oracle of louisville

What Do the Happiest People Know about Spending?

Two cups of coffee with a leaf design in the foam.

No matter their savvy or experience level, most investors would probably agree that money is a means to an end. It’s not an end in itself. You could have all the cash and all the stock certificates in the world, but you can’t eat them or burn them for fuel. They make terribly inefficient insulation. They’re less fun than a deck of cards.

But when it comes to deploying our money to optimize pleasure, finding joy can be more of a challenge than you’d think. One reason? Psychologists call it the “hedonic treadmill”: our brains are so good at getting used to things that they will keep chasing new pleasures, new experiences, and the next thing that will bring us a boost.

In terms of our spending, this means that we get used to fancy new gadgets sooner than we think we will. Luxury goods lose their luster as fast as anything from the bargain bin.

The danger is that if we don’t notice that we’ve started running from one thing to the next, the costs mount and the returns on enjoyment diminish.

Consider how we make decisions the larger the ticket price gets: housing and transportation are huge outlays, and they make up sizeable portions of many household budgets.

Is the purpose of buying a new vehicle to replace a family car, to enjoy the everyday pleasure of being able to get reliably from point A to point B? Or is this “for fun,” for the joy of driving and being seen driving a particular make or model? If this is fun money, are you okay with the fun that might be given up, if the money goes toward this one decision?

It’s okay to deploy our discretionary spending however we see fit, but we might do well to remember something powerful: we shouldn’t underestimate how gratifying even the smallest of joys can be. In fact, sort of like the effects of compound interest, routine doses of fun can go much farther than those fewer, farther-between spending sprees.

This is why it’s vexing to hear a little treat like a latte get such a bad rap. As writer Laura Vanderkam explains, such “small, repeated pleasures” have the power to give life a lift, regularly. And better, even a lifetime of $3 lattes will not sink your longer-term goals the way that a $300,000 status symbol—like houses or cars truly beyond our means or needs—could.

So what do the happiest people know about spending? That if you want more of that proverbial bang for your buck, think more about the frequency than the size of life’s pleasures. The big stuff may be overrated, in that humans tend to overestimate the impact that large purchases will have on their happiness.

Tending more often to your joy and enjoyment as you spend? Now that sounds like a nice way to direct your time and money.

Want to talk more about how your money is working for you in your everyday life? Let’s visit, anytime.

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A Wealth of Stuff

Our stuff is not the most important part of our financial planning, but it can certainly be part of it. As you look around at the things of your life, we hope that you see them as a reflection of and tool toward your goals—as part of a happier, healthier, and more sustainable financial future.

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Would You Rather… Have a Pot of Gold or Have an Orchard? 

When I was young, I pictured my retirement account as a pot of gold. It would be there at the end of the rainbow, when my career is done, to fund my retirement.

Talking with folks, it seems like the pot of gold is the type of thing lots of people think about when the subject is retirement. Whether it’s finding their “number,” amassing a big enough balance to feel “safe” enough to retire, or hitting a nice round goal like $500,000 or $1 million, the lump sum is the thing.

The challenge with thinking in lump sums is, we live our lives moment to moment, month to month. We have food to buy every week, bills to pay every month, and holidays or travel or projects to fund every year.

In other words, life happens with recurring income—not a lump sum.

A pot of gold sounds nice, but when you take gold out to do something or buy something, it’s gone: you can only spend it once. This may be why some people with substantial resources still don’t feel comfortable with the idea of hanging up their earning power. They’re stuck on discrete balances instead of ongoing flows.

Long ago I realized that what we need in retirement is an orchard, not a pot of gold. The orchard produces a fruit crop, and the crop is what meets our income needs for a year. And when it’s over, we still own the orchard! Next year, another crop. When the orchard is sustainable and can produce a fruit crop big enough to live on, we’ve become financially independent—and don’t need to sell our labor to pay our bills, anymore.

One of the best things about the orchard is that it does not matter how long you live. If the fruit crop each year is big enough, you won’t run out of resources. We tend the orchard and keep it healthy enough to supply the crop.

And when you are done with it, “you can’t take it with you” as they say, so the orchard gets passed down to people or causes you love. You don’t just leave an empty pot, where the gold used to be. Instead, the ground can be made ready—for whatever’s next.

Email us or call if you’d like to talk about turning your pot of gold into an orchard.

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It’s Never Too Early, and It’s Never Too Late

Quite a bit of the news around retirement research focuses on shortfalls. How many of us have heard a headline lately about how many people aren’t saving enough for retirement or aren’t hitting their retirement goals? 

