How Media Influences You

No matter who or what is your source of information, how do you know whether the information is accurate or trustworthy? And even if you discard the information as bunk, how do you know that the information you have read, watched, or listened to has not somehow seeped into your subconscious thereby influencing your decision-making without you even knowing?

The Business of Imagery

Within moments of logging onto the Internet, flipping through a magazine, or leaving home and entering an urban village brimming with signs, signs, everywhere signs, we are inundated with images. All these signs, all these images, they’re ‘normal’, just the way things happen to be in our world. And we don’t often think twice about it.

I mean, we know that the underlying purpose of images, particularly when used in advertisements, is to grab your attention, and ultimately sell products or services. But what else do we know, or don’t we know, about the way in which marketing employs images to connect not just with our pocketbook but our heart? Because it’s the emotional connection that advertisers want with consumers; the emotional connection that forms an attachment between consumer and product / service; the emotional connection that seduces us to buy, buy, BUY!

Image Maker Take #1: Don’t Follow The Bus

I can’t seem to get away from it. Nearly every day that I drive, I find myself behind a city bus transporting the image of a beautiful woman with glowing skin shilling for a dermatologist. Having seen the image so many times, I started thinking about its purpose.

The image exists to tell me, the viewer, the consumer, maybe eventually the sucker, that my skin is deficient. And the solution to my deficient skin? Retain the services of this particular dermatologist and I too may be blessed with glowing skin just like the woman in the ad.

And wrinkle / blemish free skin is not the only promise. Oh no. In this case, the effects of beauty are more than skin deep. Below the surface, what is being promised is that glowing skin will transform me into a beautiful person, someone whom others envy, someone who will be liked and loved by more people. With glowing skin, I will no longer feel anxious about my appearance. As a result, I will be happy and life will be good. So you see, that’s the real promise of the ad: happiness.

Image Maker Take #2: What Price Thy Vacation

The back cover ad on an internationally distributed magazine shows an athletic man wearing nothing but a swim suit, a pretty woman decked out in a small, colorful bikini, and two cute kids, a boy and a girl, all of whom are shown to be smiling and running on a golden sand beach fronting turquoise colored ocean water.

The ostensible purpose of this image? To sell vacations somewhere in the Caribbean or Mexico or the Mediterranean or Hawaii or Spain or any other destination that may be packaged and sold as a dream getaway.

And like the bus ad, the underlying message is meant to trigger anxiety, i.e., my life is deficient because I am not half-naked playing on a beach. Gee, the people in the ad seem to be having so much fun. I want to have fun too. Sign me up!

The image is designed to have me compare my life to the fantasy portrayed in the ad. And I will find my life lacking. And I will be envious; I will want the fantasy to become my reality. And if I’m primed to suspend reality for long enough, I’ll decide that, for the price of vacationing in an Eden like hotspot, I will be transformed into someone just like the models in the ad. Then I will be fulfilled, happy, life will be good. As a bonus, my ego will be stroked when friends and family envy me because I have (temporarily) escaped the doldrums that is their life.

Agh! It Works!

Advertisements may useful by informing people of their choices. It’s a medium for spreading messages that we may not otherwise hear, and that may be to our benefit.

But here’s what we may not be considering: ads tell us that we’re not good enough. That if we have this or that product or service then we will be better, our life will be better. And reality just doesn’t play out that way.

The financial industry, including financial media, often promotes a similar message: if we become richer, if we retire early, and are then able to devote our life exclusively to play or leisure (as opposed to purpose) then we will be happy and fulfilled.

Money: The Source of True Happiness.

Hah! Quite the subtitle, yes?! Alright, backing up here, let me be clear: the subtitle is drivel, hooey, nonsense.

But that’s not what media would have you believe. I mean, does a day go by where one publication or another does not publish a mindless article about who is now the richest person in the world? How much money a superstar pro athlete is being paid for playing catch or bouncing a ball? Telling readers about all the expensive cars and homes and jewellery and clothes owned by this or that celebrity?

Why do we need to know who has what stuff? Well, we don’t. But the thing is, we live in a consumer society. If you stop buying as much stuff, and corporations sell less, then the wheels of our system grind down. So, to grease those wheels, illusory need is manufactured.

