Money is probably not the issue

By DAVID MOON, Moon Capital Management, LLC
October 11, 2009

As a result of a strange set of circumstances, I was in my car for just over 25 hours last weekend. No, my wife did not kick me out of the house and relegate me to living in a sedan. It involved a dead battery, a borrowed car, running out of gas somewhere in rural Virginia, a lost key, two round trips from Knoxville to Durham, side visits to Oak Ridge and Bristol and a two-hour navigation mistake near Winston Salem.

Neither car I drove had a working satellite radio, so I listened to every hokey weekend financial program on AM radio for 450 miles. And back. And back. And back.

One of the programs featured Scott and Bethany Palmer, financial planners and authors of “First Comes Love, then Comes Money.” They discussed “financial infidelity,” a term I’d never previously heard, but one that is immediately understandable. Sadly it’s phenomenon I’ve seen way too often in my business.

These radio guests, however, ascribed way too much power and influence to the impact of money fights and financial secrets.

You’ve likely read that the number one cause of problems among married couples – particularly newlyweds – is financial difficulties. The Palmers claim that 70 percent of all divorces are the result of financial infidelity.

As the old joke goes, 46.3 percent of all statistics are made up on the spot. I question the Palmer’s 70 percent divorce figure.

You can find sources that cite several different primary causes of divorce. Regular, old fashioned infidelity is always listed. Poor communication and lack of commitment are often cited. Money problems are usually included.

Here’s what I’ve discovered: once a person, couple or family has some minimum level of financial sustenance, money doesn’t cause problems. It reveals them. It magnifies them.

If you are a turd, money will increase your turd quotient. If you are emotionally healthy and care for others, money won’t make you greedy. It provides you the opportunity to do more good for people.

Likewise, if someone is, at their core, selfish and narcissistic, money is simply a tool they can use to abuse or manipulate the people around them – no different than a playground bully or Burmese dictator. If the despot of an oppressed country is threatened with the loss or diminution of his riches, he will resort to almost any abusive measure. He will attack his neighbors and murder his own people.

Does this mean that he has a money problem? Hardly.

Neither does the husband who punches holes in the wall when he discovers his wife’s lies about the Discover Card bill.

It’s often said that money can’t buy happiness. I’ve never heard a poor person say that. But I have heard that sentiment expressed by plenty of people who have been broke at some point in their lives. One successful Knoxville entrepreneur – a gentleman who grew up poor – once told me that if all you have are money problems, you don’t have any problems.

Actor Will Smith was right when he said “money doesn’t change people. It merely amplifies what is already there.”

David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management, a Knoxville-based investment management firm. This article originally appeared in the News Sentinel (Knoxville, TN).

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