Accountants and other financial professionals know that gyrations in financial markets prompt many of their clients to seek advice on money management. Lots of those requests are for guidance on how and when to spend money.
On a personal note, my client roster includes a couple I’ll call Flavia and Rudolph Colman. She recently met with me for advice on how to deal with marital problems arising from vehement differences with her husband on how they should spend their money.
Flavia dismisses his concerns. The way she sees things, it’s reasonable for them to feel at ease, particularly when she compares their financial stats with nearly all their neighbors.
And why shouldn’t she? Their annual earnings are in the middle six figures; they’ve moved more than $1,000,000 into their employer-sponsored 401(k)s and other retirement arrangements; their home would fetch north of $900,000; and they’ve already set aside about $150,000 in education funds for their youngsters, one age five and the other age one.
What especially exasperates Flavia is when Rudolph repeatedly recounts his fears that they could lose their jobs at any time and be without enough money to make ends meet, fears that explain, she says, why he’s unyielding in his unwillingness to spend money on things like vacations.
She attributes her husband’s concerns to his personal history, which includes working for an outfit acquired by another company that quickly proceeded to fire a number of his co-workers. Add to that event what happened when his father became unemployed several times, not to mention the turmoil experienced by his grandfather’s family during the Depression when they were repeatedly evicted from their homes and witnessed their belongings being tossed into the streets.
Unfortunately, in my experience, my clients are beset by problems that are in no way unusual. Lots of other couples become involved in interminable imbroglios about how to handle their finances, conflicts that so embitter their lives that they ultimately divorce.
We’ve all encountered people who spend recklessly or, as in Rudolph’s case, become penny pinchers because of what they learned as children from their parents on what money represents. Also, we’re aware that their stories don’t end identically.
So what happens when these children become adults? Some act essentially the same as their parents did, while others strive to go to opposite extremes.
My sense of Rudolph is that he’s unable to master the inner demons that continually warn him of the imminent loss of his job and assets, thereby making it impossible for him to enjoy life the way that he and Flavia could.
If Rudolph can come to understand why these fears bedevil him—easy enough for an outsider like me to sermonize—–that awareness will help to ease the strains in their marriage. What I emphasize to the couple is that his problems involve much more than just money.
My homily: I counseled them to get professional assistance on how to delve into the emotions behind their saving and spending. I recommended several accounting and financial planning firms known for their ability to set things straight when clients can’t manage money.
Acting on my advice, they met with accountants who helped them to discuss their feelings and focus on the underlying reasons for their spending and saving habits. Thanks to their adroit accountants, when to splurge and when to stint have ceased to be emotionally-charged issues.
At last report from my grateful clients, relief from those burdens now affords them all the time they need to engage in wearisomely protracted donnybrooks on proper ways to hang rolls of toilet paper and other equally existential matters.
Additional articles. A reminder for accountants who would welcome advice on how to alert clients to tactics that trim taxes for this year and even give a head start for next year: Delve into the archive of my articles (more than 180 and counting).
About Julian Block
Attorney and author Julian Block is frequently quoted in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post. He has been cited as “a leading tax professional” (New York Times), an “accomplished writer on taxes” (Wall Street Journal), and “an authority on tax planning” (Financial Planning magazine). More information about his books can be found at julianblocktaxexpert.com.