064: How Life Planning Lays the Foundation for Freedom in Retirement with George Kinder
George Kinder is the father of life planning. Through this unique methodology, he helps retirees discover their deepest and most profound goals. He helps them to pursue their aspirations, discuss and resolve obstacles, create concrete financial plans, and provides ongoing guidance as they accomplish their objectives.
George has published three books on money, including Lighting the Torch, Life Planning for You, and Seven Stages of Money Maturity, which was featured in the July 2018 Wall Street Journal article “The Financial Books That Should Be on Your Summer Reading List” almost 20 years after its publication. His work has been featured in The Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, New Model Adviser, Forbes, Time Magazine, FP Today, The Journal of Financial Planning, Investment News, and The New York Times, and he has spoken at conferences, universities, and financial firms on five continents.
Today, he joins the podcast to talk about why life planning is all about freedom, the moments that financial advisors can feel like therapists or marriage counselors when helping their clients navigate retirement, and how his work continues as the definition of retirement itself continues to shift, especially in younger generations.
In this podcast interview, you’ll learn:
- How life planning gives retirees the inner and external freedom to live their lives to the fullest – and how financial advisors can best listen to their clients to make that freedom a reality.
- Why George believes you cannot be a true fiduciary without being a life planner – and what really comes first before money.
- How a life planner’s discovery process, deliverables, and services works differently from a conventional advisor’s – and why making more time is of the utmost importance for almost every client.
- Why George believes money represents a spiritual good for humankind but can’t deliver freedom in and of itself – and how to spend your money with purpose.
- “To me, what life planning is, is it’s a methodology to deliver the freedom that we long to live with both the freedom that is our passion to be in the world and to engage in the world but also our freedom, a deep interior freedom.” – George Kinder
- “I think we’re way off target when we think of that the only way we know to deliver entrepreneurial energy to the world is with the business school elites, the venture capital, and private equity.” – George Kinder
- “I think we should be living with passion and purpose every day of our life, and life planning is one of the major supports for making that happen.” – George Kinder
- “Each of us wants to be engaged in the world in a way that really brings us alive. And for some of us it’s more quiet than for others, but all of us want to live with that much passion. That’s entrepreneurial energy.” – George Kinder
Casey: Hey, George. Welcome to the Retire With Purpose Podcast.
George: Hi, Casey. Nice to be here.
Casey: Hey. I’m so excited to have you here. Your whole philosophy, the things you’ve written about your company is they really just fit perfectly into the process we use with the families we work with and the whole philosophy behind our company really. So, I know we’re going to get deep into that and you’re going to share all that wisdom you have in your head but I’ve got to kick things off because before we got started, you’re sharing with me all the travel you do throughout the year. You spend time every year in London, Maui. Right now, you’re in Massachusetts and you’re traveling on business. That sounds like about a quarter of the year and you’re so busy. I just can’t believe you take time out of your day to sit down here and have these types of conversations on our podcast. So, I’ve got to ask why did you decide to do this interview?
George: Well, I’m passionate about this work and to me, it’s having these conversations that actually bring the word of the work to the world. So, I love doing them. I’m even surprised that you ask because I say yes to almost every time someone asks. You guys, in particular, seeing what you’re doing with retiring with purpose was very impressive to me and it’s obviously something that I care about a lot. I think we ought to be retiring with purpose every day of our life from the beginning of our life to the end.
Casey: Well, in a way you’re kind of living that already it sounds like. You got a couple months in London, a couple months in Maui, a couple months in Massachusetts. You’re spending time with your family doing what you love. It truly sounds like, I mean, let me ask if I may, how many years young are you?
George: Oh gosh. I’m 70 years old and my 15-year-old daughters they still don’t believe that I’m that young.
Casey: Well, and you’ve got the financial means that you don’t need to do this anymore, but you’re doing it. And so, it just becomes this life passion of yours and at the core of this, it seems like it’s this whole idea of life planning, which has become a bit of a movement, this whole life planning movement and some people referred to you as the father of life planning. So, let’s talk a little bit about life planning. What exactly is life planning to you?
George: Well, it’s interesting. When you started off talking about life planning, I thought, “Well, Casey, he’s going to talk about his freedom,” because what I love more than anything is freedom. And to me, what life planning is, is it’s a methodology to deliver the freedom that we long to live with that both the freedom that is our passion to be in the world and to engage in the world but also our freedom, a deep interior freedom. I know that your audience is connected with spiritual purpose and to me that’s profound. And so, it’s finding what that freedom is, life planning, for each individual. Everybody has it uniquely. We’re not imposing it and we do it in the process of listening to clients. So typically, an advisor would do it. Although, we’ve got a way of doing it with the website and with books and things where people can just dive in themselves but typically it’s done by really listening and then asking a set of questions that listening well enough that the client really trusts you and that’s a big ask in this world and in this world of finance because with the banking crisis and everything that’s happened over the last decade, there’s a lot of distrust in the world. So, we listen. We’re turning the advisors to listen with great care, love, compassion, and authenticity in their listening.
And then we go through a process of asking questions that are open-ended and allow the client to explore what would be absolutely the most incredible life they could possibly live. And that’s the generator of this because once we have that, often the client thinks, “I can’t possibly do that.” We deliver it. We make it happen.
Casey: So, it sounds like life planning ultimately delivers financial freedom. Am I understanding that correctly? And if that’s the case, what is the definition of financial freedom to you?
