Anshu Bahanda: Welcome to another episode of Wellness Curated.This is your host, Anshu Bahanda. And as you know, my aim with this podcast is to get to you ideas, trends, techniques, tools that will help you to lead a healthier, happier and more hopeful life. This season, we’re focusing on financial well being. And today’s episode is something really interesting. It’s titled Champagne and Stocks. So here we’re going to discuss tips and tools for building wealth while still enjoying a good life. So today we have with us two incredible speakers. We have Ratna Sharma. She has [over] 25 years of experience in private banking, wealth and investment management. And she’s now the executive director of Lighthouse Canton, Mumbai. And she works in expanding the wealth management business in India. Spencer is also an incredibly interesting human being. Spencer Sherman started a company called Abacus.
It’s a financial firm, but it’s based on Buddhist principles. And he’s the creator of a course called The Dharma of Money. He’s an author and has developed the Fearless Finance programme.
He has 30 years of experience in meditation and he helps people have a balanced life and a strong connection with money. Now, money, as we know, is very complicated for a lot of people. So I think this is going to be an incredible conversation. Welcome to the chat Ratna and Spencer.
Ratna Sharma: Thank you.
Spencer Sherman: Wonderful to be here. Thank you.
AB: Thank you both for taking out the time. When we’re talking about leading a particular kind of life of wealth management, we’re talking about enjoying a good lifestyle. You know, in my life, I’ve seen different kinds of people. So I’ve seen people who will work, work, work, work, work— that’s their ethos. They will work till they can possibly work. Then there’s people who want to build a certain amount of wealth and then enjoy it and make the money work for them. And with both these kinds of people, it’s not always a choice. Some people are trying to build wealth, but they spend their whole life doing it. I hope we cover a lot of these kind of issues because you also have a third kind of person, which I know you’ll be able to help me address, which is people who feel, ‘Oh, we can manifest anything we want;’ and we all want to get there, right? We can manifest the money we want. We can manifest the life we want and lead the life we want. So, I’m going to start with my questions. Ratna, share your journey with me.
Tell me about how you got into the financial services industry and how this has shaped your view on wealth management.
RS: So, Anshu, thank you so much for having me here. It’s a pleasure talking to you and to Meet you. You know when I started my financial journey, it was almost three decades ago.
So it was a very interesting time for the financial markets. Because in India, the mutual fund industry was just getting privatised when banks started advising clients on financial instruments like mutual funds. So what happened is that a new genre of bankers were actually born at that time, and we were called financial advisors. So we actually put up our hands to learn more about the capital markets. We kind of understood what is debt and what is equity in mutual funds, and we kind of started advising clients. And then, of course, today the industry has grown manifold, right? It has been a very gradual and comprehensive journey, but it’s also been exponential. So what we see today is, like you said, a very complicated and diverse universe in investing, which makes our role even more critical because today we have asset classes ranging from equity private markets and public markets, debt private markets and public markets. Then you have real estate, then you have alternate assets, and you pretty much have everything that is available in the market and is regulated which is available for you. So what I feel today, my role as a financial advisor, is extremely critical, just not for me to understand what is happening in the market and the products, but to also ensure that I’m understood by the people I’m bringing it to. And that, I think, to my mind, is the most critical thing, that you’re able to explain what you’re bringing to the table very clearly to your clients so that they understand what they’re getting into. I think that role of mine, I take extremely seriously.
AB: Thank you, Ratna. And thank you for saying that, because so many times, I mean, I’ve been through this myself, where a financial advisor will give you advice on something and I don’t understand the product, and I try to get them to explain it. They don’t always understand it. So that’s very important, what you’re saying, that your role is to explain to people what the product is because life is so complicated as it is. And that’s why you have all these crashes, because people are investing in stocks and they don’t even know what they’re investing in. And Spencer, coming to you now, I read that Vipassana and Dzogchen meditation has guided your principles and your work with money. So can you tell me, how did you come to integrate Buddhist practices into your career as an investor and what inspired this journey? I’ve never heard this before, and I found it fascinating when I was researching you.
