amen! Amen! Simplicity is a gift . . . and this book offers it by the truckload!”—Carl Richards, New York Times columnist;  author of The One-Page Financial Plan

Read more praise for ‘Simple Money’

SPEAKING: On Personal Finance

I'd love to speak at your next event!

Personal finance is more personal than it is finance. This is a message, grounded in science, that I’m privileged to share in various forms speaking for various audiences. Whether for an association of financial planners, a Fortune 500 company, an academic institution or a non-profit, my strategy is to ENGAGE, ENTERTAIN and EDUCATE your audience, giving attendees tangible takeaways to improve their lives and work.

10 Things You Absolutely Need To Know About Life Insurance

Originally in ForbesLife insurance is one of the pillars of personal finance, deserving of consideration by every household. I’d even go so far as to say it’s vital for most. Yet, despite its nearly universal applicability, there remains a great deal of confusion, and even skepticism, regarding life insurance.

Life insurance

Perhaps this is due to life insurance’s complexity, the posture of those who sell it or merely our preference for avoiding the topic of our own demise. But armed with the proper information, you can simplify the decision-making process and arrive at the right choice for you and your family.

To help, here are 10 things you absolutely need to know about life insurance:

  1. If anyone relies on you financially, you need life insurance. It’s virtually obligatory if you are a spouse or the parent of dependent children. But you may also require life insurance if you are someone’s ex-spouse, life partner, a child of dependent parents, the sibling of a dependent adult, an employee, an employer or a business partner. If you are stably retired or financially independent, and no one would suffer financially if you were to be no more, then you don’t need life insurance. You may, however, consider using life insurance as a strategic financial tool.

Behavioral Economist Richard Thaler’s Message to Advisors: ‘Nudge For Good’

Originally in MoneyDaniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky legitimized behavioral economics—the study of how people really behave around money, as opposed to how economists say a rational person ought to behave.


Then Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein applied the lessons of behavioral economics to everyday life with their book Nudge. The duo nudged so successfully that in recent years, their prescriptions have been put to work in corporate retirement plans—and even public policy—on a global scale.

When I spoke to Thaler to discuss his newest book, Misbehaving, a series of stories documenting the rise of behavioral economics, he told me that he has a message for those who seek to employ his methods:

“Nudge, for good.”

And why does he say that?

Should You Really Be Buying That?

How To Decide If A Purchase Is Really Worth It

Originally in Forbes“It was totally worth it.” In this case, “it” referred to a Vitamix blender that a friend recently had purchased. He wasn’t the first. Indeed, I don’t know anyone who has purchased a Vitamix blender and didn’t share my friend’s effusive sentiment, even after spending between $429 and $719 (for the new line of G-Series models). For a blender.

San Francisco, CA - April 2014: Tesla Motors model S sedan elect

But despite my appreciation for these friends and their opinions, I can’t help but notice their errors in judgment, explained by behavioral science, that, if followed, could lead to an unwise purchase for you or me.

To be clear, it’s not their purchase of the blender that I’m questioning. Rather, it’s their insistence that said purchase is a universal must. Worth, you see, is relative. What is “worth it” for you may not be “worth it” for me. Ultimately, determining the worthiness of your next purchase depends on many factors, but chief among them are 1) the joy you receive from using the product, 2) your personal cash flow, 3) how much you will use the product, and 4) the cost of available alternatives.

Riding the Elephant

Mastering Decision-Making in Money and Life

Originally in ForbesThe most compelling findings regarding financial decision-making are found not in spreadsheets, but in science. A blend of psychology, biology and economics, much of the research on this topic has been around for years. Its application in mainstream personal finance, however, is barely evident. Perhaps a simple analogy will help you begin employing this wisdom in money and life: The Rider and the Elephant.


First, a little background.

Systems 1 and 2

Daniel Kahneman’s tour de force, Thinking, Fast and Slow, leveraged his decades of research with Amos Tversky into practical insight. Most notably, it introduced the broader world to “System 1” and “System 2,” two processors within our brains that send and receive information quite differently.

System 1 is “fast, intuitive, and emotional” while System 2 is “slower, more deliberative, and more logical.” The big punch line is that even though we’d prefer to make important financial decisions with the more rational System 2, System 1 is more often the proverbial decider.

Many other authors have built compelling insights on this scientific foundation. They offer alternative angles and analogies, but I believe the most comprehendible comes from Jonathan Haidt.

The Keys to Effective Budgeting: Autonomy and Automation

Originally in ForbesMost people avoid budgeting because they consider it an exercise in repressive tedium. But it doesn’t have to be. By applying the science of motivation, economic evidence and the art of creativity, the apparent boredom of budgeting and saving can be remade into part a life-giving financial rhythm.

In his book, Drive, Daniel Pink teaches us that most institutions still use outdated science to motivate. Known as the “carrot-and-stick” approach, Pink demonstrates that the archaic addiction many organizations have to extrinsic motivation is far less effective than intrinsic motivation, which comes from within. The most successful resolutions are those autonomously motivated. In short, the word could is more effective than the overused should.

So, please hear this: Only budget if you want to, on your terms. It’s up to you.