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Episode Number: 163

Episode 163- The Geometry of Wealth: How to Shape a Life of Money and Meaning with Brian Portnoy

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Jamila Souffrant 0:00

You're listening to the Journey to Launch Podcast The Geometry of Wealth How to Shape a Life of Money and Meaning with Brian Portnoy.

Welcome to the Journey to Launch Podcast with your host Jamila Souffrant. As a money expert who walks her talk, she helps brave journeyers like you get out of debt, save, invest and build real wealth. Join her on the journey to launch to financial freedom in five, four, three, two, one.

Jamila Souffrant 0:39

Hey, hey, journeyers. Welcome to the Journey to Launch Podcast. You're in for another treat this week. I am bringing you a very, very enlightening what I believe to be enlightening and insightful conversation with author Brian Portnoy. Brian Portnoy helps people simplify the complex world of money. He's the Founder of Shaping Wealth, a financial wellness company. He also wrote the book The Geometry of Wealth, which we will be speaking about in today's episode. And I really loved his book because he approaches wealth, in the nuanced way that it needs to be approached, like, there's just not one way to do it's not just about numbers. There's all this behavioral science that goes into like, why we do the things we do, what we're motivated by. So he's able to really combine that and look into not just the numbers and the investment about part of it, but just like what our natural tendencies are, what they have to do with building wealth and achieving long term happiness when it comes to money. So I'm really excited that you get to hear this conversation.

Jamila Souffrant 1:41

If you want the episode Show Notes for this episode, go to journeytolaunch.com or you can click the description or wherever you're listening to this episode to get the full episode show notes. Now, if you are a new listeners to the podcast, or an OG journeyer I've created a jumpstart guide to help you on your journey to financial freedom. It includes the top episodes to listen to, the stages to go through to reach financial freedom, resources to help you and so much more. Get it for FREE by texting launch to 33777 text launch to 33777 or go to JourneytoLaunch.com/jumpstart to get your guide for free right now. Okay, let's hop into the episode.

Jamila Souffrant 2:30

Okay, journeyers, I am really excited to bring to you this special guest, Brian Portnoy, who wrote the book, The Geometry of Wealth. And Brian, I know you've written books previous to this one, but this is the book that I read, and that I basically was like, Oh my gosh, this is amazing. The way you deconstructed money and how it integrates in our lives, and how to be successful at it was just I just thought it was really practical and amazing. And so I was like, I gotta get you on the podcast. Actually, before we pressed record, we were talking about how things have changed since we first kind of tried to connect. And now we have this, you know, pandemic. By the time this probably comes out, hopefully, fingers crossed, we'll be, there'll be some sort of clearer path to getting out of this. But Brian, welcome to the podcast. I'm excited to have you on.

Brian Portnoy 3:17

This is awesome. Thank you.

Jamila Souffrant 3:18

So Brian, your book is called The Geometry of Wealth. And there are so many amazing concepts that you know how you have like these ideas in your head, but you never really put words or a label or title on it. I found that I was reading your book, like a lot of the things that you said, I was like, "Yes," that's exactly what I feel how I haven't been able to put into words yet and what I want my audience to like get. So I guess we should start out with what the geometry of wealth is because you actually take it in a really literal sense to with like shapes. And then like, geez, wonderful, like parts of a whole that come together for finances. So can you talk about a little bit what it actually means this geometry of wealth?

Brian Portnoy 3:56

Yeah, yeah. And thanks for having me on. This is I really appreciate it. The first idea is that the world is a noisy and complicated place. And our brains weren't necessarily wired to process the amount of information that we all right now are right now. And so when we feel overwhelmed when we have what psychologists called decision fatigue, which is a real thing with physical consequences, it's super important to have frameworks that are relatively simple, that help us make sense of the world. So this concept of mental models has become more and more important to me, not only in my career, but as a father and a husband. And as I think about how to navigate these noisy times, what what tools can we create, that help us just simplify, you know, independent of money and stuff that we'll get into. What I wanted to do in this book was create one big but simple mental model with lots of little underlying stuff and even goofiness, but one big mental model that can help us achieve true wealth in life, and I have been very impressed with people in finance, who have been able to get not only passed the numbers, which few do and to decent words, but beyond the words to just images, you know, the brain processes images, like 60,000 times faster than it does words, and it resonates. But for some reason, we're so stuck up in the money business that we think that everything needs to be a spreadsheet, and every number has to go out three decimal places, and it's just noise and it's really not the way we learn and the way we live. So the geometry of wealth is my map toward a happy fulfilled life in three shapes, a circle, a triangle and a square. And so if you can remember, circle, triangle, square, purpose, priorities, decisions, you have my mental model. Now I spend some time in the book walking through what those mean and what the connections are. But you know, I wanted to be clear right up front, the ingredients are on the box, we define purpose, we set priorities, and then we make specific decisions. And then we keep doing it over and over again, which is the symbol circle, our first shape, and the rest is detail.

