I’d like you to go on a thought experiment with me. To do this properly, you’d need a really good imagination and you’d probably need to reflect on this for a number of days or a number of weeks – preferably with a friend/partner
You’re at work one day when you get a call from your eccentric uncle. He has something really important to tell you. He says he’s been keeping a secret for over 20 years. When you were a kid, he asked you to give him numbers for a lottery ticket and guess what… that ticket actually won millions. He lived like a monk and didn’t need the money so he invested all his winnings in US tech stocks and now they’re collectively worth £100 billion. He wants to cash out and give it all to you as he feels it is yours ……and you can’t talk him out of it.
A few months later, you have £100 billion in your name. What do you do? You never need to work again …ever. £100 billion is such an obscene amount of money that you don’t need to stress yourself starting a business with it or trying to do something clever. Face it .. you’d never need to work again and neither will your kids or your kids’ kids or your kids’ grandkids
Time for you to reflect
What would you do I ask again? Let’s start with the first 5 years. Would you fly all over the world living the baller lifestyle? 1st Class, Jets, 5 star holidays, 7 star, champagne lifestyle, audemars, lamborghinis, bugattis, e.tc.
OK – been there, done that, getting boring now…..what’s next? I wake up on a Monday morning and don’t know what to do with myself or perhaps I do know what to do – play golf/tennis/football all day but with whom? My friends are still working for a living and I just can’t trust the new friends that arrived after I won my £100 billion. Maybe I’ll just go shopping again. I’m a sensible person and have self-control, so I won’t fall into the trap of excess (debauchery, drugs, depression, alcohol). Then again, why not? It’s my money and I can do whatever I like within the Law. Scratch that, I might even be able to buy my own Island and set my own laws. Maybe I’ll start a movement, run for office, buy a football club e.tc Perhaps I’ll give it all to charity? Yeah right.
What do I do with myself? What was I put on this earth to do? What fuels me when I don’t need to climb the career ladder? Remember the amount is £100 billion -that’s 1000 million a 100 times. The amount represents an unlimited supply of money. I might try to stay in my mansions and do nothing, but that’s getting really boring. I’ve done it all and based on life expectancy trends, it’s looking like I have more than 60 years of life left. What do I do with myself?
Ladies and gentlemen – that’s the key question. What do I do with myself when I no longer need to work for money ever again?
Let’s wake up from the £100 billion dream now.
Am I doing what I would be doing if I had an unlimited amount of money in the bank? Probably not for most people – including me
Am I close to doing what I would be doing?
Do I even know what I’d be doing if I had an unlimited money supply?
Is it remotely possible that I could find a way of navigating to the thing I’d be doing with an unlimited money supply, despite having a limited money supply?
Perhaps it’s not just one thing that you would do if you had an unlimited supply of money. Given that humans are multidimensional, maybe there are a few things that you would do. Maybe not all at the same time. Maybe you’ll do certain things in your 30s and other things in your 50s
Understanding Your Why is the Cornerstone of Personal Finance
The purpose of the thought experiment was to get you to think about your WHY. What is the bigger picture? The more vivid your imagination, the better. The aim is to try to drill down to what matters to you deeply. What really matters when we strip out all the noise? This will vary from person to person and a useful tool is to ask yourself Why 5 times. A bit like a 5 year old would do. Here is an example to illustrate:
In my £100 billion dream, I wanted a Lamborghini
Why? – because it made me feel happy
Why did it make me feel happy? – because I’d be driving something that most people can’t afford. (nb – what if the cost of production fell dramatically and the manufacturer went loopy and decided to mass manufacture lamborghini’s and made them affordable to almost everyone?)
Why did I want to drive something that others can’t afford? – because I wanted to feel important and have the ‘respect’ of others
Why do I want to feel important and have the ‘respect’ of others? – because self -validation is not enough for me. I need others to validate me and make me feel worthwhile
Why do I need others to validate me and make me feel worthwhile? Because I’m a little insecure and care a lot about what others think
So – from this example, perhaps what I really need to deal with is my sense of self. Could I achieve that positive sense of self any other way than blasting a quarter of a million pounds on a Lamborghini?
Understanding your why takes time… it could take decades. Of course – some are lucky to know right away but others aren’t. As you begin to understand your why, the next step is to strip out all the ‘noise’ from the £100 billion experiment. You would gradually begin to identify the things that make you happy. There are things you do or experience that give you a lot of joy (or sense of fulfilment) and that don’t necessarily cost you a lot of money. Have you heard the saying “The best things in life are free”? I think there’s more truth to that than most of us realise.
Understanding your why makes personal finance decisions easier: that car, that school, that promotion, that career, that house, that holiday. The decisions are a little easier. It makes you consciously uncouple from what society dictates. You become a master of your own destiny. You feel braver to make decisions that others may think is bonkers because you understand your why. It motivates you to pursue things or not to pursue things. If after the £100 billion exercise, and thinking through your why, you realise that you need to make £10 million by the age of 40, then that fuels you to go all out to achieve it. You might decide that you’d actually be really happy relocating to the countryside and living off the land and starting a music school for older beginners. It’s all very personal to the individual/family but the closer it aligns to your why, the happier you will be.
Next Steps If You Want to Pursue This Further
Action: Cost your dream lifestyle
I’d like you to imagine your dream lifestyle (keeping in mind your WHY) and then cost it. Be as granular as you can. You will probably need an excel spreadsheet for this. This exercise will give you an idea of how much income (the magic number) you need to sustain your dream lifestyle
Next assess your current financial situation and consider how near or far away you are from this magic number.
You might be one of the lucky few who are earning their magic number in a job/career which represents precisely what they would be doing if they had an unlimited amount of money. However, I reckon that for the vast majority of us, this is not the case.
Now consider what you would be willing to trade off to get to that magic number faster. If you are not in the job/career you would be doing if you had an unlimited amount of money, begin to consider how to earn that magic number without being in that job. This might include saving and investing, thinking about side hustles e.tc. Could you begin to work to transition to a job/career/movement aligned with your why? What gives you the most joy? Could you have that joy aligned with your why by living a more frugal life? The reason I ask is that if the magic number is smaller, then of course you’ll get there faster and still be happy.
I hope you have enjoyed this thought experiment