What Is Real Wealth?

These times are unprecedented.  As a community, the younger kids are on extended break from elementary, middle school, and high school.  As a community, the older kids are home from college.  Dads or Moms, or maybe both, are off from work.  As a community, families are spending the most face-to-face time together in quite a while.  Unfortunately . . . this isn’t the annual family vacation or reunion.  This is a dramatic once- in-a-lifetime event that is occurring with the viral pandemic of COVID-19.  And as a community, many of us will face some sort of impact from this virus.  Some will be touched in life altering ways including serious illness and even death in our circle of family and friends.  Most of us will face economic consequences, some of which might be extreme.  

Nevertheless, the breadth of the crisis is a reminder that we are in this together, in some form or another. We will all have our own reactions to the fear that a once-in-a-hundred-year event like COVID-19 can bring.  Occasionally, some of our reactions might not reflect our better selves, but ultimately, we will need to call on our common resolve and shared values to overcome what is happening and what lies ahead.  We have done it before with other shared crises, and we will do it again.  This may sound trite in light of current circumstances, but there will be goodness and strength that will come out of our ability to overcome.

You know, in light of what has been occurring, it has given me pause to really think about the question of what really is wealth?  I am very fortunate to have a long and successful career in the financial services industry.  I find that many people and firms in my industry use the term “Wealth” in their titles or the names of their businesses.  I apologize for sounding a little philosophical when so often the business of investing and building sound retirement systems often sounds like it revolves around simply discussing risk budgets, numbers, quantitative data, and financial “models.”

 While I’ve always known this, current events have me reflecting that my true wealth is really my family.  Jill, Maeve, Phoebe, and Sophie are the primary drivers in most of the decisions I make in life.  Of course I’m still driven by my personal and business goals, and always will be, it is part of my DNA.  Goals such as to be the best I can be in my career, live a healthy lifestyle, contribute positively to society, etc., but even much of that aspiration is providing for my family.  And just as important is to set an example for my kids that part of making a living is being useful and helping others.  I try to teach them that if you give, you will be given too.

As I take a little time to look at some recent studies regarding what people thought of wealth, I found a similar take to my own.  According to a study done by You Gov on behalf of John Hancock and CNN, 39% of Americans put their families and helping their loved ones as their number one priority.  As you’d expect, other priorities differ along generational lines.  Millennials are dreaming of the future with 34% citing that as one of their most important goals.  As Baby Boomers march into their retirement years their primary concern is their mental and physical well-being.

Broadly, nearly half of all Americans have anxiety about retirement with concerns about whether they have the proper retirement system in place.  Unfortunately, nearly a third of all Americans find themselves with little or no savings, and consequently no funds to address an emergency that might arise.

Let me share with you a few quotes that came from those taking the survey₂:

“Wealth is the peace of mind that comes with not worrying about how to pay the bills next month or whether I have enough money to retire.”–Massachusetts Resident

“Wealth is good health, peace of mind, and freedom from worry.”–Texas Resident

“Wealth is the capacity to handle the unexpected.”–Rhode Island Resident

When looking over the statements, you know what didn’t come up were specific material things: Expensive Cars or Opulent Homes or Luxury Vacations.  

These are trying times and planning for our futures becomes even more critical.  In doing so, when we really reflect on wealth, for most of us it is not just the pursuit of some sort of bottom line number.  Our definitions, our goals, and the feelings around wealth are reflective in our values.  For most of us, taking care of our loved ones is our primary motivator.  Thankfully for many of us it goes far beyond freedom and choice, and allows us to broaden our reach to those less fortunate within the communities we call home.

Folks, for the past eight years, you and I get together each week to discuss complicated topics of Wall Street and how they impact Main Street.  And as we move together through the next few weeks and months, the important work will be done by our medical community, health care workers, and public health employees.  After some time, in a broad sense, our life will return to some resemblance of normalcy.  In my field we will continue to do our best to help our community plan for the future, hopefully even better informed by our current crisis and what they see as true “Wealth.”

In times like these – you must be vigilant and stay alert, because you deserve more!

Have a great week and please stay healthy.

Jeff Cutter, CPA/PFS is President of Cutter Financial Group, LLC, an SEC Registered Investment Advisor with offices in Falmouth, Duxbury, Mansfield & Southlake, TX. Jeff can be reached at jeff@cutterfinancialgroup.com.

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