Jamila Souffrant 6:23

Yeah, and I love that you broke that down. I think one of the things that a lot of people struggle with with money, and I made this comment earlier with someone and I said, you know, the devils in the details, so you'll hear people with some amazing feats with their finances, do a lot of amazing things, maybe pay off a lot debt, reach financial independence, do all this stuff, right? And then you realize that this whole making more saving more spending less sounds easy, you know when you say it, but when it comes to actually doing it like the practical things, what impacts us to make those decisions and to stick with, right like this journey and when things are thrown at us, is really key. And one of the points that you make in the book is that money is so complex, like, you know, it's analytically complex when you get down to reaching like, you know, your investment goals and where to invest and all these things, and it's also emotionally complex. And I want you to talk a little bit about that, because I find that some people think, Oh, you know, like, I don't get it, you know, it's, I don't know why I don't like to talk about it, or I don't want to confront it. You know, there's certain areas in my life money is one of them where I'm just like, it's hard for me to get on the train. Like for so many people that is the case like there is more going on mentally and emotionally behind it.

Brian Portnoy 7:39

The short answer is that our brains were wired to make terrible decisions about money. The reason for that is evolutionary meaning that the human brain that we have between our ears right now is more or less the same brain that existed 130,000 years ago or so. And 130,000 years ago, we were on you know, I think iPhone one or two like it was a totally different era. Now, it was obviously a time when it's hard to imagine how different it was, but survival was it and our instincts to think and react and fight or flight, to build tribes and so forth. That was what was going on. That's still the brain that we have now where the goal is to survive. And then beyond that, you're going to try to thrive in a number of different ways given given your circumstances. You map that up to money and the way we interact with each other and, you know, go go back to grade school or high school when you know, we had these silly classes about money and what is money. It's a means of exchange and it's a store of value and it's a unit of account and technically that's not wrong, but what it really is, is an emotional lightning rod. Everything that we feel from fear to greed, to joy, to hope to envy to regret is connected to money in a way that's completely unavoidable. You can't avoid it because money creeps into our life every single day. And so this isn't a stocks and bonds conversation. Yes, there's a lot to that. But there's many dimensions of money life, I think of seven, earning, saving, spending, borrowing, insuring, giving and then investing as number seven. And they're all emotionally charged because they attach to our values and even our sense of identity. So our brains, which weren't wired to deal with money very well put us in a position where all the great advice that you give, I give, you know, friends and colleagues and peers in the industry try to give, it's not the default on deaf ears because people get it. But when you say things like, buy low, sell high, I want a diversified portfolio. Invest for the long run, save more than you spend great 100%. Our brains were wired to the exact opposite of all of those. And we don't have the time today to go through all of those. But I'll just point out, you know, we have this fight or flight mentality. And so we're supposed to buy low and sell high and that's the way you make profits. You know, you buy at 10, you sell at 20, you've doubled your money, great. But the fact is that when things go down, we get scared and we run. And when things go up, we get excited. And so as a general comment about the investing community we buy, when things go higher, and we sell when things go lower. And it's not because we're stupid, it's because we're normal. It's because we're human.

Jamila Souffrant 10:40

I love that and I love that we're starting off this conversation with normalizing and telling people that these thoughts or emotions that they have around maybe when they hear these concepts, why they maybe can always follow through is valid. Like there's a reason why your innate reaction for some of these tips and things. You don't easily adapt to them and one of the things that you mentioned, it's just like now we have so many more challenges. So not only do we have our innate, how we are wired in our brain to think in to do with money, but we have more challenges like we have more control of our money. So with like us the decline of pensions and people put, you know, more 401k control over our money and us making the decisions on where to invest. We are wired to make bad money decisions, but there are also all these other things right that on top of who we are just makes it harder.