SS: Thank you, Anshu, and great to be here with you, Ratna. So, for me, it was all the emotion that I started seeing in very smart people. I went to a top business school in the US. And I see it in my colleagues, this impulsive behaviour with money. And I say to myself, ‘What is going on?’ Money is this very logical, very commonsensical field, especially the field of investing. Why are people selling at the bottom? I just couldn’t understand it. And I also felt it in myself, this urge to sell at the bottom even though there is zero evidence for selling at the bottom, zero evidence for selling a diversified portfolio at the bottom. And yet we see masses of people doing it and we see it on the flip side. I mean, now with some of the markets being high right now, we see people [doing that]. I just got a call yesterday: someone told me I want to switch everything over to tech stocks. What are you talking about? There’s no evidence to buy high. Buy low— that’s where the evidence is or at least keep it diversified. So all of that said to me: we need emotional intelligence. And there’s nothing better, I feel, to develop one’s emotional intelligence, than some of the practices of mindfulness and meditation and Vipassana and Dzogchen.
But there’s many other paths to cultivating this emotional awareness, emotional intelligence, which is so critical to making sound financial decisions. Because we know that the experts, they have a mind full of knowledge but they still are not able to make wise decisions. It’s because they haven’t cultivated this emotional intelligence. And I am one of those people because I have made some of the biggest mistakes in my life, especially in my 20s, letting myself be driven by impulse instead of evidence.
AB: I want you both to explain to our listeners what is financial well being to you and how do you associate it with overall well being? Because I’ve had people say to me why are you doing financial wellbeing? What does it cover? I mean, finance has nothing to do with health and wellness. But I’ve seen people have heart attacks because their portfolios have gone down the drain. So Ratna…
RS: It’s very interesting that you should say this because when you wish somebody, you say wish you health, wealth and happiness, right? So health to my mind comes first because health is both, of course, physical and mental. And very close to health, the second [important thing] is wealth, right? Because whether you like it or not, we might say that money is something that ‘Oh, don’t give importance to it.’ But at the end of the day, if you are earning and you’re working hard, you also want to do something with your money that makes the money work hard, right?
RS: For me, the whole journey is not complete without the wealth being a very integral part of your overall well being. Your relationship with money is extremely crucial. And as with any other relationship which grows with love and respect, if you love and respect the money, it will also grow and fulfil your life in a very spiritual kind of way. That is what I would say. But going down to basics, a disciplined approach is very essential. And this message is specifically for people who are starting their financial journey, whether they’re starting to earn or whether they’re kind of starting a business and they are making money or whatever it is that you’ve decided today. You’re going to have a portfolio and you’re going to kind of make your money work for you. And as Warren Buffett has said, ‘If you don’t find a way to make money while you sleep, you will work until you die.’ So the idea is to make your money work for you even when you’re sleeping. And to me, that is the most important thing. So you need to start your journey with money.
AB: Thank you. And Spencer, what is financial well being to you?
SS: Financial well being is finding equanimity. That’s one of my favourite words. It’s finding this sense… Here’s another one of my favourite words, which you’re not allowed to say. At least in the US. You’re not allowed to say the word ‘enough.’ It’s almost like a profane word— that you have enough. But I feel that financial wellness, it’s having… I mean, money is essential. It’s an energy that we need in order to sustain ourselves and buy food and shelter and all that. But the craving of more and more, which I’ve seen across income levels, this belief that if only I had more money, I’d be okay. And it doesn’t stop. As soon as you fly first class, then you want to fly privately. It’s an endless cycle. This, to me, is not financial wellness. This constant feeling [of being] unsettled, unmoored, because you don’t have something that a neighbour has. So to me, financial wellness is being at ease with your finances. It’s knowing that your self worth is way infinitely greater than your net worth. That, to me, is also part of financial wellness. And it’s achieving this very high quality of enough. Enough sounds like a very boring term, but it’s not. It’s a boundless state of being where you’re no longer craving that additional dollar. You’re at ease with who you are. You’re at ease with your finances. From that place, anything is possible. Ironically, I think you’re more likely to make money when you’re in that place of ease with yourself. But somehow in many cultures in the world today, there is no priority on ‘getting enough.’ The priority is on ‘never having enough.’ And to me, never having enough leads to greed, which we know from so many universal religions and traditions is an endless form of suffering.
AB: And greed has led to overconsumption. It’s led to what’s happening to the earth.
So, yeah, thank you. Thank you for that, both of you. So, Ratna, in the post COVID world, I’ve seen a shift in people’s way of thinking. So it’s not just all about earning, earning, earning.
People are also saying we want to enjoy our lives. Can we dip into our savings a little bit?
So given that context, what is your advice to people who are starting out on their wealth building journey?
