REVIEW: How Much Is Enough?

IMG_20150211_133500How Much Is Enough?

Andrew Bradley, Arun Abey and Andrew Ford

Zebra Press

REVIEW: Karin Schimke

Money.

Say the word and wait. Sooner or later, an emotional response rises.

For some, the emotional response takes a little longer to surface. For others, the anxiety or glee or bitterness spills out immediately. “Money” is a heavily loaded word in every possible realm of our lives. In the conversations we have with ourselves when we need or want something that we have to purchase in order to have. In our intimate relationships and those with our children or our parents. When we think about retirement. When we have a major domestic crisis. Every time we have a bad day at work. And in our social and political relationships – especially in South Africa, where poverty and affluence rub up against one another daily.

That money and our emotions are inextricably entwined is not a new concept, and yet the idea has not found enough traction in our day-to-day dealings with our wealth, however small we perceive that wealth to be.

It is this idea that the authors of this accessible financial how-to book explore at some length: that the average person they see in their work as financial advisers do not make any connection between money and feelings.

They exploit the cliché “Money can’t buy happiness”, turning it on its head to show that happiness might, in fact, be the starting point for increasing the wealth you already have.

Bradley, in an interview, said that he and his colleagues had observed that while investment markets performed well, most investors failed over time and that behaviour was the primary cause of destroying personal wealth.

In the book, which is packed with memorable anecdotes, the authors tell the story of Isaac Newton who was a keen share investor. The story starts well enough for him with a certain investment and he seems to make all the right decisions, but then he’s influenced by fashion, acts rashly and loses a great deal of money.

Even rational thinkers, even Newton, a respected scientist, is influenced by emotion.

In this book, layer by layer, the authors show that money can’t bring happiness, but that happiness can bring money. Drawing strongly on psychology and the vast amounts of happiness research that is available, the authors construct an argument for working on the self before working on the money.

Once they have shown how emotionally charged money is, they begin to colour in their arguments about why happiness should be the starting point of wealth work.

They show, in fairly broad brush strokes, what exactly “happiness” is and how it can be attained, referring to a great number of well-respected researchers in the field. They demonstrate how behaviour towards and around money can be changed, just like eating and exercise habits can be changed. And they also address in simple and easy-to-understand terms, actual investment.

I have a fairly firm grip of, and have done quite a lot of reading about, happiness and I have a general interest in psychology, so while the first part of the book did not hold any major wow moments for me, I am quite convinced that the straightforward manner in which the authors tackle that complex area will have a great impact on many readers who are not au fait with the science of the human mind and how it affects behaviour.

But I am less comfortable with the language of investment – to the point where I get edgy because I’m convinced I am not going to understand the jargon – so I was pleased to get through the “technical” chapters with great ease and with a much better understanding of investment than before. The authors must be lauded on being able to write in such a straightforward way without sounding patronising.

Also valuable is the chapter entitled Kids, Money and Happiness. It contains simple ideas that had never occurred to me. I realised that, while I have nurtured an open relationship with my children on social, political and sexual matters in order to prepare them for the world, I have been oddly coy about money.

Reading this book, I realise that it is learned behaviour that I can unlearn and that if I do unlearn this behaviour, my children stand a better chance of having an easy relationship with money.

And an easy relationship money – where you feel in control, where you understand what you have, what you want and how you can get – is the beginning of the kind of wealth that means some freedom from the anxieties about what exactly “enough” is.

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