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The Wealth Comparison Game is Unproductive…Here’s Why.


I was discussing some business strategy with another financial professional earlier today and was asked, “What’s YOUR plan for retirement, and does it align with your wealth plan?”

I ask people this same question in one form or another all the time, but it’s a boring conversation to have with myself in my head. It has to compete with other critical thoughts such as, “How good will the University of South Carolina Gamecocks be this football season?”

The question was directed at me as an individual, and the answer was not intended to be a “we” answer. Purposely.

Answering it out loud was productive. I took a lot of notes and want to share them.

A lot of people talk about “their number” – how much wealth they need to be happy. I discovered I don’t have a “number.”  To me, wealth is my ability to do whatever I want, whenever I want. How much money I have is only a component of my overall wealth.

What I want to do and when I want to do it means I’m playing my own game and not someone else’s. Therefore, it is unproductive to compare my scoreboard to anyone else. Either I’m able to do what I want when I want, or I’m not.

That’s MY benchmark.

If someone has something nice (a home, car, boat, etc.), but I don’t want it, that possession is not something I use to benchmark my wealth.

Using my definition of wealth means someone with $50m could feel less wealthy because my wealth is about my personal happiness and well-being. Things that make me happy may not be what makes someone else happy.

So I can’t compare my wealth to $50m – they are entirely different things. Really, I can’t compare my wealth to ANY amount ANYONE has.

My wealth is also unique because, with no kids, my cash flow needs are different from others.  Again, I’m playing a different game than others. Cash flow to fund a married lifestyle through second to die is prioritized over transferring wealth to extended family and fulfilling charitable desires. Something will be leftover for those two things, but the amount won’t come at the expense of a lifestyle. Success may end up looking like there is only $1 in the bank after the second to die.

I found myself returning to something I’ve been saying for a while…a portfolio is not designed to be a piece of art that one looks at, admires, and feels good about.  A portfolio is a tool designed to provide utility, and that utility is the freedom and ability to do what you want when you want.

For me, wealth is freedom, and freedom provides me with happiness and well-being.

I didn’t discover anything new from the conversation, but I successfully realized that my perspective and plan were solid and aligned with the conversations I’ve been having with myself and my wife.

I’m relying on my wealth to provide me with happiness and personal freedoms, not a number.

That makes me feel good. Let me know if you want to figure out what wealth means to you, too.

Keep looking forward.

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David B. photo

David B. Armstrong, CFA

President & Co-Founder

Dave got into the industry when he discovered his passion for finance in his mid-20’s. He’s a combat veteran and served as an officer in the United States Marines Corps on both active duty and in the reserves, retiring at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. While serving on active duty, Dave was unable to spend money on deployments, so he became a self-taught investor. Along with a few bucks cash as a bouncer, his investing performance grew to be good....

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