RS: So the first thing that we do when we start our wealth building journey is to identify our goals, right? So what are my financial goals? Whether it’s a short term goal like buying a car in a year or going on a holiday, or my long term goals, like I want to kind of create a savings kitty for myself in the next 25 years, or I need to send my children abroad for [further] studies. So those become my long term goals. So when something like COVID hits you, what happens is you start thinking that life is very transient. I need to kind of do more with my money; that [when and] if I’m gone, then who’s going to be left to enjoy that money? But you need to also keep in mind that you’ve set the goals yourself. So any decision that you make with your money, you should also be aware of the repercussions that the decision is going to have.
So today if I say, ‘Okay, you know what? 50% of my wealth, I’m just going to buy a jet [with it], and I’m going to go and travel around the world.’ That’s your call. Totally. It’s your money, you do what you have to do. But tomorrow you should not look back and say, ‘Oh, I wish I hadn’t done that, I wish I hadn’t spent so much money on this because I also needed this.’ So every decision that you take has to be aligned to your goals. And if you do that, life becomes very simple then. And I completely agree with what Spencer said, defining your enough. And this is specifically for the ultra high net worth individuals and the ultra high net worth people that we manage. So for them, there is just so much that you keep adding to yourself every day. But there’s something that I read and it just stayed with me, that ‘when you have more, don’t increase your standard of living, but increase your standard of giving.’ So philanthropy today, it’s kind of becoming a very critical part of every portfolio that we do. And I think COVID has also taught us that because life is transient and you need to make the most of it, you also need to start giving back much earlier than what the others have done. So I think at this point in time, my gospel truth is to start giving back. And I think COVID would have taught you that because life is transient; the sooner you start, the better.
AB: Thank you. And I learn a lot about giving from my daughter who’s a millennial. She started her first job during COVID and straight away she started putting a percentage aside for charity. And I think these kids just have a different way of thinking. So Spencer coming to, you know, I’m sure you study the principles of balance a lot. So tell me, how can one balance the need to save with the desire to live a good life?
SS: Yeah, well, it’s interesting. I love what Ratna said about giving. Because there have been all these studies on giving— that human beings get happier from giving than from receiving, which is kind of amazing, but we forget about these studies. In terms of balance, what’s really fascinating is that we tend to put a lot of focus on making sure we have enough for our 80s, 90s, etcetera. But what about today?
Well, a financial advisor cannot be sued if you end up with too much money. And to me, that’s sort of a little bit of the issue that financial advisors have this bias towards keeping their clients from spending money, keeping their clients from giving away money because they don’t want that client to run out of money. Because we can get sued if they run out of money. And financial advisors have an incentive to keep their assets growing for the fees. So I mentioned that it’s something that I only talk about at the professional level. But on a personal level, I mean, there are some of us that are spendthrifts that are just overspending, but so many of us are too worried about our 80s and 90s, and are not focusing enough on enjoying our lives today.
So that’s where the balance is. And I often use these ratios— that if you’re withdrawing less than 4% of your assets each year when you’re in a spending mode, then you’re probably sacrificing the present for the future. I don’t think sacrificing the present for the future or sacrificing the future for the present are wise things to do.
AB: So you’re the co-founder of a company called Abacus, which is a pioneering B Corp.
Company. It’s based on Buddhist principles and you have actually blended mindfulness with financial guidance. So can you share some essential mindfulness practices for individuals, even for those who are starting out or who have a modest income, who can incorporate it into their wealth management and financial decision making? Because like you said earlier, you talked about emotional intelligence and incorporating that into your portfolio. But it’s easier said than done.