Brian Portnoy 11:29

I'll throw in something I guess a little bit historical and philosophical and hopefully a little bit controversial, which is that freedom isn't all that it's cracked up to be. So we generally, but in this country specifically have an ethos that we value, freedom, liberty, the opportunity to set our own course and that's great. In and of itself, that's totally fine. But you know, there was a pretty famous book that was written by a psychologist about 70 or 80 years ago, a guy named Erich Fromm. F-R-O-M-M. And the book was called Escape From Freedom. And it was written around the time of World War II and some of the atrocities that took place and what led up to it. And it touched on, I think, a very controversial and dangerous idea that if you can have too much freedom, you can have too much liberty because when you are given an overwhelming amount of information and an overwhelming amount of freedom to choose, it can be paralyzing. The first book I wrote was called the investors paradox. And that was a direct take, or riff on another famous book much more recent from a social psychologist named Barry Schwartz, who wrote the Paradox of Choice. And the Paradox of Choice is simply but profoundly that we crave more choice, but the more choice we get, the more miserable we become. And so in our DIY society, and now everything is DIY. I mean, you just go to Google, or YouTube and you can be an expert in just about anything in an hour right. So there's nothing that we don't have accessible, that actually has good consequences in terms of our sense of control over our lives. But it also has bad consequences in terms of feeling that things are completely out of control. And the fact that investors have more and more control, going back 50 years getting access to the capital markets in terms of buying and selling stocks and bonds very hard. Fast forward to today, you could trade effectively for free on any number of easy to access digital platforms. Is that a good or bad thing? Well, it's both.

Jamila Souffrant 13:35

Yeah, I think it's definitely a topic right? Like we all want this freedom and you know, you see it in just like simple choices day to day choices of like, if you have too many things to pick from to where or even with kids, you give them too many options and it becomes a nightmare. That's really part of the complexity of money nowadays.

Brian Portnoy 13:55

Yep.

Jamila Souffrant 13:56

So one of the things you talk about in the book is the difference between wealthy and rich. I really like and specifically the term funded contentment and the ability to underwrite a meaningful life. Can you touch upon and talk about that a bit more?

Brian Portnoy 14:09

Yeah, and thanks for asking that because it's, it's really sort of the first important fork in the road for the way I think about financial wellness. And having a healthy relationship with money. Rich is the quest for more so rich is having more money or things that money buys. And one thing that we know from our own biology and psychology is that having more and even achieving our goals doesn't necessarily make us as happy as we think. We're only so so it predicting what's going to make us happy in the future. So if you think about, you know, a big goal that you have in terms of a promotion or something good for your kids or winning the lottery or fill in the blank, whatever it is, we just assume that those quote unquote good things will make us quote unquote happy and all of us have had experiences like oh, okay that that's supposedly good thing happens, I don't feel any better. In fact, there are cases where you might feel worse. And even when that good thing happens and you do feel something resembling happiness, the intensity and duration of those emotions tend to be much weaker and much shorter than we anticipate. There's a principle in psychology known as hedonic adaptation, which is a kind of a clumsy term for we get used to everything in life, both good and bad. And there are reasons for that.

Brian Portnoy 15:35

So rich, having more money, all else equal, can be put in in a positive light, but that we know for a fact that that quest for more money, fame, accomplishment, beauty, power, tends not to have the helpful impact. And so that's not to say that money can't do good things. It's also not to say that money in some ways can't buy happiness. We can get into that. But at the same time, I think about true wealth as the ability to underwrite a meaningful life and my shorthand for that is funded contentment. And just to begin to unpack what this means, when I say being wealthy is the ability to underwrite a meaningful life, there's a lot going on there in particular, the words underwrite and the words meaning. And now 20 plus years into a investments and market career, I firmly believe that most of us approach this conversation about money backwards, meaning that we start at the end of the process in terms of investments and stocks and bonds and markets. When in fact, we should start at the beginning of the process, which is thinking about the life that we want to live and then after that, sort of never ending rumination and introspection, we can in very precise ways begin to fold money into the conversation. And again, that's the circle, triangle, square of the geometry. Well, first we defined purpose, then we set priorities, including financial ones relating to managing risk related to articulating your goals, getting further into the weeds relating to cash flows versus lump sum payments, the need for balance sheets and all that fun stuff. And then finally, toward the end of the process, very specific, better habits for making good decisions with our portfolios and with our savings accounts. So I want through my work to hopefully, you know, sort of reframe the thought process offer the mental model for people to start in the right place and not at the end of the process.

