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Guest blog by Robyn FitzRoy

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Gateway’s CEO, Paul Thomas, is currently on annual leave. In his place, this week’s guest blogger is Robyn FitzRoy. Robyn joined the Gateway board in January 2015, bringing specific expertise in corporate governance. She is also a non-executive director of the Self-Managed Super Funds Association. She has over twenty years’ experience in the financial services industry. 

Carpe Diem (or, enjoy yourself while you have the chance)

We spend a large chunk of our lives worrying about money – it’s an emotive, complicated subject. Financial issues are regularly rated as the top cause of stress and there is a growing number of people in Australia living with financial hardship. They are not all Aussie battlers - many property investors live with eye-watering amounts of debt.

So how much money is enough? Recent research (Finder.com.au, July 2017) startlingly revealed that the average Australian believes you need $5.3 million in the bank, not counting property assets, to “feel rich”. That is seven times our average household wealth, excluding property. Inflation and soaring property prices in recent years have changed the way Australians think about money and wealth. Corelogic (July 2017) figures show median house prices in Sydney and Melbourne have risen 65 per cent and 34 per cent respectively since 2012, bringing the national average up by 29 per cent.

Money matters. But does it make you happy?

The answer may be ‘yes, but only up to a certain point’. A recent report by RaboDirect (March 2017) shows that people earning between $80,000 and $100,000 a year — slightly higher than Australia’s average fulltime wage of $79,716 — are the happiest. As well, other UK studies show that it is household wealth, not just personal net worth, which determines happiness. Life satisfaction, a sense of worth and happiness are higher, and anxiety less, as the level of household wealth increases.

And what you spend your money on counts. There is plenty of evidence that spending money on life experiences and activities, rather than purchasing material possessions, will make you more content. Or certainly more satisfied. We tend to remember the experience much longer than the initial excitement of buying that new car. We are also less likely to compare ourselves with other people when we have experiences, compared with when we acquire possessions.

Giving your money away gets the biggest happiness uptick. Especially if you spend your money on other people in a way that strengthens personal relationships (the ‘bank of Mum and Dad’), or you give money to causes which are aligned with your values. Your self-worth is not determined by your net worth, but by the quality of your personal relationships, your life experiences and the meaning you derive from your existence. And the sooner you accept that life is far too short to be doing things you don’t enjoy, the better.

As we age, creating rich experiences and meaningful moments can become a more important pursuit than worrying about money, especially when we attain a level of financial security. Time is more precious now we know it’s a finite resource and should not be squandered. This lesson was brought home sharply last year when a lawyer friend discovered she had a brain tumour the size of an egg. There was no treatment. She had two months to live.

She decided that she would not wait for transcendent insights and significant moments, rather she would become the author of them in the brief time she had left. She planned celebrations, made phone calls, wrote emails and letters of gratitude to friends, took her grandchildren to the park, went on a ferry ride with her sister, had fabulous meals out with her kids, and cherished her husband more. She said goodbye at a huge party in her own home which her family had catered for. Her humble speech was haltingly delivered at this stage, but memorable. This final winter of her life was sad but in the reminiscing and celebrating there was closure for all.

Her ability to find and give joy in those final months had a profound impact on me. Good can come out of suffering and trauma. Savouring important things, large and small, becomes more important – relationships, the morning cup of tea, a spring flower, a job well done, volunteering, finding opportunities to be kind, exploring the world, learning new things. But pursuing perfection, mindless television watching and worrying about trivial issues becomes supremely unimportant.

Many of the significant experiences of our lives are the result of accident or serendipity. Surely we don’t need to wait for the wake-up call? Seizing the day and creating our own memorable and meaningful moments can be our choice and our creation. And remember:

Every day is a bank account, and time is our currency. No one is rich, no one is poor, and we’ve got 24 hours each”, Christopher Rice.

 

Regards

 

Robyn FitzRoy

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