SS: Yes, it is. I think one of my favourite saying is that it’s not polite to interrupt somebody else, but it’s totally polite, totally okay to interrupt yourself. And you start to become aware of your mind chatter, of what are the thoughts that keep replaying in your mind. Maybe it’s the fear of the markets going down and to become aware of that thought you’ve been having, that thought you’ve been having for decades, and it might have nothing to do… It probably has nothing to do with the current situation. And it’s sort of like being able to step outside yourself to go to the sort of 30,000 foot view. One of the questions that I love to sort of break us out of our emotional entanglements is— what would you recommend to a friend who had your exact financial situation? Because when we’re asked that way, if you were the advisor to a friend of yours who had your exact financial situation, what would you tell them to do? It takes you out of the emotion often and you come into your wisdom, which we all have, about money. And that’s what I’ve been professing for so many years, is that financial advisors like to make us believe that it’s so complicated. Most of it is relatively simple, just that the emotions get in the way. So I would say start becoming a scientist around your emotions. Start becoming aware of that. When I go to a store to buy large items, I feel this anxiety in myself, and I know that it has nothing to do with this particular purchase. This anxiety has been with me for decades. And it’s like, then you take what I call a ‘money breath.’ Just take a full cycle of breath three times to sort of calm down and kind of start moving to that parasympathetic nervous system, to get out of that fight-flight mode, that reactive mode. This is a way of sort of starting to retrain ourselves and gain that emotional intelligence. We have to keep interrupting those patterns because they’ve been there for decades. We’ve been conditioning ourselves that way. Every time you have a thought that I need more money, interrupt that thought and say, ‘How is what I have today enough? How can I make what I have right now enough?’ And a practice for that, it’s a beautiful practice, is a gratitude practice and a generosity practice. We’ve been talking about that. Both gratitude and appreciating what you have and also being generous with others, not just with money, but with your time, with your presence, with your heart, those kinds of practices start to cultivate this emotional intelligence. They start to bring us back into a much more relaxed way of being so that we’re no longer at the effect of those thoughts in the mind that everyone has. So we’re not going to get rid of the thoughts, but we’re no longer going to be at the effect of those thoughts.
AB: Wonderful. And this is something I’m going to go back with and repeat to people; what you’ve said. How is what I have today enough and what is enough? Those are incredible questions. Ratna I want you to elaborate on how emotional guidance that you’ve used, using the methodologies of your company over the past years. How can it contribute to achieving sustainable financial goals?
RS: You know, we actually follow a very different approach to financial advice, right?
So like I said, the most important thing for us is to understand what are the financial goals. Usually we deal with families who have got large businesses or have kind of had a liquidity event in the family and they want to now decide what to do with the money. So ideally, we sit down with everybody, and understand each person’s individual goals. Then we understand the collective goals of the family. We understand the restrictions that the family has.
So sometimes what happens is you’ve amassed this wealth and you just want to preserve the capital for the next generation. Some people will say, I have grown this capital to 100, I want to grow it to 500. So that is their goal, right? So understanding that goal becomes extremely important for us. And then, unlike most other financial advisory firms, we actually divide our assets into basically just two parts, right? One is your growth assets, which will grow over a period of time. And the other is income generating assets where you will keep getting income from time to time. So when you just have these two broad divisions, your asset allocations become very simple. And then we hedge the growth assets with volatility risk, and we hedge the income assets with products, which actually kind of hedge against inflation or interest rate hikes. So when you have such a simple canvas, it becomes very easy for you to put things in boxes. That’s the first thing we do. The second thing we do is we understand the risk that a person is willing to take. On a very basic level, you understand what the risk free return of a country is. Suppose if I’m investing in India today, I understand what the government bond or the risk free return is. Like, for example, today, seven and a quarter or seven and a half, right? So if my expectation out of my portfolio is to get 14% returns, then for that additional seven and a half percent return that I wish to generate, I will be taking a risk. And that is the basic mantra of any financial journey or a financial investment or any planning.
So the first thing you need to assert is— how much risk is this family or this person willing to take? Once you assert that in, then what we do very well is with the same risk, how am I going to give you the best return possible? Suppose you tell me that I want to just stick to my risk free return category. How do I make sure that even there I’m able to tweak it so that you don’t take any additional risk, but still get a slightly better return? This is the canvas with which we operate. Understanding the emotional needs of the family also becomes extremely important. I mean, just like Spencer said, right? You are a financial advisor. You need to make sure that the family you’re advising never runs out of money to do the things they want to do. So that becomes the most critical part. So understanding their emotions, understanding what they need to do, and then preparing for it, and then again at the same time, making sure that we give them the desired result, that becomes important.
AB: Thank you. And Spencer, I want to ask you, you had talked earlier about stopping yourself from buying high and selling low and that people tend to do that a lot. So tell me, what role does discipline play in all this? And how can we help people inculcate financial discipline?
SS: Well, there were several studies done. The New York Times reported on these studies, and they said that women are much better investors than men.
AB: Just investors. I thought [they’re better] in everything?
SS: Everything, yes. I think my next book is going to be ‘Invest Like a Woman’ because I think women have this discipline. And men tend to have, maybe, more arrogance. Like, I know what’s going to happen in the world. I know how to move things around. And women tend to follow the simple rules of investing. And if you follow the simple rules of investing, I mean here’s the thing, Ratna and I are in a profession where if you follow certain rules, you do very well. You don’t have to make it very complicated. If you just, for example, choose index funds and buy all of the whole markets, you can do very well. Maybe you get an A minus or something. You may not get an A plus, but you’re going to do very well just keeping it very simple. And that’s what women do. And men as a whole tend to make it much more complicated and try to forecast. They think they have a reliable crystal ball, but of course, nobody does, in my opinion. I think that study was really interesting because the difference was not small between women and men. It was a huge divergence between the performances.
