Would You Rather be Happy or Wealthy? 

Just like the question, “Would you rather be rich or famous?,” if you were asked, “What would you rather be—Happy or wealthy?,” what would your answer be? 

While making money is certainly a black and white issue, the path to joy and money is a personal journey that  takes us to a concept referred to as"enough-ness", a term developed by Mackey McNeill, CPA/PFS, author of The Intersection of Joy and Money. Although this book was written by more than 10 years ago, its messages are just as vital today, especially for young CPAs who are in their peak earning years.

“We spend too much time comparing ourselves to others,” says Mackey. “Instead, we need to look inside ourselves and discover what is enough. What makes you feel like your most prosperous self? Once you know what makes you feel prosperous, develop  a plan to get there and you will find  the intersection of joy and money .”

The relationship between joy and money is not about money, but rather feelings about money. For example, Mackey believes there are two extremes: 1) the savers who don’t allow themselves to have fun with their money and 2) the carpe diem camp that splurge too much and don’t have anything left for tomorrow. As a financial planner and a CPA, Mackey found her clients asked for advice, but then continued to do what they had always done.

Realizing she couldn’t really help her clients until she understood the emotions around money, she started to look at her own feelings and behavior. This became the impetus for her book.

Our beliefs about money and wealth develop for our earliest childhood observations. Beliefs reaffirmed over time become habits. These money habits are always influencing financial decisions, whether we are aware of them. They also influence how much you earn, what you spend, and your own personal comfort level with money.

“People internalize the ‘we can’t afford that’ message they hear as a child and create a belief   that guides their behavior around money,” said Mackey. “Some people say, ‘well, I’d better earn a lot so I can afford more than my parents did,’ while others believe, ‘I can’t spend any money because I can’t afford to.’”

Mackey has her clients spend time analyzing what they want and why they want it. She continues to ask “Why, Why, Why” until her readers come to a single word, or the “essence” of what they are looking for money to provide. Frequently, the exercise results in words such as joy, peace, contentment, and security.

“People make stuff up about money,” she says. “A simple  example is they may think they want a lake house, but they don’t take any action toward it , so do they really want it? Probably not. Attaching joy to money is about being aware of the difference between thinking you want something and knowing you want something. If you really want the lake house, you’ll take action to make it happen.”

Mackey recommends young CPAs—especially those who are, or plan to become, certified financial planners—spend time understanding their belief systems about money and how this influences their personal behavior. Knowing what is true about money and what is limiting in any way—in day-to-day finances or planning for the future—will help all of us not only help our clients, but also help us manage our personal lives.

“It doesn’t always take a lot of money to find joy, but it does take self-reflection and knowing how you really want to use your money,” she said. “Once that is defined, determining the amount it will take and a plan to get there provides peace of mind and ultimately joy. We need to feel confident today and tomorrow, not fearful, worried, or neurotic.”

The AICPA has a plethora of resources available through the Financial Literacy Resource Center which encourages CPAs to take a broad leadership role in volunteering to educate the American public, from school children to retirees, on financial topics that apply specifically to their particular stage of life. The Financial Literacy Resource Center provides information and turnkey resources for CPAs to use in their volunteer efforts.

Have you ever noticed your own financial patterns and beliefs? Where do they come from? What about the Financial Literacy Resource Center? Have you ever used the available resources to help educate yourself or the public? Email your comments to youngcpanetwork@aicpa.org.



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