Jamila Souffrant 17:41

So what are some questions or exercises that someone can do right now to make sure that they are identifying their goals based on being wealthy, underwriting a life that like matters to them versus just rich and money?

Brian Portnoy 17:56

Yeah, yeah, it's a question that opens up I think some interesting avenues. First of all, and I alluded this to this earlier, goals aren't all they're cracked up to be. First of all, we don't always know what our goals are going to be, we have very powerful, albeit inaccurate memories and very weak powers of forecasting. So imagining what we're going to want in 10, or 20, let alone 30 or 40 years for younger people thinking long term about family, retirement, all that kind of stuff. It's something we need to do, but it's kind of dangerous because it can be wrong or at least very imprecise. And we need to be pretty careful about buying into others scripts. So maybe we could talk about retirement as a script. But there's this idea that you reach the age of 60 or 65. And then you stop working. Well, there's there's a lot of problems with that narrative, we can come back to that. And so the question then becomes that we can we can ask ourselves is well, what leads to the goals in the first place, and that tends to be our values and our priorities and our identity and our purpose. And we don't want to sit around every day thinking, what's the meaning of life? It's exhausting. It's kind of annoying and we kind of want to get on with it right? You know, you want to go do your thing, when I go to work, hang out with your friends, be with your kids, watch TV, whatever, we're not going to sit around, like Aristotle all day. That said, if we begin to take earnestly, what really matters to us, we can then understand the context within which goals come around. And once that goal framework or once your goals have a more solid footing, then they're going to be a lot more achievable from an emotional point of view. So in the book, and elsewhere, I write pretty extensively about these deeper underlying sources of meaning in our life. And you know, if you'd like I can I can dive into, you know, my framework for that.

Jamila Souffrant 19:54

We can definitely talk about that because as you were talking, I'm thinking about what wealthy means to me. How I changed my path to financial independence, you talked about retirement and this far off goal of maybe being 60. And then the idea of not working after that. And then when I came across the FIRE movement, financial independence, retire early, and there was this concept of actually, you can save and invest aggressively in this short amount of time, shorten that time frame up, that you can then have enough money to do what you want. I started that journey with that as my goal that you know, within seven years, I was going to reach this goal of financial independence and then choose what I wanted to do. Then very quickly as I started to accomplish the savings and investing goals each year, I realized that money yes, obviously the money was great and important like to have, but it was more of the time that I valued. And so I actually made the decision to give up this guaranteed short term income, which was my corporate job, to have more flexibility and time and have more control and so the money like upfront was sacrificed because my business is not earning me as much is what I made in my corporate job. But it makes me think about this balance that we have with money and time. And I would imagine that time for a lot of people is really what they're after, like the ability to control that. I would love to hear your thoughts around that.

Brian Portnoy 21:16

Yeah, this is big. So I think it's fair to argue that time is our most valuable asset. We don't get any of it back. And you sort of get you know, one ticket for the merry go round. So you want to use your time as usefully as possible. We have, and this is something I've begun to write about. We have as human beings, a pretty remarkable and sophisticated but unique sense of time or temporality. It's actually that sense of temporality is one of the, if not the most distinguishing feature of humans from other species, meaning that we have a very robust sense of the future, the past and the present. Whereas other species really don't. So our ability to think about the past, imagine the future tie connections between them is unique. And that allows for a lot of things that other species can't do, especially in terms of cooperation. And you and I can say, hey, let's get on another call a week from Tuesday. And we'll get on another call a week from Tuesday. No other species on the planet can do that. And that might sound like a trivial thing. But if you think about kind of the coordination involved, and what that means for the survival and thriving of a particular species, that's huge. Great. So we have a very robust sense of time and temporality. The hard part or I don't know if it's negative, but one of the consequences is that it's very hard for us to be kind of here, present at any one moment in time. We are constantly zipping back and forth between three modes prospection, introspection, and retrospection. And from a neurobiology point of view, the research is taking place right now on the so called future self is just beyond, beyond fascinating. And the short of it is that we're always imagining what our future self is going to be. And so we're always trying to calibrate what it is that we're going to want in the future and beyond that, who we're going to be in the future. And as is the case for many of my messages, money just falls into the story because it is truly, it's truly unavoidable. So the things that really matter to us the connection with others, having a sense of control over your own destiny, the importance of work, and so forth. These all figure into the way that you want to spend your time the best.