George: To me, I’d say it delivers freedom and I believe it without the financial because when we put the financial on there, too much we’re thinking dollars and cents, and what I want the client to be thinking about is what would be a profoundly meaningful life? What would be an exhilarating life? What would be an exciting life? But with a meaningful aspect to it. If they died and they haven’t done this, what is it that they haven’t done that would be heartbreaking for them? We want to make those things happen. And so, often there are heartfelt things as much as exhilaration, but the client leaves our offices in every meeting. They leave with enormous exhilaration because they can’t believe that they’re talking with an advisor about something that’s just meaningful to them and that the advisors say, “You can have it. We can make this happen.”
Casey: Well, this is going to be strange to some because, I mean, what you describe kind of sounds like something it might go off and go on more often in a therapist or a psychologist’s or a life coach’s office rather than a financial advisor’s office. I know when people often come in to visit with us, we start asking them these meaningful questions. They get kind of a weird look on their face. Why are you asking me this? I’m here to talk about investments. I’m here to talk about taxes and estate planning, and there’s been some discussion out there or some controversy around life planning saying, “Well, this does not belong in a financial advisor’s office.” Do you think that’s one of the common misconceptions of life planning itself?
George: I think it’s a huge misconception and I’m partly responsible for it because the first book I wrote was called The Seven Stages of Money Maturity and it’s probably the best seller of all the books that I’ve written, but it is more of a psychology of money. And so, people started thinking, “Well, this is what life planning is. It’s about psychology. It’s about therapy,” and then the advisors would be getting in over their heads and working with emotional issues that in ways that maybe they had an inkling that this is how therapists do it and it’s not what life planning is all about. Life planning, it’s a very simple process. It is meaningful. We definitely listen with the same kind of depth and sensitivity, kindness, generosity of spirit that a therapist would listen. But rather than someone share something horrible that happened to their past or we don’t go into the past. We just simply improvise. I’m so sorry.
Casey: Well, I find that a lot of the conversations I’m having people asked me what I do and I’d say what, I’d say more than half my time I do feel like a therapist or even a marriage counselor for that matter. I think it fits very well into and you’ve picked somebody walk life with, mark your financial life with, and you sit down with a true financial planner and I think that’s so important and meaningful to have those conversations in that type of relationship.
Casey: You have been quoted saying that life planning is like the fiduciary standard on steroids. Some might be confused what the fiduciary standard is and really how life planning goes hand-in-hand with the fiduciary standard. Do you mind explaining that?
George: Not at all. The fiduciary standard, it’s a very important term for everybody in America now and even all over the world. There’s a difference between a financial person who’s basically a salesperson and selling product primarily and someone who has a fiduciary obligation to their clients and there are different standards for each of those arenas. The fiduciary standard started way back in 1940 with the Investment Advisors Act of 1940, but what the fiduciary standard says and there’s a lot of debate now because we’re trying to bring more of the fiduciary into all aspects of financial services. What the fiduciary standard says is you put the clients’ interests first. So, it means that if you’ve got two choices between products and one of them will make you more money than the other, you don’t sell a few more money. You put the client in the one that’s better for them if they’re exactly the same. And that’s how it’s mostly been interpreted. It’s mostly been interpreted as to transparency of costs and fees. It’s been interpreted as a financial aspect. The fiduciary standard is it’s mostly interpreted is a fiduciary standard toward the clients’ money.
But my point is, is that that’s not really placing the client first because in your life, Casey, and in my life and in all of the listeners and viewer’s lives, our money doesn’t come first. You know what comes first is our kids, our passion for community, our love of nature, many other things, our creativity, our values, our sense of spirit in life. Those things come first. So, if you’re going to place the clients’ interests first, everything about money should be subservient to who the client tells you they really are and if you don’t know who the client really as to where their secret passion is in life where what gives them the greatest purpose and the greatest meaning. Well, how can you call yourself a fiduciary? You’re just playing with their money. So, in my opinion, you can’t be a fiduciary without being a life planner.
Casey: So, a robo advisor is going to have a really difficult time with determining what these real passions are and asking the right questions along the way. I mean, most of these conversations that we have when people come in and visit with us, I mean, when you sit down with a financial advisor typically it’s, “Well, let’s talk about your concerns. What are your financial concerns? What are your financial goals?” And this is more than just goal planning or addressing financial concerns. And so, what’s the difference between financial concerns and goals and ultimately this whole life planning concept? Where does it fit in?
George: Back in the old days when I started which is way back, gosh, you don’t want to know when but it was certainly 30, 40 years ago. Clients would come in and I’d start off I think that this was about financial goals and so I’d asked them what their financial goals were and they tell me what net worth they wanted and how much income they wanted to make and how much savings. And so, it all be around money and I realize that over time I began to realize that I was doing those clients a tremendous disservice because many of them were not happy with what they were doing and so they were just doing it for the buck, basically. And I thought, “Wow. This is not who I am and it’s not who the client is. Let’s start talking not about financial goals which is about goals and let’s find a way to talk about it.” Maybe this is a good time to share three of the questions that we use.
Casey: Sure. Go right ahead.