AB: So would you say women are more disciplined? Because you’re saying they keep it simpler, they keep it simple.
SS: Part of what I mean by simple is that, yeah, they’re more disciplined because the rules say you invest and then you hold on. You don’t invest in these broad markets and then make a guess that India is not going to do as well next year. So I’m going to move some money from India to the US. You keep your portfolio spread out in all these countries around the world, and that kind of discipline ends up doing very well over time. Obviously, if you could crystal ball it, you would do better. But that’s a very steep mountain to climb and most of us don’t need to make that additional return to do well.
AB: So you’re saying make your decisions and hold on, hold on. Don’t panic.
SS: Yes, don’t panic. Keep your money very spread out; your investments diversified, so that you can sleep at night. Because I believe that nobody knows what’s going to happen in the future. So keep it spread out. If you’re hedging your bets, you don’t know what’s going to happen with this country or that country. So spread your money out into all the countries that have efficient markets and don’t sell when things go down. If anything, you want to rebalance your portfolio and buy more of the thing that has gone down, because we come back to that rule that is simple but hard to follow, which is— buy low, sell high. So if we see that a sector of the market, let’s say Europe, has gone down a lot in value, you want to be buying enough Europe to get back to your prescribed allocation in Europe.
AB: Ratna so, I know we just talked about discipline. I know you also believe in discipline, but what other qualities do you think are important in having a portfolio that would grow, that would help you lead the life that you want to lead?
RS: So, apart from discipline, which of course, is the most important, I actually tell everyone you start off with a balance sheet. Your own balance sheet. Understand what are your assets, what are your liabilities, what are your income, what is your expense? So when you do that, you know exactly where you stand, and sometimes it can be really jarring. Some of the things that you should not do, not just as a financial mantra, but as anything— you should definitely not borrow to maintain a lifestyle. I think that is not something that I would advise anybody. The other thing is, I strongly believe that every individual needs to have a portfolio designed for them. As an individual, if I am completely averse to risk or I don’t understand risk, I may have to settle for a lower return, but I’ll sleep peacefully at night. According to me, that’s the most important— that wherever you put your money, it should give you a peaceful night’s sleep.
So today, as a financial advisor, like I told you, my first objective is to make my clients understand what they are investing in. And after I explain it to them, if they think that this is not something I’ll be comfortable with, don’t do it. And it’s not like a one-size-fits-all. I have clients who have sold their businesses, and all they want to do is park their money and earn a 6% return. They are very happy. Other families that I deal with are young. So they want their money to grow. 100% of their money is an equity because they’re okay with the risk that they are getting into. They’re okay to take the drawdowns. And I strongly believe that if you’re comfortable with the risk, take it. If you’re not, don’t. Understanding risk is the most important thing about money. For me to make a client understand it— is a job well done.
AB: Spencer in terms of common misconceptions about wealth building or about financial errors, how can the principles of Buddhism help you address that?
SS: I think there is a principle in Buddhism of like— we don’t know what’s going to happen. There’s so much impermanence in the world, and to not have the arrogance to think that you know what’s going to happen. And I think the other thing, along with discipline, that I think is also part of the ethos of Buddhism and other universal traditions, is if you’re young or you’re in that phase of life where you’re needing to save money… Saving money on an automatic basis is like this magical thing, sort of like exercising, where you get it done automatically. Like it just happens for you. So I would say doing some amount of savings is a way of really believing in your future. So even if you’re out of money, I tell people to save something, even like a homoeopathic amount, is really good for your soul, for your outlook on life. It’s telling yourself that you believe in your future. It’s a beautiful thing to do.
I think that not messing with what is not important. So, for example, most of us check the markets constantly. I think from a Buddhist perspective and many other perspectives, checking in on what the markets are doing every 15 minutes, every hour, every day, or even every week is unnecessary for long term investors. And most of us are long term investors. We’re investing for retirement. Speaking about increasing your returns, I mean, there’s an economist named Daniel Kahneman who says that he did a study— that if you can look at your investments less often, look at your phone less often around your portfolio, you’ll actually make more money.