This is done through publicity that makes the 99% feel deficient for not having enough money nor enough stuff. And savvy media knows that effective publicity is tied to a story, preferably told by a well- known person who offers an image that aligns with the product/service being sold. And people see this well-known person and, presumably, say to themself, well, if its good enough for so- and-so celebrity then it’s certainly good enough for me. Human see, Human do.

Let’s say a luxury car maker placed an ad that said: ‘Buy the X car because it’s a solid, reliable car.’ That’s it. That’s the sell. How many cars do you think would be sold? Other than me, I’m guessing not too many consumers would even consider the car. Why? Because the ad doesn’t tell a story and the message is not delivered by someone whose face is on television or film. With no story delivered by an attractive pitch person, why would I buy the car? Why would I feel that owning the X car would fill a psychological/emotional emptiness in me?

Just take a look at the recent Mercedes ad placed during this year’s Super Bowl. Background music for the ad was the song, Born To Be Wild, and it starred (now ads have ‘stars’!) Peter Fonda, 1960s counterculture icon, who was in the 1969 film, Easy Rider (to sum up the film ever so briefly, the script followed two rebel motorcycle riders through the American South).

The message that was sold through the story? Aging Baby Boomers don’t ride bikes anymore, they drive a Mercedes. So if you’re a Boomer in your 60s or 70s with excess dough, and you want the cool, rebel image (i.e., fantasy) of Peter Fonda in this particular ad, then get yourself a cool, rebel car, a Mercedes. Then you’ll be happy and fulfilled and your friends will envy you.

Living The Good Life

Believe it or not, my intention is not to be cynical in this post. Rather, if you don’t already have your eyes open, I’m trying to give you a little nudge in that direction. Trying to get you to think about the stuff that you buy; the services you pay for; the resulting benefits you receive; why you buy what you buy; and who or what is influencing your decisions. Then maybe you’ll assess what belongs in your life and what doesn’t; and hugely important, what’s holding you back from feeling free and unencumbered.

Because I can tell you this: in itself, having enough money, being rich, being able to buy, and buying, STUFF, will not bring about feelings of peace and freedom. The human animal just doesn’t operate this way. I mean, when we buy something or pay for a service we want, sure, desire is fulfilled but only for a moment. When that moment passes, new desires arise. And on and on it goes, where it stops … it doesn’t.

Same as when you earn lots of money. Your portfolio grows, you feel good watching the numbers go up, but this too is momentary, there is no lasting satisfaction no matter how high the number climbs. And your search for freedom remains never ending until you realize that ‘The Good Life’ is a state of mind, a perspective, it’s being grateful for every moment that you’re walking this planet. And doubly grateful if you’re fortunate enough to have family and friends in your life, a rewarding occupation, hobbies you enjoy, and peace. Huge bonus points if you’ve brought a dog (I’m partial to dogs but any other non-human creature is just fine, more than fine) into your pack.

So when financial media repeats the same stories, tirelessly yakking about how to save for retirement, how to retire young, how to become a millionaire … basically, why you should worry about your financial situation until the day you die, well, tune it out. Money is an ongoing concern, you know that and you don’t need to be told repeatedly. Because you’re a member of the BuddhaMoney community who knows that when you increase savings, are wise about spending, and pay down debt (i.e., The Middle Way, the balanced approach to money) then you can feel good about turning your focus to all the other parts of life that matter.

 

 

Fight Fear, Get Rich

Shortly after the end of the 2007-2009 recession, a relative (between you and me, we’ll call him ScaredyPants) asked me to manage his money. He was seventy, widowed for many years, generally a happy-go-lucky sort of guy, and his portfolio was worth about a million bucks.

Eighty per cent of the portfolio was cash, the other twenty per cent was invested in one-year term deposits with the total portfolio earning less than 1.0%.

In 2010, inflation ran at 1.5%; in 2011, 3.0%. Meaning, as long as the rate of inflation exceeded investment return, ScaredyPants was losing money. But he was fine with the slight hit to his portfolio. Because after the Great Recession, ScaredyPants was terrified of losing money.

Today, more than eight years later, ScaredyPants asset allocation has not changed. Drawing seventy-five thousand a year for living expenses and to pay income taxes, having no revenue sources other than his portfolio and a small government pension worth about sixteen thousand annually, his liquid assets have dropped from a cool million to less than $500,000. At this rate, ScaredyPants will be broke if and when he reaches the age of eighty-five. Yet, he refuses to change his portfolio – such is the debilitating grip of fear.


