‘Do not covet’ another’s lifestyle
'If a man has talent and can’t use it, he’s failed. If he uses only half of it, he has partly failed. If he uses the whole of it, he has succeeded, and won a satisfaction and triumph few men ever know.' – Thomas Wolfe
This quote is not just in honor of my second-favorite author – no one holds a candle to Hemingway – but a lesson I try to preach to my children. I remember when I was around nine years old and reading Sports Illustrated. It had a quote section and one quote made such an impression on me, I remember it nearly 40 years later. I believe it was Butch van Breda Kolff, former professional basketball player and coach, who when asked about the potential of a certain player said, “Potential is a French word meaning that you aren’t worth a damn yet!”
Only by tracking income and expenses can you start a realistic savings plan and start building wealth
The importance of trying to figure out your own specific talents and then turning them from potential into reality is the definition of individual success.
It’s Shavuot eve, and many people are focused on what to serve for their customary dairy meal. While cheesecake steals the headlines for Shavuot, let’s not lose sight of the real reason for the holiday. While there is an important agricultural aspect to the holiday – bringing the Omer offering – the main reason is that we are celebrating receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai. While lasagna and blueberry cheesecake are an important material aspect of the holiday, on a spiritual level it’s the reading of the 10 Commandments that takes front and center.
Forget about your neighbor
The 10th commandment is Lo Tachmod, “Do not covet.” The Torah begins by warning against coveting someone else’s home (Lo Tachmod beit rei’echa). It goes on and prohibits desiring another’s wife, servants, ox and donkey. As I have mentioned before, in explanation of this rather odd formulation, Rabbi Zev Leff, suggests that the root of coveting another’s assets is a lack of satisfaction with one’s own lot in life.
“If only I were that other person,” reasons the coveter, “I would have happiness!” Hence, all of that person’s relationships and assets are equated, since the coveter wants to be that person rather than desiring a specific one of his items. Perhaps this is the reason the Torah begins by warning against coveting another’s house, followed by a second warning concerning specific items: It is the desire to be another person in general – to have his household – that leads to coveting his specific possessions.”
Wax your skis
When sitting with clients, I am sometimes shocked by what they choose to spend money on. I will ask, “Why did you take the whole family on a week-long skiing trip to France, when in order to pay for it you had to blow through your budget and dip into savings?” Typical answer: “We really couldn’t afford it, but our son’s good friends all went with their families and he felt left out so we decided to take the family.”
The 10th commandment teaches us not to try to “keep up with the Joneses.” A year or two ago, I received a call from clients who live in the US. They wanted to buy a huge house. It turned out they were taking on a mortgage of over $1.25 million! Their income was very good, but six months before the call, they were both unemployed and had $50,000 of debt. I strongly suggested waiting and building up savings and then, in a year or two, they could buy with a much smaller mortgage. The answer I got was that all their friends were buying and even if they couldn’t afford it, everything would somehow work out.
It’s about you
Forget about everyone else and try and fulfill your financial potential. Live within your means. That doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy life and spend money on a vacation. Just make sure it’s accounted for. How? Make a budget. I can’t stress enough the importance of taking control over your spending. Only by tracking income and expenses can you start a realistic savings plan and start building wealth.
Then start saving. You need to start investing. With discipline, the wonders of compound interest and the growth of the stock market, over time you will create a comfortable nest egg.
It’s of utmost importance to maximize your retirement account contributions. There is no better investment than a tax-deferred investment. Make sure you are maximizing contributions to your Keren Hishtalmut and Kupot Gemmel. Keep the money invested and you will be shocked at how much money you can accumulate over the long term.
Forget about everyone else and focus on implementing these steps to get on solid financial footing.
Now back to the cheesecake. Chag Sameach!