Because this ties in with what Ratna was saying, that a lot of our risk aversion comes from looking at the wrong things. We’re creating more anxiety in our lives by looking at our portfolio so often, and we become more risk averse, is what he says in his studies. So if you want to earn more money, if you want to be able to sleep at night, don’t look at your portfolio so often. Maybe look at it once a month. That’s enough.
AB: Yeah, that’s interesting. So don’t check the markets too much. I tell people, don’t check your weight too much. I’m going to add markets to it now. So don’t check your weight every day.
Don’t check the markets every day.
SS: Can you imagine if you check your weight every hour? What’s that going to do to your mind? We are almost polluting our minds with that kind of information. We don’t need to know what the markets are doing every moment.
AB: So when I look back on my life, there’s been times when there’s been unexpected expenses, there’s been financial setbacks, there’s been all kinds of things that have happened in life. How do you use your philosophy? What helped me a lot was a spiritual approach to it. So, Spencer, how do you advise people to use your philosophy to help them navigate those times?
SS: Well, first of all, we need to recognise that impermanence is here to stay. Like, I was brought up to believe that if you do your life perfectly, if you get straight A’s in school and you’re a good boy, nothing bad will happen to you. That’s sort of a belief that I took on, and it’s just not true. Life is full of setbacks, including old age, sickness, and death. So that recognition can be really helpful. And then not checking the news so often because the news is very impermanent. And that can really throw off our equanimity. We are so short term focused, so we look at how much money we’ve lost this year, or we look at whether we’re not doing as well in our business, or maybe we got laid off at work. But what about over the last ten years? The last 20 years? What’s happened to your finances? Take that longer view, and usually that puts things in perspective, that look how much you’ve grown over the last 20 years. Once you have a million or 5 million or something, a certain number, we focus on that number.
We get attached to that number. But five years ago, we had half that amount. So to recognise your growth over time, I think is very important. And then I also recommend mindfulness practices of finding your centre within yourself and to recognise what is still constant even amidst all the turmoil around you. So gratitude, I mean, everyone says that gratitude helps with everything in life. It’s an amazing, powerful tool. And what I find… What’s funny about gratitude is that we can talk about it, but actually doing it is what actually makes the difference. Doing it and meaning it.
AB: Meaning, yes. Well said. So, Ratna, tell me, what are some of the big misconceptions that you have seen around wealth building?
RS: Biggest misconception is that you can do it fast, you can make money quickly, or that you should wait to have a lot of money to start investing. And both of them [the misconceptions] are equally true. You can start with a small amount and watch it grow. The idea is to start early. It’s not how much money you kind of put in the market, but how much time you put it for, which is also equally important. So the longer your money stays in the market, the longer and the faster it will grow or the better it will grow. And you don’t need to have a lot to start investing. These are my two kinds of misconceptions that I come across very frequently.
AB: Yes, absolutely. It’s the power of compound interest, I guess. Absolutely.
Also talk to me a little bit, Ratna, about the financial setbacks and how do you advise and how do you help people to navigate those? Because whether in the markets, in their asset allocation, or even otherwise in people’s lives, you can’t help the financial setbacks, right?
RS: Of course. As you know, you can’t predict what’s going to happen in the future. So the idea to start investing and investing early is that you are able to create a corpus over a period of time. God forbid, if tomorrow you meet with a situation where you have a major setback, then your corpus that you’ve created is going to be meaningful and useful for you. The other option that you would then have otherwise would be to borrow that money and meet your exigencies. The idea to kind of start investing, growing a purpose, creating it is your way of showing respect to the money that you have. There are a lot of things that you can do if you invest wisely and you create a pot of money for yourself. The idea is to do it so that in every sphere of your life, you’re disciplined, right? I mean, when you look after your health, you need to eat well, you need to exercise, you need to meditate, so you need to do the same with your money. You need to put aside something so that it grows for you.
AB: Spencer you’ve helped a huge amount of people increase their wealth and still kind of achieve peace of mind. So can you tell us how Money Madness can actually impede financial well being?
