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When I was a partner at Arthur Andersen, we were enveloped by the Enron scandal and suddenly a business of 60,000 people came to an end. It was a personal tragedy for many. What struck me was the difference in attitude around the offices. For one person, they lived the highlife, but everything was on hire purchase or rented – the flat, the Porsche, etc. For another person, they had savings and they could live frugally for 6 months without pay.
Same pay. Different anxieties
For you to find Freedom and Joy at work, it requires a very different attitude to income and money. I don’t promise the unattainable ‘high-life’ that some people claim is financial freedom – like the fast cars, and posh cruises. Instead, I would like you to explore a new world, where you have the financial buffer to live your dreams and choose the income level that gives you freedom. I know people who have increased their income, and others who have happily traded stress and toil for more joy at a lower income.
So often our attitude to money is shaped by our parents’ attitude to money. It may be we have accepted it and taken it on board or, alternatively, rebelled against it and taken an opposite approach. My parents lived through the 2nd World War rationing and post-war austerity. My father, a Cambridge academic employed by the Medical Research Council, was financially cautious and frugal throughout his working life, setting aside money that would supplement his index linked final salary pension. In reaction, I was ready to make less conventional career choices and become an entrepreneur ready to risk both capital and income to pursue my dreams. Sometimes I have run out of money completely. Other times I have had a six-figure income. Contrast my youngest brother who moved from the UK civil service to the European Commission for a career with strong financial guarantees, clear paths for progression, an attractive early retirement age and a pension backed by the financial might of the EU institutions.
Testing your attitude to money
An interesting litmus test for your attitude is an unexpected windfall. Is a windfall an opportunity to enjoy a short-lived extravagance or pay the deposit for an even bigger financial commitment (borrowing for a boat, car or house)? Perhaps you would choose to pay off debts, increase your savings and top up your pension? Or maybe you decide to give to your children or good causes? Perhaps you ‘invest’ in training for your career, a new business opportunity or enhancing the value of your home?
You can learn even more about your attitude to money when you experience a sudden shortfall. It could be losing your job, unexpected house repairs, replacing a car or (increasingly likely) losing money in a scam. Do you have the savings to draw on? Or max out the credit cards? Or sacrifice your discretionary expenditure such holidays, eating out, entertainment, clothes. Or go further and look for savings in every aspect of your expenditure: change your daily shop from Waitrose/M&S to a weekly planned menu shopped at Lidl, trade down to a cheaper car, cancel club memberships?
A survey in 2014 found that 7.4 million British adults had difficulties sleeping because of worrying about money. Yet, we are amongst the richest societies in the world. A major component of financial freedom is to adjust your spending to move away from fear. Then you prioritise what you spend on and what will offer you freedom and joy. I have worked closely with leaders of one of the UK’s top debt counselling charities. Financial fear cripples every aspect of life for those overwhelmed by debt, destroying relationships, physical and mental health and ultimately taking live.
A powerful thought experiment
A powerful thought experiment that can free you to make new choices with your income is a simple three step process:
- Imagine your income increased by 40% overnight: month in, month out it moved from say £10k per month to £14k per month. How would you invest in yourself? How would you start to build your dream for the future? How might you invest in your family or your community?
- Imagine your income dropped by 40% overnight: month in, month out it moved from say £10k per month to £6k per month. What changes would you make?
- Now imagine you implemented the changes in step 2 in order to release the funds for step 1?
Once you have completed this thought experiment, you will have had the opportunity to open up a set of possibilities you might never otherwise have considered. Perhaps you will decide to set aside £4k per month to build a different kind of future. Maybe you will look to increase your income by £2k and reduce your expenditure by £2k to create £4k to invest in step 1? Maybe £4k is too big a stretch but you can find £2k a month by increasing income and reducing expenditure.
An alternative approach would be to reduce your hours so you can invest more time in building a different future (less money more time). Many of the people I talk to are looking to free up 1 day a week in order to build an alternative workstyle, with a view to transitioning to a new way of living and working as a Portfolio Executive, with a commitment to fee earn just 3 days a week while maintaining or increasing their income.
Financial freedom is more an attitude of mind than a target for income or assets. Examining how your dreams can be achieved, by freeing up time and financial commitments to invest in a new future, can be more important than working harder and harder to chase more and more income while increasing spending and incurring more debts.
Charles McLachlan is the founder of FuturePerfect and on a mission to transform the future of work and business. The Portfolio Executive programme is a new initiative to help executives build a sustainable and impactful second-half-career. Creating an alternative future takes imagination, design, organisation and many other thinking skills. Charles is happy to lend them to you.