When was the first time you grasped the meaning of a large sum of money – say, one million dollars?
Maybe it was when you had your first success at the game Monopoly, wiping out your uncle’s savings because you had four hotels on Boardwalk and he had a house on Connecticut Avenue.
Maybe it was when you decided to apply to medical school and confronted the likelihood that you would be in debt for around a quarter of a million dollars by the time you finished.
Maybe it was when you lost a loved one whose spending and saving habits over their lifetime meant a generous gift to you upon their death.
Based on these scenarios, is one million dollars a lot? A little? An asset? A liability? The truth is that one million dollars is just that – one million dollars – but it can mean wildly different things to different people.
Imagine you were handed a check for one million dollars and were told two things: 1) the whole sum is yours – no taxes or fees; and 2) you have to spend it within a year. How would you spend it?
Before you dismiss this hypothetical situation as inconsequential, take a moment to really consider what you would do. Jot down your answer – it can even be just a single word – and then keep reading.
My gut reaction to this question was “travel.” But when I thought about the details, I realized it might actually be difficult for me to spend one million dollars on travel in a year – and I have expensive taste! I had to get creative to figure out ways to spend down the full amount. The trip I initially envisioned was for me and my husband, but that quickly expanded to include family and close friends. But when I thought about all those people together in one place, I realized I wouldn’t be able to spend quality time with individuals while in such a large group. What I really needed to do was go on lots of smaller trips with specific groups who shared different interests and experiences. That way I could ensure that everyone would have a good time on their trip, and I would get to make memories with all of them.
As I reflected on my expanded answer, I noticed two things: one, despite my “expensive taste,” my first thought wasn’t about the fancy hotels that I would stay in or the Michelin-star restaurants where I would dine – in fact, it wasn’t about the particular places at all! It was about the people who would travel with me. The second thing I noticed was that it would require a lot of time to go on all these trips. Even with a budget of one million dollars, I would not be able to buy more time. According to this exercise, what I ultimately wanted out of one million dollars was to be able to spend time with people I love, having adventures and making memories.
Look back at the answer you jotted down. Imagine truly spending one million dollars – how would you get there? What does that say about what’s important to you?
I asked a few Mint Hill staff for ideas of how they would spend one million dollars. For Julianne Littlejohn, who serves as Office Manager and Executive Assistant, paying off debt was priority number one. But what struck me about Julianne’s answer was that she didn’t just want to pay off debt for herself – she also wanted to pay off debts for family and close friends. That answer may suggest a core underlying value, such as desiring safety and security for herself and her loved ones.
Barb Dodge, Senior Client Services Manager, said she would enroll her kids in private school and buy a bigger boat. Digging a little deeper, perhaps the core desire for Barb is to know that her children will be okay – that they’ll be able to find their way in the world and live well. Perhaps she feels that her kids are growing up so fast and she wants to spend as much time with them as possible – even if it means buying a bigger boat that can hold them AND their friends!
Bethany Simonds, Client Engagement Coordinator, would head west and purchase a tiny home on a beautiful piece of property somewhere in the Colorado Rockies. This might be because out of all the places she has lived, nothing has inspired or comforted her quite like the majesty of the Rocky Mountains. Perhaps Bethany desires simplicity in life and wants to surround herself with environments that inspire feelings of awe and a sense of adventure.
In each of these examples, a person’s expressed desires actually contain unspoken values that can be nurtured and prioritized to enrich life – even without a million dollars.
What are your underlying values?
At Mint Hill, one of our most important jobs is to help our clients answer this question.
For those early in their career, this “If I had a million dollars” thought experiment is hypothetical. At this stage, there are typically numerous expenses, jockeying for position to absorb any extra cash flow. Knowing your core underlying values is about understanding how to prioritize resources, when they are limited and when they are ample, to build the life you want.
During this stage, our questions for you will be things like, “What do you want your work/life balance to look like at this point in your career?” and “What goals are most important for you to work towards over the next several decades?” The journey takes time, but it is focused, purposeful, and consistent.
As our clients advance in their careers, this thought experiment evolves from a hypothetical to a new reality. Clients can accumulate significant wealth through savings, inheritance, practice buyouts and other events that force them to make decisions about how to allocate large sums of money. Isolated decisions begin to carry more weight, and understanding underlying values becomes more about creating a legacy.
During this stage, we help answer questions like, “How do you want to structure an inheritance for loved ones?” and “How can your wealth be used to impact causes close to your heart after you’re gone?” The focus begins to expand beyond simply completing your journey to actively shaping how your journey will be remembered.
Regardless of where you are in the process – or whether a million dollar check is a dream or reality in your personal situation – we encourage you to become increasingly aware of your own underlying values as we move into 2023. And, as always, we are honored to be part of the conversation.
Happy New Year from the Mint Hill Team!
Melissa Smigelsky, PhD, is a clinical psychologist by day and a freelance writer for Mint Hill Wealth Management by night. As someone who sacrificed earnings in her 20s and 30s to pursue a doctorate, Melissa has a deep appreciation for the unique services and perspective offered by Mint Hill. She also knows from personal and professional experience that money is one of the most important (and often neglected) topics in relationships. Melissa is excited to use writing to foster personal reflection and purposeful communication that can contribute to intentional living for all Mint Hill clients.
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