It can sound bleak. But when you get into the numbers, things are a little more nuanced. (Examples: people sometimes overestimate what they think they’ll need, and even when they “fall short,” people tend to make do with however much they do end up with.) 

According to survey findings from Allspring Global Investments, most retirees agreed that they were glad they had started preparing for retirement when they had… but most retirees also wished that they had started earlier. Turns out humans are a tricky bunch to satisfy! 

Retirement is such a huge topic, and our emotions around it can affect how willing we are to take a closer look at our situation. We don’t need to let fear call the shots, however. Avoidance is a survival skill, not a “thrival” skill. 

“Being clueless about money is no longer affordable,” writes Kate Levinson in her book Emotional Currency. (Ouch, right?) But Levinson points out that this challenge is also an opportunity: any day is a great day to get started. 

Not only is it never too early to get started, it’s also never too late to get started. Ever ripped off a Bandaid or taken a flying leap into the deep end? Ever opened that email or that bill you were dreading? 

Ever crossed a finish line after you thought it would be impossible to even get started? In the face of the unknown, it’s easy to let fear tell us stories about how hard things will be. We don’t have to accept the first story our fear tells us. 

Instead, let’s let the journey be as pleasurable as it can be. We can embrace this very moment as the best possible one to take the next step. It’s never black-and-white. Sure, maybe we could’ve started yesterday, and after all, there’s always tomorrow. 

But it’s also really nice to be here with you, today. Call or email us, any time. 

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Rolling with the Punches

Our daily struggles might have more going for them than we first think. Imagine tripping on the coffee table and thinking, “Gee, it sure is nice to have toes to stub!” A little perspective goes a long way. So “rock bottom” may sound like a terrible place to find oneself, but it also could make a solid place to push off from. This week’s video: a serious lesson from a funny show. 

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So, What’s Included? The Value of a Research Team 

Clients, since becoming an SEC-facing Registered Investment Advisor, we’ve been bulking up our in-house processes. There’s more documentation, but there’s also more intentionality: we have to know what we’re doing and why.

You’ve probably heard it before, but we often talk about our work in terms of three key activities. The first, of course, is the work we do with you. We meet, we talk, and you let us get to know the story of you. The other two are investment research and portfolio management. With the increasing wealth you’ve brought to us, these activities are more important than ever.

So what’s included in that work? Here are some of the things we like to think about (which means you don’t have to!).

Trying to discern which daily or weekly or monthly events are most relevant to the long run. Not all “market moves” are created equal. Movement can come from investors’ expectations for and reactions to even the littlest of day-to-day events. How do we recognize which will matter in the next year, five years, or fifty years? We try to learn from history; we try to understand where things might be headed next. (And, spoiler alert, our choices are rarely driven by knee-jerk reactions or TV news). We do our best to bring some perspective to our choices.

Managing the players in our investment universe. Companies come and go. They can split. They can consolidate. Some industries are seasonal or cyclical; some do better in tough times, and some boom when others do. Part of our work is keeping an eye on the wider investment universe as well as our active lists. We’re always monitoring some number of prospective players who haven’t quite made the cut, watching for the moment they might reach bargain status. Doing our own analysis is crucial before a holding gets promoted to the Buy List, and even then, we’re always reviewing our criteria as a team as each holding’s story continues to unfold.

Finding and following patterns and changes in our everyday lives. Investing, for us, is not about what’s happening in boardrooms around the world. It’s more about what’s happening in our backyard—and yours! “Your money, your life” is about how you choose to save and spend your resources but also about connecting your money to the real life you lead. What does it mean to own a piece of the action? Well, it means that we pay attention to what we’re seeing in our real lives today and try to imagine the advances and opportunities of tomorrow. Here’s a taste of the research questions we’ve been asking in recent years:

  • How is the pandemic affecting retail? What’s the future of delivery look like? What sort of shopping experiences will people come to expect? How do technology, consumer behavior, and the supply chain affect each other?
  • What’s happening in the energy revolution? How are energy sources changing? What materials and services will be necessary in the next chapter? How will renewable resources continue to change everyday life? How will the evolution of the automobile continue to unfold?
  • How are devices shaping our work, schools, and homes? As demand grows for semiconductors and screens, who may be positioned to meet that demand? Which companies may benefit from the changing technological landscape?

There are, of course, other pieces that are just part of the research process. We try to practice good humor and compassion, to sprinkle in some folksy metaphors—and to bring our enthusiasm!

And while there’s no sense in trying to put a value on any of the individual line items discussed here, we do think they’re worth mentioning. We love to work hard for you, and with you.