George: I mean, there are many different questions that we ask the client as a way of getting at what’s important to them and we have a calendar that they look at and we ask them for their ideal day and week and year and we try to craft what we deliver to them around that. So, we’re not delivering them their net worth. We’re not delivering them a portfolio. We’re delivering them the life they want to live and then the portfolio merely is what will make that happen. So, there are three questions that I’m famous for I would say and they go like this, we ask them in order, and the first one is pretty easy to ask but most clients will answer it and it’s just, “So, you wake up in the morning and you discovered maybe you won the lottery. Maybe you inherit something. You got enough money to live for the rest of your life, all the money you need. What would you do with your life? How would you live?” And it’s a wonderful playful fantasy question that too often people don’t let themselves kind of play with. So, and they love to answer all the things they would do, the travel they would do, and the lessons, the dance lessons they would gather or the guitar lessons they would take or the film, all the things that they would do and the places they would visit.
So, after they answer that question, we ask a second question and it’s much more serious and here we set up a scenario. This time what happens is you go to see your doctor and the doctor’s been doing some tests, but it’s just a routine visit, and you’re not expecting anything but the doctor shocks you and let you know that you have a rare ailment and that ailment means that you only have 5 to 10 years left to live. There’s no way out. You live at least five years and you live as healthy as you feel right now, but you won’t make it to that 10th year. So, the question is if you knew that, what would shift for you? How would you shift your life? What would you do? How would you live your life? And you can see that, that takes you into much deeper place and more often than not, even more, the relationships that are so important to us come out but there are other legacy issues that arise as well for people. So, often there are answers to this question that weren’t in the first question and then we ask a third question. So, each of these questions we pause with, give the client time enough to absorb it, and to answer them sincerely.
And then with the third question, it goes deeper still and here the doctor this time really shocks you. It’s a different question that we ask you but the doctor really shocks you because you had an ailment that you are completely unaware of, and the truth is you only have 24 hours left to live. The question is not about what you would do with that time. The question is reflecting on all those things that you anticipated doing that you long to do, that you were looking forward to. Question is what did you miss? Who did you not get to be? And what did you not get to do? And you can see that it’s a very serious question. You couldn’t ask it right away with a new client coming in but you could ask it after you’ve prepped them with the first two questions. And often the answer to the third question is different from any other question. There tend to be five areas that people answer them, but hugely it’s our family. Not for everybody but for most people, family, or relationship if you’re not married. So, family, relationship. The second most common one is spiritual, is values or spirit, and that surprised me but that’s all over the world that’s a deep and profound yearning for people, to have more truth in their life, to have more spirit in their life, to have more God in their life, to live more of that mission for themselves.
The third, it could be just for people of a secular mind, it could be more integrity and more honesty in their work and more good faith in their relationships, but it’s always there. And the third most common one, it also really surprised me and that is creativity and I thought I was stunned by all the people who wanted to write a book or wanted to play jazz in a club nearby or learn the guitar or act in independent films, all these things. And also, of course, creativity in business, to create a business that’s really uniquely theirs. So, that’s the third most common and then there’s giving back to community. We’re all aware of that in the financial world is philanthropy, but that’s down. It’s fourth. It’s not nearly as personal as of the other three. And then the fifth one has to do with our relationship with Mother Earth really. It has to do with maybe we’re living in the city and we want to live in the country or we’re living in the country and we want to be in the city or maybe they were concerned about the planet and we want to give back to it but it really has to do with our place here on the planet. It’s a lovely thing.
So, those are the five things that are there and they’re not what – as a financial advisor, you’d ask, “When do you want to retire and which is the right ratio of stocks to bonds? And do you have an estate plan? Do you have a will?” All those kinds of things. None of those come up when you ask those three questions. So, it takes a preparation. When you talk about an advisor who has trouble getting those questions answered, it needs to be prepped by the website, by the emails that go out but also in the meeting. The first meeting should be I love the first meeting. The first meeting we don’t ask any of these questions. We just listen. We go, “So, why are you here? What brings you here?” And if they start talking about the 401(k) and saving. We go, “No, no, no. If we’re going to work together for a long time, what kind of a life do you want to have coming out of what we do together?” And then they begin to talk about their family and what they care about and you just go, “Anything else?” and you listen and whenever there’s something emotional, you’re there with them. You connect. You fall in love with your clients and you know that what your passion is it’s not about your job as a financial person. You’re passionate about delivering them into their dream of freedom. It brings you such joy because it brings them such joy. So, it’s just a different world. It’s just a different world.
Casey: So, you’ve asked some of these questions and you get these answers. How do the answers to these questions ultimately fit into the financial plan or the financial planning process? What’s the relationship? Maybe you can offer an example of someone who has answered these questions, and integrated the answers into a financial plan?
George: So, often we think and we’re often trained as financial advisors to think let’s pigeonhole each of the objectives of the client. It’s a logical process and then let’s make sure that the money is there for each of those elements and that’s not a bad way of doing financial planning. With these kinds of life goals, I often think in a different way. I’ve had clients come into my office who were devastated, had been devastated by the loss of one of their children. And in the answer to the third question and I don’t even know about it at first. They don’t even share it. They might not share it with a normal financial advisor, but at some point, it comes out in a life planner’s office because you create a relationship that is authentic and real, and really trusted. They want to tell you these things. So, when it comes out that their daughter died and you realize that she died a dozen years ago and they’re still carrying it in some way, they’re still really disturbed by it, you know that here’s where the closest thing to therapy I’ve ever done. It’s not really therapy, but they need to finish that in some way. They need to finish that work.
