Understanding your money blueprint

Money BlueprintWhat if the entire personal finance industry is focussing us on the wrong things?

What if the key to getting rich is not just increasing earnings and choosing good investments (important though those things are)?

Instead, what if the underlying key to getting rich lies in how we think about money and wealth?

 

Mental models are ways of looking at the world. They are like maps: simplified versions of reality which help us navigate a complex world.

I’ve noticed that some people have mental models that are powerful for building wealth. Warren Buffett’s partner Charlie Munger is known for a set of mental models that helped him achieve great success.

We use mental shortcuts because they allow us to make quick decisions and, in our evolutionary history, quick decisions would have been needed to survive. When you see a shadow the shape of the sabre-tooth tiger, best not start a philosophy class, best run the fuck away.

We make most decisions more on our instincts, emotions and pre-conceptions than we do on logic. How else can we account for the wealth management industry in it’s current form with its ridiculous fees?

Once you accept that saving hard, investing rationally and reducing investing costs matter hugely, the victory is largely won. This big picture psychology is way more important than agonising over which fund or ETF to buy….yet its the detailed mechanics of investing that get almost all the attention.

This is a fucked up state of affairs and the fault lies mostly inside ourselves. The answer is to focus more on our inner game.

Humans make money decisions much like we make relationship decisions, through a complex mix of conscious and sub-conscious thought processes driven by emotions and programming in ways we don’t really understand.

For example, have you ever heard someone complain about all their past boyfriends being bastards? (please feel free to change the sex and character flaw yourself here). But what is the one thing that all these past boyfriends have in common? The person that chose them. Is it possible that the person choosing has a relationship blueprint that is unhelpful?

Similarly, is it possible that we all have money blueprints that determine our financial results? For good or bad.

Money blueprintI’ve been reading Secrets of the Millionaire Mind by T Harv Eker. The prose is never going to win any literary awards; its written in the dialect of self-help. But I urge you to focus on the content of this fantastic book. One of its key concepts is the money blueprint.

Eker argues convincingly that everyone has a personal money blueprint and that this blueprint, more than anything else, will determine our financial destiny.

To use an analogy, imagine we humans are like PCs. Our bodies are the hardware and our money blueprint is like the operating software that’s been programmed into us. We emerge from the “factory” of childhood into adult life with our money blueprint installed. This then forms the prism through which we see the world.

Our blueprint comes from sources of authority growing up including parents, other family, teachers, the media, churches etc. All of these try to influence us, mostly for our own good but often to suit their pre-conceptions or agenda.

Unfortunately most people are brought up on half truths. They may have been told that all rich people are greedy…or that you can have money or happiness but not both. They may have been told that you can’t take it with you and you only live once etc.

Someone who has internalised these mantras may self-sabotage and live in a way that ensures they never have to suffer the burden of being rich. If you’ve been brought up to believe that rich people are greedy and that being greedy is bad, then if you want to be a good person, sub-consciously you can never be rich. This may help explain why we see so much ridiculous spending all around us.

Eker is one of those annoying inspirational gurus that strides around a stage in front of thousands of people with a headset microphone, a tan and suspiciously good hair for a man of his age*. He tells anecdotes and shouts out things like REPEAT AFTER ME, I HAVE A MILLIONAIRE MIND! and the audience shout it right back like lemmings would if they could shout. So we can ignore him right?

Errr, no.

We should not ignore Eker for one good reason…he is Right. When The Escape Artist finds a guru that is objectively correct, I don’t focus on his tan.  No, I bow the fuck down and absorb as much as this guru can teach me as possible.

Eker focusses on how to think like the rich. He recognises that to win the money game you need a mixture of offence (earning more, taking intelligent risks) and defence (wealth preservation and low spending).  Most of us are not going to be able to just penny pinch or just earn our way to being rich.

Not only did Eker make a couple of fortunes in real businesses, he then dove deep into human psychology and used that knowledge to make an even bigger fortune in training, motivational courses and seminars. Eker understands the human psychology of wealth better than anyone I’ve previously read.

My money blueprint was formed growing up in provincial England in the early 1980s. My parents both went to college, worked hard and stretched themselves to buy their house and move up the property ladder. This worked out well for them but there were some nasty moments along the way. In 1981 we moved house and my heavily mortgaged parents watched as interest rates went to 17%. Belts were tightened. The newspaper was cancelled. Beer was brewed at home etc etc

We never had to eat roadkill but to the young Escape Artist it seemed touch and go for a while. This experience provided me with an salient example of how it was possible to cut spending when push came to shove.

