Guiding Principles: Experiences Not Things


Last week, I wrote about the importance of talking to our kids about money and making it a normal part of our everyday lives.  Today I want to share a story that captures some of the power and nuance money can bring to your family if deployed properly.

I am the father of five daughters between the ages of 14 and 21.  Three are in high school and two are in college. My wife doesn’t work outside the home and I have been a financial professional for the last 20+ years.  Needless to say, I’ve had my hands full juggling a career and a house full of lovely women.

Like most people, I was making less money in my early working years and, with five kids 6-years-old and under, I had to get clear with my money.  In fact, clarity often finds you. Buy a big house? Nope. Buy a fancy new car? Not a chance. Bespoke suits? I didn’t even know what bespoke meant.  So, when I say “clarity finds you,” it does. Because so many decisions are already made for you, it’s “clear” as to what you can or cannot do.

As the kids got older and we started to make more money, the waters got a little cloudier.  It wasn’t obvious we couldn’t afford a bigger house, a fancy car, or take beachfront vacations.  We couldn’t do all of these things but, perhaps, some. This lead to some in-depth discussions about what my wife and I valued and what kind of environment we wanted our girls to grow up in.

Digging deep into your soul to find what is truly important to you isn’t an easy thing.  Living in accordance with those values is even harder. And at the heart of all this is … money.

Really?  Money? Sounds a bit superficial.

Yes, money and it’s far from superficial.  Here’s why:

How we spend our money is a manifestation of what we value.  

If we value taking care of others, we will be generous with our money and provide for them.  If we value personal development, we will invest in ourselves. If we value living for today, we will spend on the things that make us happy right now and let tomorrow fend for itself.

For my wife and I, this was a turning point in our lives.  We had real choices to make.



How were we going to deploy one of our most valuable and limited resources – our money – to make a better life for us and our girls?  What values were we teaching our girls by how we talked about money, how we spent money, how we let money affect our lives? When they looked at us, what did they see?  Spending behaviors that were in alignment with our values? Or, something less?

After many, many discussions we came up with a few guiding principles for us and our girls to follow.  Not “rules” because life is too uncertain and the waters too murky to live in a black and white rules-based world.  Guidelines provide the right balance between guidance and flexibility.

Here are our guiding principles:

    • People before money
    • Experiences versus things*
    • Quality versus quantity
    • Spend unabashedly on the things you love, spend nothing on things you don’t
    • Protect things that are too important to lose
    • Prevention is the best medicine
    • You can always get more money
    • Time is more valuable than money
    • No birthday gifts
    • Just say no to the latest and greatest trends
    • Work hard enough in my job to pay others to do the work
    • Invest in yourself

There’s a lot to unpack here and I can’t go through all of them so I’ve picked one to dig deeper on.


Experiences Versus Things

A new family tradition began when my oldest daughter graduated from high school in 2017.  Upon graduation, each girl gets to go on a trip with just her and dear old dad to a location of her choosing (within reason, of course).

Yep, just the two of us off gallivanting together and getting into adventures and stuff.

The experiences are designed to serve as a right of passage of sorts for my girls and a special way for me to connect with them in a unique and meaningful way.

In 2017, Maddy and I went to Iceland.  Last August, Mia and I went on a jaunt through Switzerland and Northern Italy.




Both trips were beyond amazing and I couldn’t be happier with the memories we created and will share for the rest of our lives.

Which all sounds great. But, these experiences come with a cost.

In my case, it cost me a new car.


A Decision Years in the Making

As a subset of the “experience versus things mindset,” we decided fairly early on that we wouldn’t let big-ticket items control our lives.  These are things like homes, cars, boats, college, or weddings.

Big-ticket items like homes and cars can be particularly damaging to your lifestyle choices as they are extremely difficult to unwind them once you’re under their thumb.  Their impact is so great because you make a decision one time and have to live with the consequences years or even decades later.


Don’t overspend on big-ticket items such as a home or cars

Currently, I drive a 2007 Jeep Commander with 191,000 miles on it.  I bought it used (approx 24k miles) and haven’t had a car payment for many years.  My plan is to hold on to until it hits 200,000 miles, or it craps out, and re-evaluate from there.

The average new car payment is $530/month and the average used car payment is $381/month. If you average the two, it equates to $450/month or $5,400 a year. If you have $5,400 per year wrapped up in a car payment, that means you can’t spend that money on other things in your life.

For me, not having a car payment means I have an extra $5,400 per year I can put toward things I truly value – like a father-daughter trip to Iceland or Switzerland.

This is what I meant when I said these experiences come with a “cost.”  In my case, they cost me a new car.

For someone else, it may cost them season tickets to their favorite sports team.  Or, it may mean delaying retirement for a year.  Or, not taking a big family vacation and doing a less expensive staycation.

The point is ONE significant financial decision can directly affect many other decisions in your life. If you decide to take on a new car payment or buy a more expensive home, you are concurrently deciding to limit your ability to spend on other things.

The two things to take away from this piece are:

  • Be clear about who you are and what you value and spend your money in accordance with those values
  • Be extra careful when spending on big-ticket items particularly so if you are financing them. You don’t want one decision to control how you live your life years or even decades into the future.

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