Money doesn't change who you really are

By DAVID MOON, Moon Capital Management, LLC
April 29, 2012

When Mega Millions lottery winner Merle Butler accepted his ceremonial $218 million check a few weeks ago, the 65-year-old retiree said what all lottery winners say. He and his wife anticipate little change in their lives as a result of their windfall.

Laugh if you like, but I believe them.

Money doesn’t change people. It exposes them. It is the volume knob of life. It simply lets people – or causes them to – be more of who they are.

A 25-year-old Michigan woman who won a million-dollar lottery in 2011 never considered that her newfound wealth might affect her legal or moral right to continue collecting public assistance. Or if she did, she didn’t act on it.

Did becoming a millionaire inspire her to adopt a sense of entitlement? Of course not. That seed already resided within her. The money was simply fast-acting fertilizer.

There is a reason that an inordinate number of lottery winners seem, anecdotally at least, to wind up in modest or miserable financial situations. It is because an inordinate number of lottery tickets are purchased by people from modest or miserable financial situations. Seldom do you see millionaires spending hours at the mini-mart clogging the register line buying Cash-O scratch-off cards.

The ugly, usually unspoken, implication is that poverty is caused by something other than a lack of money.

My observation is that most people have established their relationship with money by about the time they are 20 years old. By then they have cultivated the mindset and habits that will determine if they spend the rest of their lives being philanthropic, driven, casual, selfish, uninterested, motivated, materialistic, minimalistic, etc.

Many lottery winners end up financially broke because they were financially broke to begin with. That is their consciousness – and having money does not change their consciousness.

Real, fundamental personal change is hard. It doesn’t happen haphazardly. It may be inspired by an external force, but it is never bestowed by one.

Irish actor Spike Milligan noted that money can’t buy happiness, but it does provide a more pleasant form of misery. There are multiple corollaries to this observation. Money doesn’t create misery. Nor does the lack of money, at least above a certain sustenance level, create misery.

And the lack of money certainly doesn’t create happiness, although I often find myself frustrated with gadgets that, as a young man, I couldn’t afford.

As you drive down Kingston Pike – or East Hill Avenue – do not look at cars or houses and make assumptions about people’s misery or happiness.

We all know arrogant, selfish rich people, but it’s not too difficult to begin a healthy list of generous, giving wealthy folks.

Both of those personality types exist at the opposite end of the balance-sheet spectrum, as well.

And if the people at each end of the economic spectrum swapped banks accounts absent intentional effort on either’s part, I suspect their sense of money consciousness would never change, and their balance sheets would eventually return to their previous conditions.

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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