So, one thing that we do from a financial standpoint is we might say if they’ve got the resources, “Well, let’s set up a foundation. What was it that your child loved more than anything?” And it might be animals. It might be nature. It might be a particular location. It might be helping the poor. Let’s set up something that will just do that and give it in her name. So, that’s one way, but one of the things that, I mean, when you just bring it up and you let the client know that if they don’t, that I want you to live an enormously free life and if you don’t do something with that, you’re going to feel blocked all your life. You’re going to continue to feel blocked. So, one of the things that one of my clients did where that happened was they wrote a long letter to her and just telling her how much they missed her and that it was time for them to really say goodbye. That’s kind of a thing that a therapist might ask you to do, but it just came out at the meeting.
Now, I’ve taken this kind of a long way away from kind of more typical. Let me tell you something a little more difficult. Okay. So, at the end of that third question, we get things like. “I want to spend time with my six-year-old son or I want to write the Great American novel.” And so, we look and we see that they’re working 50, 60-hour weeks and we go, “I wonder what would happen if they…” Well, we ask them. I’d ask them, “So, if I were to give you an additional 10 or 15 hours a week and you were to dedicate that time to your son, would that work for you or you were to dedicate that time to writing? Would that work for you?” And almost always the client goes, “Wow. You can give me that amount of time?”
And so, we do. We typically deliver that and here’s what happened. Here’s where the financial planning process comes in. So, in one case, I remember the person was working for MetLife and they were actually a financial planner and they were fantastic. They were loved by the company and they were working about 55 hours a week and I thought the company is not going to drop them and I’ll bet you they don’t even reduce their pay, number two, and, number three, I’ll bet that if they got that relationship right, their six-year-old son, they would have so much more energy that in the 40 hours they worked, they would deliver as much as they’re now delivering in 55 hours feeling constantly this pull that I’m doing something wrong. I’m not there for my child. And that’s what happens is that you can have this extra time and all that worry, that anxiety, that feeling that they’re not fulfilling themselves, it all goes away. They have so much more energy and they do their work in less time.
So, I remember the person with MetLife in particular that there was actually there were all the metrics about how much they delivered and they did find out. I think it was within 1% of what they delivered the prior year. So, essentially, but they’ve got 15 hours to be with their child. So, more often than not, it’s a time issue. Sometimes there are issues of moving. They live in the city and they really want to be in the country and they can’t afford yet to be in the country so you strategize how to get them there. Two weeks now or maybe four weeks now. Maybe you can get them there six weeks now and remote work and that kind of thing. You get them. It’s got to be something that they haven’t completely thought of themselves and that they are thrilled with. They feel like, “Wow, that’ll make a difference,” because that’s what gives them the energy to become much more productive in their regular work. So, what I find is that life planning makes clients much more productive.
Casey: Well, it sounds like ultimately, you’re helping them develop their goals. So, these are still goals that I hear you listing off. They’re just deeper more meaningful goals, and I wonder if that’s what you meant being that we have largely retiree audience or pre-retiree audience. You said retirement isn’t really a goal at all and I think that might be contrary to what many have been kind of trained to believe.
George: Right. Yeah. I think we should be living with passion and purpose every day of our life, and life planning is one of the major supports for making that happen because it’s your life planner more than anybody. Certainly, more than a therapist. With a therapist, you’re largely looking back in the past and trying to heal wounds, but with a life planner, you’re looking forward. You’re looking at what you care about most and the life planner saying, “Let’s make it happen.” So, what happens I think of it in business terms I think of it as entrepreneurial. I think that what we’re delivering in life planning is entrepreneurial energy into the world. In fact, as you know, my latest book is more of a look at big economics and big democracy and all that kind of stuff and I think we’re way off target when we think of that the only way we know to deliver entrepreneurial energy to the world is with the business school elites, the venture capital, and private equity. Entrepreneurial energy is our birthright. It’s our vitality. Each of us wants to be engaged in the world in a way that really brings us alive. And for some of us, it’s more quiet than for others, but all of us want to live with that much passion. That’s entrepreneurial energy.
And when everybody in America is delivering that kind of entrepreneurial energy into America, wow, what a world. I mean, we come together because we see the vitality in each other and we want to support it.
Casey: Well, it’s a beautiful thing and another beautiful thing is often the financial plan we get delivered after we see an advisor and some of those things, I mean, I’ve seen them dozens of times from different offices and some of them are five pages long. Some of them are 50 pages long. You get this nice beautiful binder that you receive once. You never open it again. And I’m wondering that’s the product that a typical financial advisor is delivering as a financial plan. What does the final product look like of a life plan kind of contrast it to maybe what you typically get from an advisor in a financial plan?
George: Yes. In terms of our work at Kinder Institute where we train advisors to be like planners. We don’t spend a lot of time kind of devising and suggesting the structure of that final plan. What we do is we look at what they’re delivering now and look at what they’re going to deliver and we suggest that the client is going to find much more meaning in the life plan delivered. And so, some advisors will put that life plan into a language that is a page to anywhere between one page and five pages. Sometimes you’ll have a planner that delivers a 50-page document with all kinds of data in it and they really believe in that part of the planning process in financial planning but I think that I tend to be with your thoughts or that the clients don’t really look at it very much. They want to know that the scenarios are there, that they’ve been thought through and that they’re going to be able to live with dignity through their life and live with the purpose and live in the way that they really want to live.
