How does money figure into a happy life? Behavioral finance expert Brian Portnoy delivers an inspired answer based on the idea that wealth, truly defined, is funded contentment. It is the ability to underwrite a meaningful life.
His latest work, The Geometry of Wealth, bridges the philosophical and practical gap in managing money in our lives.
“Money does buy more happiness when spent wisely, especially when directed toward experiences, others, and time.” -Brian Portnoy
You point out that millions of Americans have not saved a dime for retirement. Why is this? Will this eventually cause a crisis or is this typical and then people catch up?
The lack of retirement preparedness stems from a combination of opportunity and mindset. In the context of real wages for many Americans having not risen in more than a generation, many are barely able to make ends meet, let alone build a nest egg. Beyond that, financial illiteracy is a major problem. As a society we don’t take seriously the need to understand the many facets of saving, spending, and investing. Further, humans are generally wired with biases that undermine smart money decisions. This mix of factors is at the root of the looming retirement crisis in America. Far too many have saved far too little, and there are no obvious solutions that don’t involve quite painful decisions.
“Nothing is enough for the man to whom enough is too little.” -Epictetus
Your model is in three parts: purpose to priorities to tactics. Part one is purpose, which is not a typical starting point in many financial books. Talk about the importance of purpose in this context.
Let’s step back and ask, “What are we all trying to accomplish here?” I think an answer that mostly everyone would get behind is that we want to be happy; we want to lead a good life. Okay, fine, but how do you do that? It’s obviously a massive question, with countless angles from philosophy and religion and other domains. Money, for better or worse, is an inescapable part of the discussion. There are certain unavoidable practicalities of what we can afford and how those help to underwrite the lives we want to lead. By putting purpose first, by being thoughtful – not just once, but over time – about where we find joy, then we are much better able to have our financial decisions support that quest. This is the opposite of what many unfortunately do, which is let the desire for and experience with money determine what we do in life.
“True wealth is the ability to underwrite a meaningful life.” -Brian Portnoy
Would you clarify the difference between charitable giving and a corporate social responsibility program?
Charitable giving and corporate social responsibility are often used interchangeably. However, we’ll sometimes see articles and books describe them as being completely different animals. The truth is, they are not exclusive of each other, but they are a little bit different. Charitable giving encompasses donations or grants made to a nonprofit organization. If you’ve ever made a donation to fund cancer research, for instance, this is a form of charitable giving.
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) can include philanthropy, but these programs have other functions, too. A company might design a CSR program, for instance, to improve the well-being of its employees, the environment, and the community around it. A company with a CSR program might partner with a nonprofit to keep at-risk teens in school by enrolling them in training and educational programs. Companies with CSR programs encourage volunteerism, their employees volunteer their time and talent to help a local nonprofit. It’s not uncommon for a company with a CSR program to reduce its carbon footprint by making changes like installing solar panels or energy efficient lighting, or doing away with Styrofoam in its packaging. All of these are examples of CSR.
The main thing to remember is that both charitable giving and corporate social responsibility are important. A company doesn’t need to adopt one over the other. Which term you use to describe your program will depend on whether you decide to go strictly with philanthropy, create a full CSR plan, or maybe even develop a hybrid—donations plus action. It’s really up to the company. The bottom line is, there is no “wrong way” to give.