As a financial planner, I am always intrigued by the behaviors regarding money that I routinely witness during this time of the year. As soon as the Thanksgiving dinner is cleared from the table (sometimes even before), conversations center around the holidays – the perfect gift for your spouse, tokens to remember colleagues and teachers, the hottest new games and gadgets for the children, ideas for those on your list who already have “everything.” It’s all about the material things that will bring smiles to the faces of the lucky recipients. We give gifts because that is what we do at this time of the year – it is a long-standing tradition.
The holidays pass, the crystal ball drops in Times Square and my phone starts ringing. It’s time to make those New Year’s resolutions a reality. This is going to be the year you get your financial affairs in order. To kick-off the financial planning process, I ask questions like “So, what do you want out of your life?” “What will make your life a good one?” “What will make you happy?” Of course, there are no right or wrong answers, but most people initially have no idea how to answer those questions. We all get so caught up on the hamster wheel of life, we never take a step back and ask what it is all about. Why are we running like crazy, always trying to get more or make more?
Ironically, when probed about what will bring real happiness and meaning to life, the answers are never about material things. It is unusual for someone to say they want to have x dollars in the bank or they want to own a multi-million dollar house or two. Rather, happiness lies in experiences that result in life-long memories, in time spent with those you care about, in giving your time and energy to causes you are passionate about, in spending your days doing what you love.
As you contemplate giving gifts this year, remember, that just like your life-long financial goals, it is not about the material stuff. It is not about how much you spend or how ostentatious the gift you give or receive is. That kind of happiness is short-lived and can quickly be forgotten when the next present is unwrapped. This holiday season, before you go shopping for that perfect present and spend more money than you should, think about the bigger picture – you want to bring happiness to others by showing your gratitude and appreciation. Their happiness becomes your own. That is what the holidays are all about – not material things.