So, there needs to be that much and so I always loved having a bit of a spreadsheet that showed going out in time how this will work assuming that everything works with the market knowing the usual fluctuations and all of that. But we don’t have a prescribed life plan because they want to know that you feel confident. They want to see your backup for that confidence. But they aren’t going to read the 50 pages.
Casey: Yeah. I totally agree. I think there’s much more value in having these high-level conversations but I think ultimately, putting them in writing and making them a part of the financial plan is something they might actually go back and revisit more regularly, just revisit what is it that I’m really passionate about, maybe in moments of struggle or maybe you’re just wondering what steps should I take next. Well, let me revisit my life plan. And we often say financial advisors should be putting their money where their mouth is. They should be investing where their clients are investing, not selling them something, and then putting their money somewhere else. And you’ve been living and breathing this for so many years. I wonder what George’s life plan looks like.
George: Well, before I go there and I will, let me just say one other thought I had and that is that the website I’ve alluded to is called LifePlanningForYou.com and it’s a very simple consumer-oriented website where they can put in all of their life planning information. But there’s also a wizard which is a term of art for a version of it that advisors use. So, sometimes advisors that have been trained with us will use that and that will be the life planning portion. And then the consumer can go back to that, that digital version of the life plan anytime they want, and play with it, revise it, shift it, and then paying the advisors and say, “Hey, I just had some new ideas. Come look at it.” And there you go.
Casey: Well, that’s an awesome tool. We’ll definitely put a link to that in the show notes.
Casey: Oh great. Good. So, my plan, my specialty was investment advice and portfolio construction other than life planning. In the early days, I did more active type of investing and at some point, I shifted and devised a relatively passive portfolio, relatively passive, where I could just sit with that portfolio and not think about it pretty much for the rest of my life and that’s what I’ve done. So, my wife thinks about it. Cathy thinks about it. She gets all their energy and said, “Well, look at what’s happening, George. Look what’s happening with the Wall Street and all this. What do you think?” And then I talk with her about why she can rest easy with the portfolio. So, there’s a saying sometimes that do you want to eat well or do you want to sleep well?” And I think of this device something for us that works for both. So, part of the life plan is the numbers and those numbers are I feel so confident with that I don’t glance much at them and I never worry about them. So, that’s part of life. The other part is…
Casey: Just not worrying about money.
George: I don’t worry.
Casey: That’s just part of your life plan.
George: Part of my life plan. I figured out that we’ve got enough and, yes, there is a range of possibility and things might be that there’s a bell curve for everything and it might be that we don’t and, well, we’ll cross that bridge when we go to it. And so, we’re living within that bell curve and I can rest easy with that year-after-year with hardly a glance. So, I’m delighted with that and I try to coach when I’m working with financial planners. I’ll try to tell them what I’ve done because it’s wonderful for clients to feel that at ease and also for advisors to feel that at ease as well. And then the other part is life planning part, and historically I’ve gone back to those three questions and some of the other exercises we do. I’ve gone back to them two or three times a year.
Casey: And evolve I would assume.
George: Yeah. Sometimes they take me by surprise if something’s really shifted. You and I talked about the City of London a little bit before we got on air and I love the City of London. You know, Casey, it was never in any of the questions, question one, question two, or question three. I wasn’t a traveler. I was a homebody and then one day I did the three questions and in the third question, life or death, I hadn’t really spent deep and long times in the City of London. So, do you know what I did? Within a couple of months, I had that I was spending one, two, three months a year in London. So, for me, life planning is something that I live. When something new comes up it’s really passionate and really important, I don’t put it off for a few years. I make it happen.
Casey: Yeah. And integrate it with your financial plan. It just becomes part of that life plan and you set these financial kinds of I don’t know if you would call them goals. I mean, maybe it’s financial goals that lead to the fulfillment of the life plan. That’s really what I hear you saying and that’s kind of how we walk people through our process. I want to make sure we get to one of your most famous books, your most well-known books, which is The Seven Stages of Money Maturity and actually right before we got on, our producer, I mentioned Seven Stages of Money Maturity and she said, “Oh, that means that you’re finally not just frivolous with your money. You’ve got responsibility around it.” I said, “I bet George gives us a different definition,” but I don’t know. I’d love to hear what is your definition of money maturity.
George: I think it has a lot to do with freedom and authenticity. A lot of times we think it’s not being frivolous but for some people, maybe they need to be frivolous. The question is are you in balance and at ease in your relationship with money or are you living with purpose and does your money support that? So, I think those are really more the issue. Sometimes we’re judgmental about what the producer was saying about spending in the right way and saving in the right way. Those are important things but in a way, it’s different strokes for different folks. Let me ask you. I mean, one of the great heroes of my life was St. Francis of Assisi. So, Francis of Assisi comes in to an advisor at Howard Bailey and says, “You know, I wouldn’t have come in here, but my daddy said I had to.” And he’s the main merchant of town, nouveau riche. He’s got a lot of money and I just want to give everything away to the poor, and I’d like to live in poverty and I love creatures,” and he talks to you about that and as a good life planner, you’d listen to that.