My parents kept their heads down at work and things improved. The early 80s were the era of privatisation and my parents made money on shares…not much in the bigger scheme of things but enough to spark my interest. Wall Street was in cinemas, Margaret Thatcher was in Downing Street and pictures of annoying stockbrokers talking on brick mobile phones and drinking champagne were often on the telly.

Stuck in a comprehensive school in provincial England, going to work in the City seemed impossibly glamorous. I wanted money and never to worry about it again. I didn’t know my Krug from my Kestrel but I could learn that stuff later right?

I could go on but you get the picture. My attitudes to money were formed in those years. During my adult life, I repeated some of the patterns (good and bad) I’d absorbed during that time. For example, when it came time to buy a house, I duly borrowed every penny that the bank would lend a young idiot in the mid 1990s. I then went on to repeat my parents example of occasionally panicking about money and going on cost-cutting binges.

My parents were brought up in post war Britain with food rationing, where social mobility was still limited and most people did as they were told. Doing as you are told is something I rebelled against. We have two ways of reacting to the blueprint we inherit. Mostly we absorb it unconsciously but if it annoys us enough growing up then we focus on it and resolve never to live like that again.

Overall, I got a good money blueprint from my parents. But regardless, blaming anyone else for your current situation is worse than useless. We are where we are and we are in charge. But its valuable to look back at your childhood to see where your money blueprint came from.

The idea of a money blueprint helps explain why some cultures have different attitudes to money and hence results than others. For example, throughout history and across different countries the Jewish and Chinese cultures often produced people that traded, invested and built wealth. Similarly the American settlers developed a hard working, independent frontier mentality which helped them conquer the West.

The idea of a money blueprint helps explain why financial independence is such a rare and misunderstood notion, particularly here in the UK. How many of us had parents that were financially independent and both at home while we were growing up? Not many, I’d guess.

We may have asked our parents for money and been told to go and get a job…or that money doesn’t grow on trees….or that we’d have to work for it. No one ever told us to go out and get some sources of passive income…so we didn’t. Many grow up with the idea of passive income from businesses or financial assets never even contemplated.

The money blueprint exists only in our minds. On its own, it can’t drive the results we get in life. There has to be a transmission mechanism. Eker’s transmission mechanism is:

Thoughts lead to Feelings. Feelings lead to Actions. Actions lead to Results.

Eker explains that every child is taught how to think and act in relation to money. But the teaching is usually not explicit. More often, the child picks up notions on the basis of Monkey See, Monkey Do. This is how we get programmed. Our programming then shapes our thoughts, which shape our feelings, which direct our actions, which lead to our results.

Results have many causes. Our results (in investing, at work) are also influenced by luck. So the transmission mechanism often seems indirect, even invisable.

This is why people often get discouraged from building wealth. Sometimes the fruits of our labours seem too far away in time, too prone to luck to justify doing the work. But this is like a farmer refusing to plant crops because they can’t see the seed grow underground.

The farmer has a money blueprint that includes hard work, stoicism and an acceptance of the volatility of the weather. The weather or disease can have devastating effects on any single crop in any single season. But the farmer realises that over time, if they work hard and plants the right seeds, they will succeed. Interestingly, most farmers come from farming families so they will have grown up on the farm seeing their parents work hard and deal with farm life.

We can change the money blueprint we inherited. We have free choice and can change the way we see the world. But most people don’t bother because it takes work and self-evaluation.

But change can be hugely beneficial. Over the past year I’ve changed my money blueprint to focus much less on the fear of losing what I have and more on gratitude, spending less and finding new opportunities.  I also help other people with this process through coaching.

What about you? What experiences and beliefs shaped your beliefs about money? What is your money blueprint?

*I’m just jealous

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15 comments

  1. What if the entire personal finance industry is focussing us on the wrong things?‘ Totally agree EA. Over the last few months I’ve come into contact with several ‘financial advisers’ as part of my research into a change of tack. Of the six I’ve talked to in my home town (provincial New Zealand) all bar one have actually been ‘investment product salesmen / women’ – now some of them have been unbiased in their approach but of those five not one spoke to me about ‘spending less – investing more.’ The sixth classed herself as an investment coach, the only one in my view who represents herself accurately.