SS: Well, Money Madness shows up in the way we invest our money. Sometimes, we get very aggressive. I mean, earlier in life, a couple of friends told me about startups that they were starting, and they gave me the projections, and I believed… Well, I didn’t believe the projections, but what I said to myself, even if they’re wrong and it’s not 100 fold, maybe it will only be 50 fold. That’s still a lot of money. I mean, that’s the kind of erroneous judgments our mind can make, is like the FOMO of like, I’m going to miss out on making all this money, I’m going to look bad if I don’t invest. And of course, I lost all my money in both of those startup investments because I didn’t look at the evidence. The evidence tells you that if you’re going to do startups, you need to invest in hundreds, if not thousands of different startups in order to earn the average return over time. That if you just do a few, the odds are so high that you’re going to lose all your money. So it’s like coming back to that reality. Sometimes we just impulsively, will spend and it won’t be part of a plan. So it’s like knowing where you’re heading, what are the trade offs. If I’m going to spend more on this vacation, that’s fine, but maybe you’re going to take that money from dining out during the year or maybe you’re going to save less. But to do it in a conscious way, to not be just at the effect of our emotions, as I said before, and that’s the madness, is to be at the effect of our emotions to buy a house.
Just because you’re in this comparing envy mode with a friend of yours who just bought a house and you feel like you have to, I mean, I’ve seen that happen so many times to friends and clients where they’re making large purchases just because their mind thinks they need to have that. If you didn’t have this friend who just bought the six bedroom house, what would you do? Would you still buy that home? Most likely not. It comes back to sort of really trying to look at yourself independent of everything you’re seeing in the world and say, what do I really want? What’s authentic for me? Independent of the way my parents handled money, independent of the way my friends handle money. I’m not saying that’s easy, but to start asking those questions, to try to get at your authentic money path, to get out of the money.
AB: Yeah, absolutely. And also talk to me about your course a little bit. You did this course called Fearless Finance or you do this course. So tell us a little bit about that. It’s a very interesting name.
SS: Well, I think there’s so much fear around our finances. The fear that I’m going to miss out on something, the fear that I’m going to lose money, the fear that I’m never going to earn enough. And what I’m doing in these programs is helping people come back to the evidence and to look at what’s worked for thousands of people. I’m helping people turn around, especially some of their programme messages. So a lot of women take my programmes. And a lot of women have, all of us do, we get these messages early on. Like, I hear people say, I can’t earn more than X dollars per year. These are very limited beliefs that we inherit when we’re 3, 4, 5, 6 years of age. Or that money is evil. I’m working with a woman who was raised by two spiritual parents and they told her that money is evil and she has a hard time charging her clients. She often says, well, pay me whatever you can, but that doesn’t actually work well with paying her bills. Finding what’s really going to work for ourselves, is that belief that you inherited, going to work for you? And if not, maybe there’s a way to soften that belief. That’s a lot of what we do in the programme. If you can soften some of those childhood beliefs, you’re going to have a different trajectory with your finances. You’ll most likely have more money and you’ll most likely have a lot more peace of mind with your money if you’re not so allegiant to a belief you grew up with.
AB: That’s actually very true because money is so complicated for a lot of people. And like you said earlier, money is an energy. But I don’t know why it gets so complicated.
Ratna, tell me, what do you feel about this money madness that Spencer talks about and how can people avoid falling into that trap? And also, I’d love some recommendations from you on books and resources that you can recommend for people.
RS: I completely agree with Spencer that if you don’t know what to do, then it’s always good to kind of see what has worked in the past. And it is an interesting way to look at things. For me, like I’ve told you before, every individual’s needs for investing are different. But if I were to look at just starting my investing journey, I would kind of look at growth. If I were to look at equity, for example, which a lot of people don’t understand, and that’s the most confusing part about which stocks to buy. And that kind of becomes your whole discussion. It can just go around stocks and you wouldn’t know what to do. So for growth stocks, I think index funds do tremendously well. And I would highly recommend that you look at growth in large caps through index funds. I actually believe a lot in value investing, if you are a long term investor, then the way to grow your wealth would be picking up value stocks when they are small and watching the companies grow and grow with it. A couple of books I recommend is this book called Learn to Earn by Peter Lynch. And there is this book called Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham that’s also on value investing. So these two are books which are even pertinent today, although they were written years ago. And it gives you an idea about how to assess a company and what to look for when you’re doing value investing.
AB: Thank you. Also, Ratna, I would like to leave my investors with one piece of advice that you feel is absolutely essential for them to build wealth and lead a rich and fulfilling life.
RS: I would say own your money and learn about investing. Spend some time, even if it is 15-20 minutes a day, to understand what you’re getting into. It’s not difficult. See, anything is scary till you know what it is, right? It’s the same thing with knowledge. And I feel there is absolutely no substitute for knowledge. So if you spend a little time every day in knowing about the markets, knowing about where to invest, what to invest, and then of course, discuss it with your financial advisor. Understand the various things that you need to look at when you start an investing journey. My one tip would be to own your money, learn about what to do, and understand what your advisor is telling you before you invest. Understand the risk you’re taking. That is very important.