As a financial advisor, you might say, “Hey, I know you want to give all your money to the church and do all of that and give it all away but if you just work for your daddy, I know he wants you to work for it. You just worked for him for 10 years and you save money. We can make it grow and you’ll inherit the business and then you’ll be able to give away so much more.” So, that’s a classic financial advisor response. I think a great life planner response would be, “Wow. You love creatures. You’d love to speak to creatures. I’d love to support that. You want to give your life away now to the poor. Let’s make that happen. Let’s see how we can make that happen.” And it’s not going to have anything to do with investments. It’s going to be just supporting them to live a very simple life of poverty. So, I think it really varies from what is mature, varies for you and me. We’ve got families, spouses. We feel some responsibility in those ways and those are part of what’s meaningful for us, but for St. Francis what was meaningful was giving his life in every moment and living it in poverty.
Casey: So, in other words, my maturity would be understanding how you really value money, what money really means to you.
George: What you value in your life and making money serve that if you need it, if you need it, and the way Francis made money serve it was he begged. He begged for a living. That was how it worked for him.
Casey: Well, it can be a little bit different for everybody but I think at the core of this book, in particular, The Seven Stages of Money Maturity, it had a very heavy spiritual element. You might say that was kind of at the core of the book and one of the things you said in there, you said that you had found a way of joining money and soul together to create a greater depth to your whole life. How so?
George: Well, I think it was really knowing. I mean, isn’t this true for most of us that we feel a split? Isn’t that kind of a classic human dilemma in the modern era that we feel a split between ourselves and the world in some way, our deeper selves in the world between meaning and money. We feel a breakdown between we have all the messages given to Caesar what is Caesar’s and then to God what is to God’s. We have all the messages but nonetheless, we often feel a split between the world besides of ourselves and what we’re passionate about from that standpoint and what we care about most deeply and most profoundly in terms of our values. What I learned was that if you place your values first, then the money will serve those values and you can figure out how to use it, and there are a lot of ways in the book, The Seven Stages. In the knowledge section, we talk about financial planning. We talk about investing and how to do it. We talk about budgeting and saving, all the things that your producer was talking about. They’re right there in the knowledge area.
But then we go to the understanding chapter and in understanding we’re talking about part and then understanding we’re taking this a breakdown that happens inside of us where we feel guilty or we feel greedy or we get into fighting with someone around or around our business or questions of integrity come up that are challenging for us. And then understanding we heal that by developing a kind of an internal practice that develops ease in the midst of our difficult feelings and learn to let our thoughts go. So, one of the practices that I recommend is a practice I call letting thoughts go, letting feelings be. So, in a way, it’s a way of learning to be deeper inside of ourselves. It’s a way of learning to access wisdom. And in doing that by learning that practice, personally, I learned to not be so attached, not be so grasping around the money piece that these other pieces were more important to us, more important that I have an open heart for my kids, for my relationships, for my business, colleagues and all of that, that that really was the most important thing.
Casey: It seems like sometimes and maybe this goes with this split that you talk about with money. Sometimes we maybe feel. I know that some individuals feel that they can’t have success, they can’t have money and still be a great father or a great husband. They’ve got to give and take on these different things and some of this might come out of this belief that somehow that money is at the root of all evils. You said in your book, you said money represents a positive good for humankind. That’s a little different than some might be used to hearing.
George: Yeah. I think that’s right. I think that it really depends on us and the two myths that were so shocking really, one of them from the Bible and one of them from Goethe and other wise figures but the myth of Faust making the bargain with the devil and the myth in Genesis of the tree of knowledge, finding the tree of knowledge. So, money is of the tree of knowledge. Money has all of the, you know, it’s something we could calculate. It’s something we can figure out. We can isolate it in time and space. We acquire things with it. So, it’s not freedom. When you think about freedom and you think about a moment of freedom that you’ve had, you feel spacious. You feel alive. You don’t feel confined by time and space or by money. So, money has the ability to deliver us into those freedoms, but it also has the ability to narrow our lives into those constrained places where we’re not doing good work for ourselves or for other people where we’re not healthy really for ourselves or for other people.
So, I think that the work that we have to do is very much inside of ourselves having to do with developing what our passion or purpose is, what wisdom is, how we access wisdom, with the place. How integrity builds into authenticity so that we live that integrity in a way that just feels natural and authentic as opposed to some abstract moral code. It’s something that’s deep inside of us that we know. So, and all of those things are really at the heart of all the work that I’ve done is how do we deliver that kind of freedom into civilization and so money if we understand that and we understand that we’ve got this work to do inside of ourselves and then we use money or we use politics and we use economics or we use leadership or we use community, all of that can be then of great service to freedom and to integrity all across the world, and to healing the wounds that we have in society right now. There’s no reason for them. Part heart, we’re kind people. We want to be kind to each other and it’s the most extreme radical fringe on either side that are in that camp. We can get stirred up but we want to be. We want a life of goodness and the life that shares that with other people. It’s time to make that happen.
Casey: That seems like in order to make that happen, it kind of sounds like it’s just identifying what your belief system is. What do you truly believe in? What do you love? What do you support? We have fulfillment and spending time in that place and then marrying that belief system with your money. And that ultimately leads us to spending with purpose. I think some have been asked, “Well, how do I use my money with purpose or how do I spend my money with purpose rather than just on things?” And I’ll let you explain. How do you think we spend with purpose rather than just spending money?