  2. yes im a believer in the mind and its powers
    I call this poverty mentality or abundant mentality
    Its the law of attraction. if you have a poverty mind set , your always saying things like ‘ I cant afford’ or getting in to debt and feeling poor all the time, then you will never get rich, your mind wont permit it.
    on the other hand if you have abundant mentality , like I believe I have, then you feel you always have more than enough of everything ,money in your pocket , you feel you can buy anything you need , need, not want! then you will attract wealth one way or another.
    Like attract like , wealth attracts more wealth.

  3. Underscored · · Reply

    Money is a belief system. It is all about beliefs and behaviors.

    1. Underscored · · Reply

      http://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/feb/16/daniel-kahneman-thinking-fast-and-slow-tributes

      “Thinking, Fast and Slow confirmed for me that economics is not a science but deeply connected to our psyche. I know several grand economists and have been dismayed by their lofty disregard for how the human animal actually functions. Daniel Kahneman’s lucid and witty accounts (backed by thorough research) of our apparently innate tendency to risk-aversion reveals the crucial link between economics and psychology.”

  4. Great article. Totally agree. My money blueprint was created by a father who had no problems creating money (he was a brilliant entrepreneur and made several fortunes) but then could not hold onto it (he went bankrupt three times and pissed most of it up the wall).

    getting away from the shackles of your parents/teachers/cultural training is a challenging thing to do. breaking these beliefs is very difficult let alone even identifying them and their impact on your and your decisions!

    Great article thank you. Do you have any advice on setting a positive money blue print? What do you think the beliefs about money for a healthy relationship should be? Should money be in your list of values?

    1. Thanks. I think the first step towards setting a more positive money blue print is to be aware of the weaknesses of our previous blue print. This is often harder than it sounds. We all have blind spots. So get honest feedback from people that you trust.

      Ask yourself and them what has held you back in the past? Be open to feedback and honest with yourself. Talking openly with your significant other about joint money goals is incredibly valuable but rare.

      Once you’ve identified some areas for improvement, the important thing is to focus on the big wins. We don’t have to be perfect, we just need to tackle our biggest weaknesses. If someone is a great earner with a weakness for spending, its more powerful to tackle the spending than it is to compensate by trying to work even harder and earn more. Big spenders need to think about what emotional needs their spending is fulfilling and how they could achieve these more effectively. They can then separate their spending from their identity.

  5. Another excellent article, a really intriguing topic, garnished with exquisite humour, so as always a pleasure to read.

    I’ve come to realise in the last few years just how powerful psychology is in determining a person’s wealth & so well-being in life, I’d say even more so than the obvious variables you would immediatley assume, such as education, experience, opportunity, effort etc. An analogy would be having a fantastic vehicle, but no fuel – you’re still going nowhere fast no matter how beautiful the machine – the unsexy latter variable is a totally limiting factor ……. effectively a dealbreaker.

    I think psychology is that important that until you sort yourself out, you could even endanger yourself investing …..& as you say, it’s easier said than done because most people can go through their entire lives without really figuring themselves out. Between being simply lazy & wanting to avoid the uncomfortable feelings & emotions that self-analysis often raises, people tend to give any deep self-examination a miss. This often results in the amazing financial decisions you see that change lives – based on as much due diligence as flipping a coin – most people can put more effort into researching a weekend break than their next car, house, partner, offspring, job…..

    I have a background similar to yours it seems & while that is very useful in moderating reality [volatility in life] according to the opportunities of the day, it means I have to constantly fight that ‘fear of loss’, to try to not let it limit or shackle me. I try to achieve a good balance of always keeping an eye out for opportunity & then going for it if I recognise one, as well as throttling back on the frills you can survive without when things start to look tough. As you say though, those early internalised lessons are powerful & so surprisingly difficult to shake, but it’s not impossible.

    Knowing how things work is the majority of what you need to change & fight against lapsing into comfortably familiar old patterns. Knowledge, efforts, reinforcement.

    P.S.

    You say that most people struggle with even the concept of FI, mainly because of the lack of example from their most powerful mentors in life, but our grandparents generation were hardworking, thrifty & hugely commonsensical. [I don’t know if that’s a word] So it must be that the powerful forces of influence in modern life, like the advertising-industrial-complex, conditioned it out of us starting from our earliest exposures to education & wider society as a whole……

    1. Yes I agree. I don’t think there is an actual conspiracy but the pressures of the modern world (including advertising, debt, health & safety etc) sometimes seem to combine to keep us down in some ways. Thanks for the comment Survivor and the kind words…as I always say: please pay it forward!

