By Libby Wildman
I love travelling. It keeps me humble and reminds me I live in a country where my savings will still be worth something in a few weeks. It always renews my sense of privilege as a Canadian.
In January when I was in Sicily with my daughter, Bailey, we experienced what life on the small island was like for locals. Most places were closed, as it would be a few months before tourists started to arrive again for the season. I speak only English and living in Ortygia for six days (where most locals don’t know more than a few English words) made me think of how difficult it would have been for my stepmother’s family when they emigrated from Sicily to Toronto 65 years ago. At the time, they didn’t know the language, they didn’t have work and they didn’t have friends they could lean on. On our way home, I flew Turkish Airlines and took the opportunity to ask our flight attendant how he and his friends felt about money (it’s an occupational habit) and what it meant to them. “Security. It means keeping my family with a roof over their head and food on the table,” he told me.
In Turkey (also called Türkiye), inflation is 180 percent. Residents cannot keep their money in the bank for long, as it will quickly be worth nothing. Instead, they must invest in gold, the stock market or currencies like the US dollar in order to maintain some purchasing power of their money. Our flight attendant shared that young people who are making good incomes (to the tune of $100,000-plus each year) have given up the hope of building wealth or buying a home, so they are choosing to spend instead of save. Money has no value other than current consumption. There is no thought for the future.
Speaking to my young North American clients, while not facing 180-percent inflation, they also seem to have given up hope — hope of a future of abundant wealth. They do not see how they can ever be wealthy and have adopted spending as a way of life.
What is wealth?
Wealth is what you do not see. It is not the car, the vacations or the boats. Wealth is, first and foremost, access to health care, a community that supports you and a job that sustains you. Beyond this, true wealth is in your savings, your investment accounts and perhaps rental properties. It is having enough to weather the inevitable storm and to feel sufficiency in your life. It is not the income you earn or the toys you buy. I have borne witness to several “wealthy” people who didn’t save enough or risked it all too many times. I have spoken with countless people with an income of $1 million in Toronto, and after all the stuff they feel they need to support their lifestyle, they have nothing to contribute to savings.
The discipline to change your life and save for who you will be in the future must come from a place of belief that you are more than the sum of your things. The work is in understanding that one day you too will be old, and taking control of your financial life now is life-saving important. Once you realize that all this spending is not actually the derivation of your happiness and you have a plan and vision, your stress, health and relationships will improve remarkably. Living within your means is truly a prescription for health, happiness and wealth.
Instead of letting your finances hold power over you, practise the affirmation that you are largely in control of the role money plays in your life. Get into the habit of being respectful of your money. Embracing the feeling of sufficiency of wealth is quite powerful. I leave you with this quote by author Shane Parrish: “Over time, the person who approaches life with an openness to being wrong and a willingness to learn outperforms the person who doesn’t.”
Libby Wildman is Head of Wealth Advisory at the Toronto-based investment firm Davis Rea and the founder of Liminal Escapes creative curated retreats.