Building Experience Assets for Greater Wealth

July 26, 2022

When we review our finances, we typically consider our taxes, household budgets, debts, and 401 (k) accounts. However, something else is hiding between the lines of your 1040 form and bank statement that is arguably one of the most precious and important assets you own ­– your experience assets. Experience assets aren’t some golden unicorn investment or stock you can purchase on the open market exchange. This class of assets can often feel like or be labeled as a waste of money, a bad investment, or even a poor use of precious funds. Still, I would argue that these types of assets often pay dividends well beyond any other type of investment and contribute to greater wealth. Henry Thoreau was on to something when he said, “Wealth is the ability to fully experience life.”

As a wealth advisor, I help clients with many things. I assist in setting financial goals, managing investments, and planning for retirement. One thing that often comes up, especially with newer clients is something along the lines of this sentiment, “Don’t be mad, I spent money on a boat, a camper, a vacation, a (you fill in the blank) and it wasn’t in my plan”. First, I must remind them that it’s their money to spend how they see fit, and secondly, I’ll start to ask them questions about this “don’t be mad at me” purchase. Here’s an illustration of what I mean:

Claire comes to my office for our regular check-in meeting. Before I can even ask how things are going she flashes me a look like that of a toddler who just did something they know they aren’t supposed to and it’s time to fess up, she blurts out the phrase, “You’re going to be mad, but I have to tell you my husband and I bought a camper and took a vacation to Mexico with our group of friends, and it wasn’t something we discussed in our plan. I know we probably shouldn’t have spent that money.” I smile, and she gives me a half smile back, unsure of what my grin really means. I understand why she may respond this way. Many popular financial experts today use shame and guilt to push people towards the money behaviors they think they should have. I’m here to tell you, that using shame regarding finances is not only unhealthy, but it’s also damaging. My response, “Claire, it’s your money to spend, how you choose. Is camping something important to your family? Is exposing your children to nature and different places something you value?” “Yes”, she says. I reassure her, “What you may have given up in financial assets, you have now gained in experience – and that is what building wealth is all about.”

At Wymer Brownlee, the ultimate goal of investing and financial planning isn’t about the accumulation of monetary wealth but what you can do with your wealth. It’s about how you are free to spend your time and the experiences you get to share with those you care about. Wealth is exploring all the national parks in your camper with your family, nurturing relationships and connecting with friends in a new city, or simply having the time to do the things you love with those that matter most. It’s these experience assets that make life worth living and saving for.

Blog by Stephen O’Neill, Senior Wealth Advisor

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