  6. I wish we were all wired this way right out of the box, it would make it a lot easier!

  7. “So it must be that the powerful forces of influence in modern life, like the advertising-industrial-complex, conditioned it out of us starting from our earliest exposures to education & wider society as a whole……”

    I think you may find that some of this is government driven. It is part of the controlled society. By encouraging debt and indebtedness, we are controlled. You have bills to pay therefore you need to work to pay them off. Pay your taxes and live under compliance. Suffer The Man, be grateful of any happiness you may acquire.
    Am I looking through rose-tinted glasses or was life simpler/happier in years gone by?
    If you look through old UK census records you will find plenty of ‘self-supporting’ individuals living in the UK. Aren’t these the FIRE individuals of the past?

  8. the ‘life was better in my day’ is a cognitive bias. *Your* life probably will have been better and simpler in the past as you were younger. But the inductive logical argument that this means someone elses life is less simple and less happy now is false. If it were true, people would just get forever happier and simpler as you read further back in the old history books.

    Society has to be controlled to a certain extent to function in an acceptable way. Debt will inevitably be encouraged by those with an interest in providing credit. This is inescapable. Taxes have benefits as well as disbenefits, dispersal of wealth for the greater good and all that.

    The ‘them and us’ world-view which is similar to ‘suffer the man’ is subjective rather than objective. I prefer to think the world is ‘them and them’ or ‘us and us’ with each of us acting out our own set of incentives. I think a possible attraction of the ‘them and us’ view is it allows a degree of abdication of responsibility for ones own lot in life. Even if, in some circumstances that is true, I’m not sure it is helpful in its contribution to living the ‘good-life’.

  9. @sparkleb33,

    I totally agree – when the Europeans colonised over the last few centuries, they usually found subsistance societies & so couldn’t control them for their own aims. To overcome this problem, they imposed taxes on them to pay for the ‘civilising new things’ they claimed to be gifting the native population for its own good. This neatly resulted in the original inhabitants being forced into a cultural/lifestyle shift to pay off their newly imposed debt for things they neither asked for, wanted nor needed. [Ring any bells with the endless austerity that taxpayers here are forced to pay for despite not having robbed any banks themselves?] All this ending up in generations of increasing poverty & vilification for being useless at surviving today by their very oppressors.

    Having run out of enough power to raid the wealth of other countries, to keep up the increases in income for their 0.01% ruling elites, the richer countries are now devouring their own populations, using much the same tactics. [if the formula works, why mess with it……]

    You can see how hard the ‘system’ makes it today for those of us who are industrious/awake enough to try to break out of today’s Grand Lemming Tombstoning Cliff-edge Challenge event…..

    If you’re attempting to achieve FI/nirvana by being totally self-sufficient so nobody can own you & so dictate your life conditions, it is made as hard as possible – if you live off investments, like several passive income streams, try getting a mortgage or even renting for example. If you don’t conform, you can easily fall through the cracks in the system – you’re not retired, or unemployed, but there’s no label they can easily apply to you.

    As such, there’s a punishment for not fitting into the norm, even socially, not a lot of people get what you’re trying to achieve by not following all the sheeple in front, they don’t understand that you want to just be free for example, instead they worry you’re weird/cheap/ideologically driven, or whatever else their fear is…… it can be isolating.

  10. Or you could marvel that modern society makes it is possible to become FI at all!

    Imagine that, being able to allocate your capital such that you live off the effort of others indefinitely. Absolutely extroadinary!

    Not sure the subsistence farmers of old would have had any means of pulling that one off?

    Also, theres another well known cognitive bias called the spotlight effect, where you think others worry about you far more than they actually do..

  11. Love this “Once you accept that saving hard, investing rationally and reducing investing costs matter hugely, the victory is largely won. This big picture psychology is way more important than agonising over which fund or ETF to buy….yet its the detailed mechanics of investing that get almost all the attention.

    I think one of my part of ‘blueprint’ is realising that having money doesn’t have to make you a prick, but making a show of how much you have can do.

    Growing up, my parents were never short of money. But I remember always having second stuff, cars bought of my dads friends, crappy old TV’s and stereos. I remember being confused, “Why haven’t we got a super sweet car, we can afford it”. But now I’m the same 🙂

    MrZ

    1. This resonates – my daughter 13 has several friends with super flash houses, 2 high end cars and all sorts of high end toys. She see’s Dad’s house with a threadbare carpet, a ten year old car etc, “dad our stuff is so crappy compared too why are we so poor?” Hopefully over the next 5-10 years she’ll make the connections……

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