George: Yeah. Well, again, I think it’s having this inner place of knowing who we are and who we want to become. To me, I think part of it is belief system but, in some ways, I think it’s more experiential. So, when, for instance, we’re confronted with the tragedy in front of ourselves or a tragedy in our own life, a great illness, the loss of life, the loss of a job. What reservoir do we have inside of ourselves to deal with that? And do we have the capacity to be with others who are also fracturing in some way? Can we be with them? And then spending our money with purpose I think comes out of that. It comes out of really knowing who we are and there I think a financial plan is a wonderful thing because there you begin to look at and craft what is it that you want to spend on, what can you afford to spend on, what is it that fulfills your purpose, and what’s the minimum you need for that? So, what is it you have to work for to get that? What is the minimum that you need to save to get that? But it should be focused not on some abstract number but on who you want to deliver to the world.
Casey: It just kind of naturally occurs out of this life planning discussion and delivering directly into the financial plan. As some might be stepping into retirement saying, “Hey, I need $1,000 a month to pay my country club dues,” and you say, “Okay. Well, let’s talk about what’s really important.” You find out if you ask those three questions that golf wasn’t even on the list of the most important things in their lives. It was time with their children. It was getting time back that they never get to spend with their wife. And so, we need to reshape them. You’re ultimately going to be putting that $1,000 maybe you cut it down to $500. You still play golf but now you can spend an extra $500 on traveling the country to see your kids or whatever that might be. You have just spent so much time developing this concept around money and soul and life planning. It means so much to you. Did you have any childhood experiences that shaped your thoughts about money and kind of brought you to where you’re at today?
George: I think the most profound experiences I had were not so much about money and really was – I mean, I think what happened for me, Casey, was that I lived in the nature. We lived on the edge of a tiny town in rural Ohio and we had fields all around us. I love being in nature, and I felt just spirit and I love that so much that when it came time to make a living and then I loved reading and I love the kind of the intellectual life or the creative life. But when it came time to make a living, I felt broken in some way. I felt that going to make a living was not going to really deliver who I wanted to be in the world. So, that was what I think made me look at life planning as being something that I needed to resolve this. I needed to resolve it for myself because I needed to make a living and I needed to resolve it for my clients because I saw that they were doing the same thing. They were getting stuck in jobs that were kind of thankless for them but because it was satisfying some number for them. So, that’s really what led me to ask, begin to ask these more profound and deep questions and realize that all of us kind of require that depth first.
Casey: For you, it’s going to evolve in this life passion and you’re 70 and still doing it, still living that. You’re in retirement but you’re doing the things that you want to do and you’re still making money doing it. And I guess that’s what I am saying more of. I’m saying retirement kind of changed and so I wonder what do you think has changed in the world of retirement and how do you see retirement evolving moving forward?
George: As I said, I think the main thing about retirement is that it has been largely conceived of this particular time that is determined either by the government or by the corporation that you work for and then you hit that time and you’ve done all the systems right and then you move out with your life plan or your financial plan to deliver yourself in that world of golfing or whatever it is and I think that what we’re doing is we’re breaking that wide open and people are starting to work remotely. People are starting to work more as being self-employed and engaged with worlds of money and industrial and institutional life. So, because people want to live with purpose. And so, I think it’s all – I think you’re still going to have those artificial structures there probably for some time, but I think what we’re seeing is people going, “No, I’m going to live my own life and this is how I want to live it,” and they’re going to their bosses and they’re saying, “This is what I want to do,” and the more people that do that, the more part-time work becomes available, the more 30 hours a week, 35 hours a week becomes available, the more longer vacations that become available, the more working from home, so that the person is actually living the life really that they want to live. That’s what I think is happening right now and I think it will continue to happen.
Casey: I think some of this has kind of turned into criticism of the millennial generation saying, “Well, they don’t want to work as hard as I did or they don’t want to put in hours. They don’t want to put in the time,” and it’s kind of around this FIRE movement, Financial Independence Retire Early. It’s not really retirement. That’s been my argument around the FIRE movement the whole time is it’s not – they’re not really retired in what we think of as retirement. They’re not just quitting their job. Many of them are still working. Maybe they’re working part-time. They’re just doing things differently. Maybe they’re working intermittently. They’re doing it differently and finding fulfillment along the way and maybe that’s where we go in the future is just this larger focus on fulfillment rather than just money and income and retiring and getting that gold watch someday. Is this kind of what you see? You wrote a book or you’re putting out a golden civilization, the map of mindfulness. Is this what you see as maybe the star of that golden civilization? I mean, you talk about hundreds of years into the future. It’s hard for anybody to think 50 years into the future and you’re thinking hundreds of years into the future. How does this all fit into say where we’re at today and what is your idea of that future golden civilization?
George: Yeah, I think we created this beautiful thing and I completely agree with your implications here that of the golden civilization what I do I ask people to imagine that we’ve arrived at one and maybe it’s a thousand years out and to look at what is it that and then to look and imagine what it is and I’ve even got a group, I’ve launched a series of conversations all over the world doing this so we’re essentially life planning civilizations. So, we’re imagining what that third question is, what does the civilization look like that you want to live in? And then everybody talks about it and what’s wonderful here, Casey, is I’ve done it in communities that are over on the left. I’ve done it in communities that are over on the right. They have exactly the same image. It’s an image of kindness, it’s an image of community, it’s an image of vitality, it’s an image of cooperation, it’s an image of collaboration, and it’s an image of creativity, all these wonderful things. And then I say, “Okay. So, let’s look back to now and then how can we make it happen now instead of waiting a thousand years? Let’s make it happen in this generation so that the kids that our kids are going to grow up and they’ll experience it. We’ve got it. It’s really here.”
