One of my favorite conversations is to ask people about their last meal. Mine changes all the time, but right now it would be a Thai Feast with bowls and bowl of Pho, little slices of lime, Thai Basil, cilantro, Sriracha. We would have shrimp spring rolls, and beef and chicken too, and Bahn Mi, and for desert decadent chocolate cake, and ice cream or maybe just bars and coffee (those would be German not Thai). I would fly in all the people that I love to gather around the table, and we would laugh and tell stories and thank God for our life together.
Its morbid to think about your last meal, but I still love to do it. I would eat a lot of food on my last meal on Earth. An uncomfortable amount I think. A lot of desert too, because I love desert. The meal would last hours and hours, and would be served banquet style in my house. I would want it catered by Quang's (Minneapolis based restaurant that is about $7 per plate).
The thing is, any meal on this Earth might be my last, but I don't stuff myself with Thai food during every single meal. I sometimes manage to show a little restraint, and I eat quite healthfully. And sometimes I manage to keep myself from baking a desert (although once its in the house, restraint isn't my forte).
Why do I eat this way? Because even though I only live once, I still have tomorrow to think about. My vanity, my hope for longevity, and my desire to sleep soundly keep me from excessively overeating most days. I don't want to be the type of person who regularly overeats.
Its the same reason my husband limits his drinking, and my mom does Sudoku every day, and my older sister wears a FitBit. We make decisions today, with tomorrow in mind. We care about the choices we have tomorrow, and about the type of people we become. #Adulting.
Your choices today may change your decision set tomorrow
When we make financial decisions we constantly fight the battle between our present desires and a tomorrow that has no guarantees. Maybe tomorrow you'll get a multi-million dollar windfall inheritance which might make you feel a little bit dumb about skipping a bottle of wine on this week's grocery shop. Maybe the stock market will crash the day before you planned to retire early.
We want to live by platitudes like, "Hard work and dedication yield success." Or for the more post-modern set, we like to quote crazy Nietzche, "The essential thing ‘in heaven and earth’ is that there should be a long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living."
We like these quotes because they help us frame up life as less chaotic. Of course we can never guarantee an outcome, but we can (and in my opinion should) make decisions that are more likely to positively influence the outcome or not.
If I quit my job today, I may or may not be able to find a job tomorrow. If I work hard at freelance writing, I may or may not expand my client base. My nicely rebalanced portfolio may or may not outperform a 100% stocks allocation. However, I can make decisions that are more likely to influence the outcome than not. We can try to live in a way that helps us expand our decision set as much as possible, but at the end of the day, our choices may or may not pay off.
Instead of obsessing over how today's actions may (or may not) affect tomorrow's choices, I think we should focus on something with a few more guarantees.
Your decisions today will change your character tomorrow
Do you want to be more generous with your money in ten years? Then what do you need to do today?
Do you want to worry less about money in the next few months? What about your mindset needs to change today?
Do you want to be a better wife (or husband), a better friend, a better parent, a better business owner or a better employee? Do want to grow in wisdom, kindness, love, joyfulness or faith?
The way you think about and deal with money today will change the type of person you are tomorrow. When I talk about living with tomorrow in mind, I am much more concerned about the contents of my mind and my heart than the value of my portfolio.
I've recently been thinking a lot about a passage from the Bible, 1 Timothy 6:17-20. It says, "Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life."
For someone who has managed to gather a high degree of financial wealth in my lifetime, this verse struck me as being exceptionally important. What am I doing to lay up treasure in heaven? What am I doing to grow richer in good deeds than in dollar bills? How am I seeking to grow in generosity and willingness to share? Am I clinging to the life that is truly life?
Though it's important to make financial projections, to guess about income and lifestyle decisions, the most important questions to ask are about the type of people who will manage your wealth in the future.