A financial advisor’s "Cure for Money Madness"

People are too obsessed with money and need to get over their irrational beliefs about it, so they can focus on living their lives. That seemed to be the main point of Spencer Sherman’s March 19 talk to the Wharton Club of Boston. Sherman is the author of The Cure for Money Madness.

Sometimes it takes a life-threatening experience to make your aware of your money madness. Take the case of Sherman’s friend Billy, who went swimming by himself off a Hawaiian beach. He panicked when he got caught in a riptide. Instead of swimming parallel to the shore, as experts recommend, he headed straight for the beach. Billy thought his life was over. His last thought before he was rescued? “At least I don’t have to worry about my finances any more.” Finally, Billy put his money into perspective.

Your irrational feelings about money, which are rooted in your childhood, spur you to make mistakes, said Sherman. For example, you may feel that your self-worth depends on your net worth. So you may “buy high and sell low” instead of the more desirable “buy low, sell high.” 

Sherman mentioned some techniques for developing a more rational approach. For starters, think about how you’d advise a friend who’s in your situation because it’s easier to be rational about someone else’s money. Would you advise her or him to buy this stock, build this addition to the house, or take this job? Sherman’s book has a section devoted to exercises and he offers presentations and free conference calls on money madness

One of Sherman’s suggestions surprised me. He’d like us to ask ourselves “How can we make our current financial situation the goal?” I’m so accustomed to financial advisors focused on growing their clients’ wealth instead of finding satisfaction now. Ironically, he said, when we stop striving for more, we see the possibilities in what we’ve got. The idea of making the most of what we’ve got seems very appropriate today. 

I liked Sherman’s exercise for adjusting to less wealth.
1. Together with your spouse or significant other, write down your spending intentions for 2009.
2. Figure out how to create a great life within the limitations of those spending intentions.
3. Cut your 2009 spending intentions by 25% or even 50%. Get creative about working within those limits. For example, instead of eating out, you could organize potluck dinners and spend more time with family and friends.

If you’re intrigued by Sherman’s approach, check out his website or one of his YouTube videos.