And so, I’m very excited about that. I’m engaged with life planning civilization with people but coming back to our conversation about life planning, how I see it working individually for people is that the way that we’ve organized society since Adam Smith and the Industrial Revolution is we’ve organized society into hierarchies of power and some of those hierarchies are government power and some of those hierarchies are industrial or institutional or corporate or nonprofit power. And my image is that and it was also Adam Smith says that, “I want everybody to have that kind of freedom and that kind of power.” And wouldn’t it be wonderful if the world was created by all of us rather than feeling that we have to work a job, save the money, and we’re working someone else’s objective, not what we think would be extraordinary to bring into the world. If everybody brought what was extraordinary into the world from inside themselves, what an amazing world we would have.
So, that’s where the linkages to me that I think this breaking up of the old vision of retirement is actually giving the millennials an opportunity to show leadership, to show us how to raise kids because they’re the ones who are doing it, to show us how to live with purpose because they’re the ones who demanded that, “No, I’m going to live my own life. Show us how and show future generations how.” I’m very excited about the new generations that are coming on board and I don’t blame them at all for saying, “No, I don’t want to work that way. I wanted to live with purpose.”
Casey: George, with the amount of passion that you have, you might want to think about a career in politics. That might work out for you to try to change the world and give us this golden civilization. It’s time for us to wrap up and usually I wrap up with some stock questions but before we got started, you had mentioned that you’ve got some children. How many children do you have? How old are they?
George: I have two. They’re both 15 years old.
Casey: You know, we’ve got a lot of grandparents that are listening right now and parents as well just like myself. I’ve got a two and four-year-old. You talk about this millennial generation kind of being the force for positive change and maybe this relationship with money. I’m wondering what did you do as your kids were growing up and in order to make sure that they had a good grasp of money maturity. What types of things did you do with them? What type of advice would you give to this generation or grandparents out there to create really financially free or really financially smart children?
George: So, we did a number of things. There’s an app and I forget what it is but it’s one of the apps where the kids can save and they can see how their money grows. So, we put in an artificial interest rate that we were willing to give them on them saving their money. And so, we’ve set up kind of an artificial bank or investment or could be thought of as investment in stocks. So, we’ve given them that so they see the growth of their money. They see when they spend their money that that diminishes and can diminish it quite a bit that they have a concept of the compounding of interest and the compounding of the money that they have. We’ve talked with them from the very beginning. Both Cathy and I were very entrepreneurial in our life and being older parents and being relatively settled financially they don’t, to some extent, they don’t see all of that early worry about money and can I afford the mortgage and all of that.
Casey: Exactly, which is a concern that they didn’t get to see that.
George: Yeah. Exactly. So, we’ve shared it with them. We’ve talked with them about it quite often and I talk with them about entrepreneurial endeavor and then we’ve given them opportunities to work, to gain more money and to save, and one of them does more than the other. One of them saves more, one of them earns more. One of them takes the greatest pleasure like St. Francis in giving. And so, we want to, I mean, the trick of this is not to force something on them but to share the good values of different ways of approaching money in their lives and certainly knowing not to be wasteful with it and to be thoughtful in their consequences. So, we talk about debt and we will point out people who have gotten into debt and what’s happening in their lives. We pointed out in literature. I still read to the kids. One of the things I love, I love literature, so I’ve been reading all along. And so, I will…
Casey: You’re not reading Curious George anymore.
George: No. I’m reading Dickens and George Elliott and really challenging novels for them, Shakespeare. So, we talk about all those things. We pause when we hear the saying, “Neither a lender nor a borrower be,” in Shakespeare. We’ll pause and look at that. What does that mean? What happens? Why would he have sent out that cautionary note about those two things and where might we differ from that? Where might you differ from that? To get them engaged in the conversation thinking about it. So, we mostly have done it by engaging in conversation. I think the other thing is that kids have their differences with you, and you can get locked into. You were talking about belief system earlier and knowing what your belief system is. I love being in a situation where I can let go of any belief I’ve got in order to be able to listen better to the person that I’m with. So, I practice that. It’s one of the things I practice. Even my most deeply held beliefs I want to be able to let go of them entirely so that I can hear someone else’s and really live in their world and honor them and find the kindness and the generosity in their spirit and value who they are and what their belief is.
So, one of the things like my kids will have their beliefs and we’ll have our differences. And one of the things I’ve learned is if differences arise, I want to spend more time with them and listening and taking a walk, sitting on the couch with them when they’re playing with their machine and just sitting there and joking. But sooner or later listening and letting them know that I’m there to honor who they are. And if they know that then they’re much more willing to listen to who I am. So, that’s one of the things. It’s all about listening. Great advice is all about listening to.
Casey: Yeah. Well, that’s kind of been a constant theme of your life and your processes you’ve got. So, just to revisit that, so, one, teaching them some responsible money management using some tools to do that. There’s a lot of things you can do, things we’ve talked about in past podcasts. Go back and listen to some of our first podcast on that topic. Communication, just communicating with them on a regular basis, reading to them, talking about these topics around money and being open to their beliefs and simply spending time with them. All great information, great advice, and I thank you so much for joining us here in the podcast, George. It’s been an absolute pleasure.
George: Wonderful. Thank you so much, Casey.