Views on Money – Part 2: Net Worth, Balanced Perspectives, and Opportunity Cost

Welcome back to our study on the Views of Money.  After resetting the contextual baseline, we’ll jump into Part 2 Net Worth, Balanced Perspectives and Opportunity Cost

Money is important.  It is the lifeblood of our society.  It is our economy.  In the context of our modern culture it is a requirement for our day to day living.  If you doubt this notion, imagine yourself penniless for the next 30 days.

Money also is dynamic.  It is huge in the context of government spending programs or corporate initiatives.  Equally so, it is small measured against our next meal or gas tank top-off.  Money is even tiny as it collects nightly in our change cup.

A former teacher oft shared a story of 3 blind men describing an elephant.  The man at the trunk reported an animal significantly different from those reporting from the side and tail of the animal.  All reported a piece of the truth but not a whole truth. 

Money operates in our lives in a very similar manner.  Many of our views on money are technically correct, but lacking a grasp of the greater whole.

Across this two part series I want to reconcile several views to ensure that we keep each in proper balance.  If we skew too hard in one direction we’re likely to end up with a distorted picture of reality. 

The key to our money, as with many things in our lives, is proper balance.

Today we will examine:

View 4 – The Long View – Net Worth Planning

View 5 – Mosaic View – Balanced Perspectives

View 6 – The Lost View – Opportunity Costs

Please visit Part 1: Objective Setting and Simple and Advanced Cash Flow if you missed that entry.

 

View 4 – The Long View – Net Worth Planning

Once the art of the Mid View (Annual Planning) is mastered, it is not difficult to begin expanding the annual view into 5, 10, or even 20 year horizons – think new(er) car, new house, college savings, and retirement.

With your mind now wrapped around larger and life altering objectives, you are less likely to direct your unallocated cash flow towards acquiring a new monthly payment, first because your mind resists such shortsighted thinking and second because there are no unallocated dollars.  The planning and aspirations are too focused to allow otherwise.

As with previous views, you may still feel constrained by your income.  But the constraints are positive rather than negative.  Instead of feeling constrained against being able to lavish yourself with new gadgets and trinkets, you are much more likely to feel constrained against making large debt payments or maximizing your IRA and 401k contributions.  The beauty is that as you are able to overpower those constraints you are propelling yourself forward rather than further tethering yourself to fixed station.

Net worth is the scoreboard for your long term financial success.

 

View 5 – Mosaic View – Balanced Perspectives

There is a certain evolution of thought as you progress from view to view but there are important lessons to carry and retain as you progress.  In many ways it is like using the addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division fundamentals you learn in grade school to master the principles of geometry, algebra, and even chemistry and finance you engage later in your education.

Another example may be a highly successful business that monitors its stock price (think net worth) by reporting and managing its cash flow statements, balance sheets, individual store sales amongst a bevy of additional reports and performance matrices.

The key message here is that we need to be nimble and versatile across these views.  At times, we may need to gauge a purchase or investment across multiple perspectives. 

Borrowing from a personal example, I am currently in the process of refinancing our home.  While I am lowering my interest rate I am also shortening the term on my loan from 30 to 15 years.  This move has implications across all views.  My monthly payment will actually go up a bit which impacts Views 1-3, but the condensed time horizon will play a significant role in advancing view 4.

 

View 6 – The Lost View – Opportunity Costs

If View 1 is our starting point and most immature (in terms of thought development) view, then the mastery of Views 5 and 6 are our most evolved judgment criteria for driving our financial activities towards a successful outcome.

Opportunity Cost is a compelling and engaging concept but sometimes hard to fully grasp.  The idea is that, unless you are a member of Congress, you can only spend a dollar once.  However, when you hold that dollar, you have many potential opportunities for its deployment.  Opportunity Costs suggest that the cost of an item is the sum of its actual dollar cost AND the cost of the lost opportunity had that dollar been spent elsewhere.

For illustrative purposes, here’s an extreme example.  Let’s say that in the early 80’s a spent a couple dollars to buy a hotdog rather than an aggressive option for Microsoft stock.  You could argue that I had consumed a million dollar hot dog. 

That may be a fun example, but it is not realistic because the ballooning value of Microsoft was unknowable at the time.

To really work the concept, you have to consider your actual and viable options.

Consider a more realistic example whereby you decide to spend a $1000 bonus check on some cool new electronics gadgetry. 

Instead, you may have directed those dollars against a high interest credit card, placed it in a mutual fund, or applied it against your outstanding mortgage balance.  Each of these options has an interest component that makes the comparison math easy.  For example, a 10% interest rate on the card suggests that you’ll accrue $100 interest waiting until next year’s bonus.  Similarly, the investment and mortgage prepays could be calculated but it is easy enough to grasp that the $1000 bonus has an exaggerated value when considered against three likely alternative deployment opportunities.

 

Putting it all together

Consider now another example.  You positioned yourself in a job or career better aligned with your values and income targets and are now receiving your first annual raise and bonus.  What do you do?

  • View 1 is addressed with the job selection and income
  • View 2 understands our cash flow has increased and immediately looks for deployment options
  • View 3 recognizes our annual budget has increased and provides a ‘capture’ point for the new inflow
  • View 4 envisions how these new dollars can best drive the future you envision for your family
  • View 5 finds harmony amongst the varying perspectives
  • View 6 makes the best and most informed decision

 Without the full view we’re much more likely to make an impulse decision which often is a suboptimal decision.  Meanwhile, chasing an input through the full range of perspectives does not ensure absolutely that we’ll each make the same or even the best decision.  We each have our own visions and dreams, and our own personal contexts.

And that in the end is part of the beauty and mystery of that dynamic lifeblood we call Money.

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