Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Wealth perspective

While reading MillionaireMommyNextDoor, I came across a quote that I really liked:

"...if you and your family are going to be truly happy in having lived a rich and rewarding life, it is essential that they and you develop friendships and relationships outside the home. If home ownership has become too all-consuming for you, then maybe it is time you really consider downsizing your home investment. Our lives have meaning only in so much as we interact productively, emotionally, and spiritually with our community. Let us hope that, regardless of what happens to home prices in the future, we never lose sight of this important truth." - John Talbot, The Coming Crash in the Housing Market
While the topic of the book isn't particularly pleasant (unless you're into schadenfreude), the quoted passage resonates with my own values. I enjoy financial well-being as much as anyone, but I enjoy that financial well-being a whole lot less if I have to make a lot of sacrifices in my relationships to my wife, family, friends, etc. Like most good Asian boys, I was conditioned pretty early to want to earn a lot of money. Fortunately, lessons of coveting material wealth didn't sink in too deeply.

Ironically, the older I get, the more I worry about money, but the less I value it. I'm getting old enough now to care more about how I'm going to fund my children's college tuition, build up my retirement account, and deal with the inevitable bumps in life. At the same time, just earning money doesn't bring me any fulfillment in life and thus has limited personal value. Like everything else, it's a balancing act. Material wealth allows me to live my life, but attaining material wealth tends to hinder the act of living. The true key is realizing that wealth is the means to an end. What seems (to me) to have brought our current economic meltdown is that wealth itself became the destination instead of the vehicle. Greed--which I define here as the desire for more wealth for the sake of wealth--brought about the financially stupid decisions which lead our economy to the crapper.

But troubled times are also good times for reflection. Losing money, while never pleasant, is not the end of the world. Keeping the important things in life in perspective is more valuable than any of our worldly possessions.

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