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Enter Buddha

It is perfectly natural to be fearful. When fear comes upon you, embrace it, watch what is happening to your physical body, how it tightens. Watch what is happening to your thoughts, how they turn cloudy and negative. And wait for the feeling of fear to pass, because it always passes. And once fear passes, only then may you make wise decisions.


Sidestepping the Groove

Here’s the thing about fear: it stops us from getting to that really groovy place where we want to dance and sing and shake it all out because we feel financially independent and free!

As investors, as managers of our own money, we don’t have a whole lot of constructive use for fear. Rather, fear is a destructive emotional anchor, driving us to stuff money under the proverbial mattress, miss out on investment opportunities, let cash sit in a bank savings account earning next to nothing, or invest in ultra-safe-barely-pays-any-interest federal government bonds. All of which are surefire ways to NOT walk the path toward financial freedom.

Nervous Nellies

No one enjoys lingering in a state of fear or high anxiety. Still, it happens to all of us because we’re biologically wired this way: fear being an evolutionary mechanism designed to (1) signal danger, threat or conflict, and then (2) activate an adaptive response.

Okay, so we’re locked into human biology. But for the purpose of retiring early AND not running out of money before reaching our final resting place, isn’t it possible for savers and investors to flip the fear off switch?

Hey, smart guy, look around. The world is crazier than ever; the reasons for being fearful are endless!

I know, I get it, you don’t have to look too hard to find one geopolitical crisis or another that makes you want to stockpile supplies and hide out in a desert bunker. On top of this, there are your personal financial circumstances, be it shaky job security, unexpected expenses, or any other uncertainty that holds you back from contributing more to investments.

But the thing is, running away from financial markets is not the solution to being the CEO of your own show one day. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. If you let fear stop you from investing, then financial independence will remain a pipe dream.

Shift Your Perspective

To manage fear, to build wealth, shift your take on events. For example, when ScaredyPants thought of investing in the stock market, all he could see was the risk of loss. Well, there’s also the other side of the coin, the risk of gain, especially for long-term investors.

Granted, ScaredyPants represents an extreme example. For many others, risk is acceptable when it seems there is little chance of loss. So … when does the stock market offer such conditions? Well, when stock prices are going up, positive vibes fill the media, and fear has been relegated to the backseat. But, but, but … this is the exact wrong time to invest!

You want to invest when fear is in the air, when stock values are depressed and ON SALE.

But this is not what happens for most investors. Instead, time and time and time again, people do the exact opposite of what should be done; they buy high (when fear has receded) and sell low (when fear is ascending).

Your path to financial freedom would be that much shorter if you could shift perspective, and see depressed prices as actually presenting less risk, and potentially greater reward.

Easier Said, But Definitely Do-Able

Here’s BuddhaMoney’s guide to what needs to be done to address your fears, and maximize portfolio performance:

  1. Diversify. You’ve heard it so often that maybe you tune it out: don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Because a diverse pool of assets goes a long way to reducing fears, minimizing risk, and lessening major moves in portfolio value.

What kind of risk gives rise to fear? Market performance, economy performance, interest rates, inflation, and longevity (the possibility that you will outlive your money). To alleviate fear (and ulcers) caused by stock market value gyrations, hold some bonds. If you think the domestic economy is about to tank, buy foreign securities. If the bull market is slowing and you’re fearful of an impending crash, increase your cash position.

  1. Balance and ReBalance. Naturally, given that you’re a BuddhaMoney devotee, you have an investment plan setting out how much money is allocated to certain assets. For example, 60% stocks, 30% bonds and 10% cash, invested in domestic and foreign securities, exchange traded funds (ETF) and/or individual securities.

Well, if your stocks have increased in value and now make up 70% of your portfolio, then its time to rebalance, to sell 10% of the stock holdings (sell the winners; and when you sell at the ‘high’ price, it sure feels good) and allocate the proceeds to bonds and/or cash. Why do this? Because rebalancing reduces risk, reduces those situations where you feel fearful, and when you have a thoughtful investment plan in place its best to stick to that plan to achieve future goals.

  1. Pay Less Attention

The stock market is a roller coaster. And the ride makes a whole lot of folks queasy. But by no means does that mean you should jump off. Instead, tweak your behavior: stop checking prices every day or even every week. Because it’s dangerous for your health. When your hyper-focused on daily stock prices, you become more and more emotionally invested in both small and large movements. In turn, this may cause you to forget your long term goals and make poor decisions based on short term price swings.