AB: And I also think what you said earlier was very important, Ratna, about giving. You know, when you talk about a fulfilling life. So thank you for that. So at the end of every session, we do a rapid fire round to summarise the session. So I’ll start with you, Ratna. One wealth building habit people can inculcate.
RS: Starting from today, start investing. Basically, I would say if you save ₹20 and you are less than 30 years old, the idea would be to put ₹15 into equity funds, pick up the top quality funds and start investing. There is nothing like investing today.
AB: Lovely. A simple way to cut back so you can contribute more to leading a richer life in the ways that matter.
RS: I would say stop buying things that you don’t need. We have this habit of just looking at something on the internet and just going and picking it up. I mean before we buy anything and this is something that I picked up from the Confessions of a Shopaholic, it has got nothing to do with money or financial advice. Confessions of a Shopaholic tells you before you buy anything, think how much you’re going to use it, think how much you need it and then go and buy it. So that actually helps you to cut down your expenses a lot. It is something that I would advise everyone to do. You really don’t need so many things.
AB: And Ratna, funnily enough, even in our sustainability sessions this has come out again and again and again. It’s amazing how it’s all a full circle. Everything is so connected. Spencer, now you— one vital tip to manage finances that draws from Buddhism.
SS: I would say we’ve spoken of this diversification, this recognition of not knowing, but profound not knowing that comes from Buddhism— that nobody knows the future. To let go of this idea that you can control things, to just let go of that and adopt an investment plan that is grounded in that belief. Which is like Ratna is saying is sort of like index funds. For example, if you buy and hold index funds, you are making a statement that you’re letting go of control over what’s going to happen in the world. That you don’t think you can predict or control what’s going to happen in the world. And to me, that is wisdom. Knowing that the world’s going to happen, there’s going to be a lot of ups and downs and if anything, when you look at business opportunities, the biggest business opportunities are when things are down. That’s when we should be getting excited. So that’s sort of another tip for Buddhism, which is to get more assertive when things are not looking so good and when things are really high that’s when we tend to get very greedy and grasping and that’s the time to sort of let go.
AB: And finally one practice that will pave the way to balance personal and financial well being?
SS: I would say to have a plan. It’s very important to have a plan and know where you’re headed. Why are you investing money? What are you aiming for? To really know that. What’s the purpose of you having all these investments? But then at the same time that you have this plan about the future, to find ways to recognise your enoughness today. So even if you have to write, and I like people writing this down, write down how could my current situation be enough? Maybe that’s going to mean you’re going to have to move in with your parents. But knowing that can be very helpful to pacifying the mind and if we can relax the mind around our finances. We’re so much more likely to earn more money, both in the work world and from our investments.
AB: Lastly, Ratna, how can you be more truthful to yourself regarding your finances?
RS: So you need to ask yourself these questions about what is it that you really and truly want in your life? And this can only come from you. No matter how much I ask you, you may just give me answers just to make it look okay. But in yourself, you need to internalise this and figure out what are these two, three things that you really, really want in life? One of them could be just building a home for your parents. They might not have a home. So you might want to build a home. You might want to just give back to charity, maybe a lump sum amount, or maybe go back to your village and do something for them. So what is it that you really and truly want? You need to ask yourself that before you start developing your goals. Like I said, short term, long term goals are always there. But what is it that you really and truly want? It’ll only come from you, right? So, like Spencer said, write them down on a piece of paper and understand that this is what you’re actually investing for. The other thing I would say is, you know, there are two things: one is saving and one is investing, right? Saving is something that you’re doing to meet your expenditures or your emergencies. Investing is always done for a particular goal, right? And you should have that goal in mind when you start investing.
AB: Thank you, Ratna and Spencer. I have thoroughly enjoyed this chat. Thank you for your time.
RS: Thank you so much, Anshu.
SS: Thank you. Thank you both.
AB: Thank you so much for listening to the chat today. I hope you enjoyed it. I hope you learned something new, and I hope we brought you a little closer to leading a healthier, happier, more hopeful life. Please subscribe to the podcast— Wellness Curated, on all the major channels, and to Wellness Curated by Anshu Bahanda on YouTube. This should help us get you more speakers and provide the service for free. I would also love to hear from you, so please send emails to Anshu@WellnessCurated.Life with any questions that you have and any topic suggestions. Thank you for being here today and see you next week.