Thank you for joining us. Reach out, anytime.

Investing involves risk including the potential loss of principal. No investment strategy can guarantee a profit or protect against loss. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results.

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Dare To Be Different

There may be no “I” in team, but we do think there’s still room for individuality. Teamwork doesn’t get us very far if we lose sight of our values in the process, so it matters whether each player is able to trust her gut. What does megastar Taylor Swift have to teach us about this topic? More, in this week’s video.

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Defining Success: Working Hard or Hardly Working?

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So many financial topics intersect with work topics. There are retirement goals, pensions and employer plans, income and benefits, career outlook, possible commuting expenses—the list goes on!

In talking with many of our friends, however, the work topics that have the biggest impact on how we feel day-to-day are a little less concrete. It’s sometimes less about the numbers and maybe more about how we think about our work or how we define success.

Success can be measured in multiple ways; it doesn’t have to be based on the type of career or how lucrative it is. Maybe it’s more about who we get to be at work. Maybe some people achieve success from the relationships they build professionally or the joy they bring to others through their work. Some might enjoy a good competition to feed their ego, while others may be proud just to make it through the day.

The hit sitcom The Office depicts everyday work life for the employees of Dunder Mifflin Paper Company, a seemingly mundane office setting in Scranton, Pennsylvania. The office is managed by an eccentric “man-child” who spices up day-to-day activities with crazy stunts along with his maniac second-in-command, Dwight. Michael couldn’t care less if his staff meets quotas every day: he just wants his work friends to be happy. To live life to the fullest.

Somehow, even with all the shenanigans that happen at work, the job gets done. Each character explores their passions, navigates life, and shows us that success isn’t all based on the money you have in your bank account. We can enjoy the little triumphs and give ourselves credit when it’s due.

Now for a little fun… Which character resonates with you? Here are a few fan favorites from The Office lineup: each has their own strengths, goals, dreams, and relationship to their so-called day job.

Michael: Creative, Childlike, Optimistic

  • Michael dances to the beat of his own drummer. He resists going along with the crowd (sound familiar?), and he won’t waste time doing something that doesn’t bring him joy. He finds fulfillment through companionship—and bringing out the best qualities in his colleagues. Success, to him, is living up to the text on the coffee mug he bought for himself, to be the “WORLD’S BEST BOSS.”

Dwight: Analytical, Competitive, Committed

  • Growing up on a farm with his (peculiar) family made Dwight skeptical of “city folk” and anyone who didn’t share his views. But this makes him both curious and thorough in his research as he makes decisions. His ways might be strange to others, but he knows they are right for him. His sense of success comes from earning the promotions and respect he’s always desired.

Jim: Clever, Efficient, Funny

  • Jim really exemplifies the “work smarter, not harder” philosophy. He’s one of the highest producers in the office, but he puts in the least amount of effort. The efficiency in his work allows him to spend his time doing things he enjoys—like creating elaborate pranks on Dwight or meaningful gestures for his romantic interest, Pam. Some might see him as lazy, but he gets in and out so that he can prioritize what’s important to him. His success lies in finding gratification in the small things.

Pam: Practical, Passionate, Thoughtful

  • Pam is always looking for ways to improve herself and the systems and spaces around her. She knows what she is passionate about, and with support, she will take chances toward her dreams. She learns, grows, and ends up changing her mind about things a time or two, but she has the ability to end up where she wants to be. Pam shows us that as long as we have a plan, and we keep our values in mind, it’s never too late to try. Her success comes from learning along the way and being there for those she loves.

These characters, although fictional, remind us that it’s okay to take “serious” topics like work a little less seriously. Sure, we show up to work, we do what needs to be done, but what we get out of the experience may be more up to us than a paycheck.

Everyone is unique, so we will all take different paths to get to where we want to be. We choose how we define success. Does anyone’s approach sound like you? We would love to find out! Call or email us to chat.

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“You Have As Many Hours In A Day As Beyoncé!”

What would happen if flowers bloomed all hours of the day, every day of the year? Would we still appreciate the beauty?

Humans and plants have one thing in common; we can’t be at our “best” every single day. We struggle, we grow, and when we bloom, it is beautiful. We are allowed to give ourselves some time to produce new fruit.

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Where Does the Treasure Map Lead?

We believe in saving for the future, but the present is where we live. Your retirement flow might go toward any mix of spending: cash for bills, a stash for unexpected events, or maybe it’s for that adventure in the Florida Keys! None of it takes a pile of money: instead, we tend the orchard for the fruit crop.

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