  1. Keep Costs Down

Managing costs contributes to minimizing financial risk, i.e., the lower your investment costs, the more money in your pocket.

This may mean choosing low cost Index Funds; using the services of a Robo-Advisor; managing your own investments with a discount broker; or negotiating lower fees with a financial adviser.

  1. Recognize Noise For What It Is

Media knows that we read what we connect with, and most often that connection is on an emotional level. When the stories lean negative, this may affect our decision-making, and not necessarily for the better. So don’t let the stories suck you in and throw your well thought out plan off course. Because your financial plans, your financial future, should not be adjusted based on media stories or even what you discuss with friends. Instead, your plans should be based exclusively on your current needs, short, medium and long-term goals, and tolerance for risk.

Sure, we’re all susceptible to fear. But when you’re able to harness that fear, you sure do stack the odds in your favor that financial independence will be reached according to your plan.

Money Rules For Women

My fifteen-year young daughter (‘SmartyPants’) is brainy, enterprising, kind and compassionate. She cares for her family, friends, thirty-seven chickens, eight goats, four cats, two dogs, and one parakeet. Elected president of the poultry chapter of her local 4-H club (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/4-H) for the past two years, SmartyPants knows her calling is to be a Veterinarian, her love for animals is so deep.

 

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Like many girls / women, SmartyPants is a Giver, a Nurturer, often putting the concerns of others ahead of her own. All of which is wonderful and amazing and beautiful and I’m super proud of her. Still, with a nod to one of the 4-H mottos, To Make The Best Better, I’m supporting her to become better in the sense of Balance.

In other words, I’m encouraging SmartyPants to take care of her self, to cherish her self, to give time to her self, as much as she does for others. And part of taking care of her self includes learning to take care of money.


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Enter Buddha

Self-care is not the same as being selfish. Rather, caring for your self is positive, constructive, makes you stronger, and gives you more energy that you may share with others. If your energy is depleted because you have given it away, what use are you to others, and to your self?


Venus Is Her Name

Okay, I’m definitely not going to wade too deep into the arena of gender differences; I’ll leave the heavy psychological lifting to the folks who think women are from Venus, men from Mars. My planetary domain, as you know by now, is money. So, I’ll stick to what I know and talk about the unique financial concerns facing women.

  1. Permission To Look Out For Your Self

In the event of an emergency, airline flight attendants give instructions to place the oxygen mask on our self before helping the child sitting next to us. Upon hearing this announcement, the frightened parent responds, ‘No! I have to take care of my child first!’

Sure, I get the selflessness that comes from love. But what happens if the parent passes out before they are able to assist the child?

I know, I’m repeating what I said to SmartyPants, about taking care of your self first, but it bears repeating. In the context of finances, if you’re faced with the dilemma of paying for your child’s non-essential items or retirement, choose retirement. Same with paying for your children’s education or saving for retirement, choose retirement if you don’t have enough money to contribute to both.

Your children can work, they may apply for scholarships or other financial aid. No such aid is available for retirees with inadequate savings. And if that doesn’t persuade you, think about this: guess who becomes financially responsible for your retirement years if you haven’t saved enough? Right, your kids.

  1. Longer Life

Women typically live longer than men. So … women need more money. The challenge is complicated by the fact that women generally earn less than men (the usual statistics show women earning about 75-80% of what men earn for doing the same or comparable work. Why? Gender bias, plain and simple – and irrational and harmful and hurtful and foolish and backward and …).

Still, take up the challenge by making saving a numero uno priority. Because your future self will thank you for wisely funding your retirement, and providing your self with financial security.

  1. Be The Change

The more money you have, the more you may give to others. Consider that at most income levels, woman championed homes (i.e., women who earn more than their husband and enjoy fairness and respect in their relationship, and women who are single, divorced and widowed) make more charitable donations than homes where men make the financial decisions. Meaning? Meaning that more women earning more money and taking responsibility for making financial decisions results in more sharing of wealth and, ideally, a more just and equitable world.

  1. Take The Reins

You love your spouse, your partner. Excellent! But this is no reason to stick your head in the sand and charge him/her with exclusive money management responsibilities.

Here’s the thing: a whole lot of women are comfortable with paying bills and making decisions about household expenditures. Good! Everyone (that includes you too, guys) should have at least basic knowledge (although more is better in this instance) of budgeting and saving.

