“Oy! The bloody newspapers cut Dylan into half in the 2 page spread!” my mother exclaimed into the phone vigorously. “And why is the photo so drama? You look like some dynasty matriarch or something…” It was early in the morning in Australia on a business trip and I had no idea what she was on about.
Finally I recalled that I had been interviewed by the Sunday Times for their Invest section’s “Money & Me” interview where they feature a different type of investor every week answers their questions on their growing up years, investment philosophy, relationship with money and so on. The reporter who had previously written an article about my business Legacy Retreat, thought I’d be a good addition to the mix given my active trading and investing background.
I was quite surprised when I got back home to a flood of emails, and not all of them from my mother at that! It seems that a few Singaporeans had found my email at the Legacy Retreat website and wrote lovely emails to me saying that they had appreciated my thoughts and candour. Others said that my humble growing up years gave them hope for self-made investing success and asked me to consider mentoring them. A few friends thought I should have been a little more circumspect.
Personally, I was a little disappointed that Straits Times has cut out substantial pieces of the interview where I spoke about philanthropy and philosophy, while leaving in random details like what kind of car I drove. But one learns these lessons, onwards and upwards!
Money really is a fascinating taboo, probably the last one in this day and age when people happily spill every last gory detail of their lives on Facebook.
Yet our relationship with money is the longest-running relationship we’ll have in our life. Even before we’re born, our parents’ finances dictate what prenatal care we have and what sort of hospital bed we’re born into. And long after we’re gone from this earth, what we’ve spent our money will continue to affect others and influence our children, making it a legacy issue.
The paradox is that the healthier your relationship with money, the less hold it will have over you and therefore the lesser the chance that it will distract you from your fundamentals and happiness.
Now I’m not claiming to be any financial expert here – you’re talking to someone who spent 98% of her Economics lectures playing cards at the back of the auditorium. But I am really good at making mistakes and learning from them. These are lessons, which should be taught really early on, and I’ve certainly learned the hard way about things like overdrafts and bad stock tips.
The message which I wanted to convey in the interview was that what is really important isn’t money itself, but destigmatising money. For example, the Irishman and I are big on involving the kids in our decision making and exposing them to our thinking. Of course, I don’t mean to say you should give out details of your net worth to your kids, but children are not idiots, they’re very aware of their financial situation.
To make it less abstract, I like to discuss the thought process behind the decisions we take. Yes, Singapore property is really expensive! Why is that so? Why do we prioritise housing over a car? Why do we give to charity? Why is Mummy spending time and money on her new business? You can even do a simple bar chart showing the cost of different things they know about – how much a candy bar costs, a pair of shoes, an airplane ticket.
School is not the same as education…
If you have kids, there will be a day when your child turns to you and asks “Mummy, are we rich?”. This is your chance to help them with the many ways you could define “rich” and “enough” instead of telling them that it’s none of their business.
One approach my veteran private banker friend Eli recommends is saying “Well my love, in your life you will never have to go hungry, you will never have to worry about having a roof over your head, or clean clothes to wear. You will have be able to take up education in life which supports your dreams and have as much love as I can provide. In these ways you are more privileged than the vast majority of the planet, and in this way you are rich.”
If you get the converse of that question – “Why aren’t we rich?” (which I certainly asked my parents in my early childhood), you can talk about how the love you have makes you rich or wants versus needs. Or how to prioritise well-being with a limited budget. Anything that makes sense for you really, but when the subject comes up, do talk about it, let them feel that it isn’t scary.
I hope my kids grow up independent in every way, and that means part of their education involves understanding how money works as well and what they need to have in place to support their dreams and ambitions, whatever they are.
It’s especially important for me to make sure my daughter receives this wisdom. Too many times I have seen brilliant, hyper-educated girlfriends of mine run into marital problems and then confess that they have no clue what their balance sheet looks like, what assets they have or what kind of cashflow they need to survive.
Coming back to the interview, so I actually wanted to set something straight for the record. I was asked what my best investment was, and what I really wanted to say was that my best investment was and will always be, my husband and the time I’ve spent with him. The respect he has for me is priceless and gives me courage to be the most authentic version of myself.
Recently a few of his banker friends commented that they didn’t like how the Money interview gave the impression that “the wife” made all the day to day investing decisions. The Irishman simply said “Well, I had no problem with that.”
And as far as I’m concerned, he is the star jewel in this portfolio I call life . No doubt he’s demanding at times, but after 10 years he’s had a stellar track record of improving returns and comes with an astonishingly low maintenance capex of beer and potatoes. The fact that he also makes me happier than anything money can buy and warms the bed to the perfect toasty temperature, are fortunate pluses as well!
So thanks to everyone for the well-wishes and thoughtful sentiments, and an extra special thank you to my husband, lovely, crazy, amazing Irishman for being my biggest rock of all.
P.S. An inspiring banker friend of mine, Susan Kim, writes a wonderful and witty blog on investing, which she started “after having seen too many intelligent, fascinating, worldly girlfriends protest ‘I am clueless about finance’.” Go visit at http://birdsandthebiz.blogspot.sg/