Category Archives: Advice to kids

Dear Jesse: Happiness Comes From Within Yourself

“Money can’t buy you happiness.” You’ll hear this when you get older followed by, “Only rich people say that.” I can see both points of view, but don’t confuse lack of money stress to happiness.  Happiness can only come from within and no amount of money or cars or outside things will bring you joy.

I read a report once about the link between enjoyment of life and the amount of money people make. Sixty thousand dollars seems to be the dividing line. The further down from sixty you go the less happy people are with their lives. After one starts making sixty thousand the responses were more positive from the participants. As a matter of fact, the relative happiness of people didn’t change much no matter how much more than $60k they made.

Sixty thousand isn’t a magical number; it just seems  $60k is the number where most people’s basic needs are met and so the stress associated with not having enough money is much less than for people making under that level. There’s a huge difference between not stressing out about money and being happy, though.

“Only rich people say that.” If you are a miserable person (someone who is unhappy all the time…don’t worry you’ll meet a bunch in your lifetime) without money you’ll also be a miserable person with money. If you are not happy with yourself, if you don’t like yourself, nothing you buy will bring any kind of lasting joy.

There are plenty of miserable rich people out there. People who never have enough of anything, who are constantly striving for more things in their portfolio to show people because they have a void in their life they are trying to fill. There is nothing out there in the big world that will fill your void if you don’t like yourself and aren’t happy.

I’m not telling you to sit around and not strive for success. By all means…get out there and be successful! Some of the greatest people I have met are people who like themselves AND have money and success. On the other hand, people who choose to live simply, who don’t have a lot of anything, are also tremendous people. Because they like themselves and don’t feel a need to impress other people or fill a void which is already filled with love and self respect.

If you find yourself, Jesse, not feeling good about life don’t bother trying to buy things to make yourself happy. And please don’t go into debt doing it! Stop your life and look around. Why are you unhappy? Talk with people; get therapy; talk with your parents. When you figure out what’s holding back your happiness…change that thing or rid your life of that thing.

You should have a basic level of happiness and add things to your life which grow your baseline. Make $100k a year? Great! Now you can save for retirement and take care of your mom and Janet. Have a best friend you love and adore? Wonderful! Go to Europe after graduation and have a ball. Meet the love of your life, have kids and grow old together? Super!

These things should add to your happiness, not MAKE you happy. Trust me, there are people who will do all these things and still be unhappy without knowing why. And there are people who have done none of these things and still enjoy every minute of their lives.

Money can’t buy you happiness, no (it can make life a lot easier, though) because true happiness comes from within each of us. Be happy, embrace yourself and live the life you want to live.

Love, Mom

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Dear Jesse: Set Goals In Your Life

I know I mentioned this before, but I want to mention it again: please consider reading Sonia Sotomayor’s autobiography My Beloved World. Here is a woman who lived her life with one goal in mind. She wanted to be a judge. Not only did she become a judge, she became a Supreme Court Justice.

When Sonia (since I read her book I feel very close to her and figure she wouldn’t mind if I called her Sonia) was little, a doctor told her she had diabetes and, at the time, she was told people with Type 1 diabetes didn’t live very long. Instead of giving up on any dreams or hopes she had, Sonia decided, “I better hurry up and get this done, who knows how long I have.”

Quite a few people would listen to their doctors and stop living to their full potential thinking, “why bother? I’ll be dead soon. No point wasting my time studying or learning.” But not Sonia, she buckled down and did everything in her power to attain the goal she had set for herself, a goal which originated by watching the TV show, Perry Mason, no less!

She set very specific goals for herself and, when facing a decision in life, made choices which aimed her in the direction of her choice. Right after Sonia graduated from Yale Law School, she had a choice between a lucrative private sector job where she would have made a ton of money and a job as an assistant district attorney making hardly any money. Which job did she take? Sonia took the lower paying job because it was the easiest way to get a lot of experience in a courtroom; the only real way to become a judge. She realized the money would come later. That’s focusing on your long term goal.

If you don’t set goals for yourself, Jesse, how are you going to know how to live your life? For example: if you decided, right now, to retire from work at 45 and you made that your goal in life it would be helpful to live with that goal in mind before you’re in your 40s, right? You might not spend money frivolously, like a lot of people do, if you knew you wanted to retire early and travel.

You have an advantage at your age: you have your whole life in front of you. You don’t have to decide today what you want to do with the rest of your life. But maybe, in the back of your mind, you should start thinking about what makes you happy and what you see yourself doing when you get a little older.

I’m not trying to pressure you or tell you what to do, I just want you to think about things. It may seem like a long time until you reach adulthood but you’ll get there before you know it and I just want you to be as prepared as you can be for your future. Set goals, get to know yourself a little and think about the future. You could start by reading a wonderful little book I found: it’s called My Beloved World.

Love, Mom

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Dear Jessie: Live Beneath Your Means

Along with the Golden Rule, I believe living beneath your means is the most important thing you can do in your life. This may seem like a simple statement to you, always spend less money than you make, but you might be surprised how many people can’t or won’t do this one simple thing.

If you make $50,000 a year, and you spend $75,000 per year, (please don’t read these numbers literally, I’m using them for simplicity) can you see a problem in your future? I’ll write to you later about debt and credit cards; just realize most debt is a really bad idea. Don’t try and keep up with your neighbors, focus solely on your finances and limitations. If you’re making $35,000 a year and driving a $40,000 car you are living above your means.

Now, if you made $75,000 and only spent $50,000 last year, saving and investing the remaining $25,000, you are living a life to be proud of, especially if you do this every year. Making more money per year, by a raise or a second job, doesn’t mean you should spend more. If you suddenly found yourself making $90,000 next year instead of $75,000, you should save/invest the extra $15,000. That would be $40,000 a year instead of $25,000 saved.

Let me give you another example. As you might have noticed, Janet and I bought a three bedroom (one of which is yours!) two bath condo (both of which seem to be yours) recently and you may be wondering why we did such a thing. The major reason is this: we believe in living beneath our means. Our condo cost $85,000 and we paid cash for it.

Janet and I could have bought a bigger, much more expensive house and used the $85,000 as a down payment. A lot of people would have done that and borrowed the rest of the money from a bank, in the form of a mortgage, making payments to the bank for thirty years. Having a big house (or expensive car) is only impressive if you’re not drowning in debt to own these things.

You are very young and retirement might seem like a long way off (especially since you haven’t even started working yet!) but it’s not. Trust me: one day you’ll wake up in your forties or fifties and look around at your life. If you haven’t prepared for retirement, and you should start now to make it easier, then you haven’t lived beneath your means. Don’t wait until you’re near retirement age and realize you haven’t saved any money for the future.

I’ve seen people who haven’t prepared financially and it isn’t pretty. Think before you spend money on frivolous things. Realize you are only on one step of your journey; a vast and varied journey through life. Prepare for this by saving and investing in your future. Money can be a great source of security or a wicked shackle dragging you down into the depths. Choose wisely.



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