But then along comes this, this, this … way of thinking that says, when it comes to investments, that’s a guy thing or … what do I know about investing or … I don’t have time for managing investments. Effectively (and unfortunately), this type of thinking strips women of control over their financial destiny.

This way of thinking has got to go. Take off the blinders and, if not manage your investments then, at a minimum, learn and educate your self about investing so you may know what’s going on and may take a seat at the table when it comes to planning your financial future.

Yes, yes, I know, investing can be intimidating, it can be boring, it can be this and that. Alright, now, get over it. Because the earlier you start investing, the more likely you will be walking the path to financial freedom. The earlier you adopt a laser focus on building wealth for the long run, and recognize that it is not your patriotic obligation to spend money needlessly, the more your savings will grow and the wealthier you will become.

  1. Set Goals

Let’s say you want to buy a new home but can’t afford to do so today. Okay, how long will it take you to save enough for a down payment, and what changes will you make to your saving, spending and investing to help your self reach this goal?

Goals help to motivate us. Goals help us to not buy that new pair of pants because even though you look amazing in them, you have lots of pants and really don’t need another pair. AND, it’s better that you forgo the expense and put the money towards saving for your goal. Because your goal, buying a home, is your priority.

  1. Ask And You Shall Receive

My wife and I were walking through Carmel Market, a Tel Aviv bazaar jam packed with merchants selling everything from jewelry to linens to spices, clothing, electronics, flowers, appliances, fruit … you name it, the market sells it. And there were a million different scents in the air, and so many people, and it was loud and festive and incredible fun. For the kids, I was on a mission to buy t-shirts emblazoned with the Coca Cola logo in Hebrew script. Because they asked for it and thought it looked cool. So who am I to argue about taste?

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I approach the merchant and ask the price for 3 shirts.

“100 shekels,” he says.

This works out to about $26 USD, which seemed like a decent price for three shirts. Still, this is the Middle East. They negotiate here. For everything. It’s just the way it is. And they expect you to negotiate too.

“75,” I counter (about $20 USD).

After more posturing and gamesmanship, we agree to 90 shekels. Was it worth it, to bargain for a price reduction of less than $3? Yes! Because it’s a game, and it’s a marketplace with buyers and seller, each vying for the best possible price, and why should I pay more than necessary? The merchant knows his cost, he knows his lowest price where he will still make a profit. And he knows the game better than most buyers. So it’s up to me to ask for a price lower than advertised. If I don’t ask, I won’t get.

In North America too, we are better off if we learn to negotiate, especially when we don’t like the price of what’s being offered. Of course, we don’t have bazaars, and retail stores place a bland price tag on merchandise and we robotically pay the list price. But we can negotiate matters in life; because it’s a matter of advocating for your self. And advocating for your self is akin to taking care of your self.

Want a lower price on that new car, expensive shoes, luxury handbag? Ask for it. Demand it (in a kind, respectful, BuddhaMoney sort of way).

More importantly, advocate for your self when it comes to your personal value. In this regard, employers or clients, should ALWAYS pay full price for your goods/services. If you’re an underpaid employee, if the guy working next to you, doing the same job as you, is making 10% more, then you deserve a raise. But you’re employer may not even think about giving you a raise if you don’t ask for it. I mean, if you don’t fairly value your self, is it realistic to expect others to do so?

And if your goal is a financially secure life, then you have to ask for what’s fair to you. You can’t settle for less to please other people because you’ll be harming your self. It’s about putting your self first because you matter.

  1. Vulnerability Is A Strength

There are soooo many resources available to assist with any and every aspect of money management. If you prefer to learn on your own, well, of course BuddhaMoney is here to assist! That said, do an online search for whatever it is you’re looking for and a slew of websites will pop up. For human guidance, consider consulting with an experienced and competent CPA or certified financial planner who is able to review your financial situation and provide direction. However you go about your learning process, know that educating your self is self-empowerment. Self-empowerment leads to more knowledge that leads to more effective decision-making, and greater wealth.

SmartyPants Rules

SmartyPants is an amazing girl. And I have no doubt she will grow into an amazing woman, as will so many more girls of her generation. These are girls who will continue to be true to their inner nature, to compassionately care for others, and also know when it’s important to place them self first, and be comfortable doing so.

 

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