Jamila Souffrant 23:47

Yeah and the constant battle and dance that people have with money are doing and enjoying the now with their money and how to think about that person in the future and what they want. So Sacrifice isn't needed, delaying gratification for this goal that's further off for this idea that you have or life that you want to have. And I find that that right there of that decision making in that moment of should I do this and what's the opportunity cost and not everyone breaks out a calculator and is able to like, figure out, you know, the exact opportunity cost, but I find that people who are able to in the moment, decide what's important to them. And if it's more important to spend that money now versus investing it or saving it, are and are happy with the decision to I think part of that is also just realizing or coming to terms with whatever decision you make, whether it's you chose to go on that trip, instead of saving the money because it was more important for you at that moment, then being okay with that decision is also a part of it because you don't have the guilt now, how you spent the money what you should have did with the money, which then impacts everything else that you do. So I find that that all behaviorally impacts then the success you know, for lack of a better terms of people who are able to reach their goals and still enjoy moment.

Brian Portnoy 25:00

Yeah. And I'll just add in that what you're putting your finger on is just the tension between now versus later. Well, before behavioral finance was the thing, economists for centuries talking about time preferences, and discount rates and things like that, and how we discount the future because, you know, would you rather have $100 right now or $100 in 10 years? Well, you rather have the hundred dollars right now. But you can then come up with, you know, so many versions of that quiz or puzzle and quickly realize that how you make intertemporal trade offs is really complicated. And the mind is not a calculator, which is one of the reasons why finance and economics and money is so intimidating to people because we think we're supposed to play human calculator when in fact, we are on and that's actually not the key to the success. One of the things that I think financial advisors can do well, and I'll do but some can do especially well, which is worth it from, from the individual's point of view is to help them calibrate the trade off between now and later what what you were just articulating. Because it's it's good to have an objective or semi objective, or just another opinion in the room. Preferably not somebody that's part of your family or your best friend, who can say, you know what, this dollar is going to be split up one way or another. And some of its for now, and some of it's for later, what are we going to do? That's not easy to do on your own. So it's good sometimes to have some help.

Jamila Souffrant 26:36

Right, right. And one of the things that, you know, a lot of my audience I feel like is DIY with especially the access to investing platforms and index funds I for one, am a fan of index funds and simple investing, and then I know that I also have a segment of my audience who they hear about index investing and doing it all yourself. But for them, it's just like they still need some guidance. Or like help outside of themselves outside of maybe a podcast and hearing from another source but not personally for their own situation, why they should do this thing? And I think like, you know, money coaches, right, so like, I'm still kind of coach through my platforms, right? In terms of general money, like I'm not taught telling people where to invest their money, but just like how do they manage the goals and the behaviors around money. And then this other side where like, you have the people who are certified to help people invest, and the financial advisors how there needs to be more of integrative approach in helping people make these decisions, because I find that a lot of people will come to me and they're like, well, I actually just, I need help with like, how I think about money and behave with money, like just telling me where to invest is great, but that's not really what the issue is. And so I know that you come from that field. What are your thoughts on people needing the more integrative approach if they need like a financial advisor to help them with investing that they also need the behavioral help too.

Brian Portnoy 27:59

Yeah, I see the real value in the financial advice business being on the behavioral side or on the coaching side. If at this point a financial advisor is making a pitch that he or she can pick better stocks or choose better fund managers or build better portfolios, I would probably, if not walk away, ask some pretty hard questions in terms of evidence for that because generally people making those claims don't have a lot of evidence to support them. The financial advice business to some extent is evolving into a life coaching business. The challenge is that on the one hand, it's super legitimate and normal to have a personal trainer either at home or at the gym or virtually. It's normal and legitimate to have, you know a dietician or someone help you out you know, with with eating properly, but because money is this super emotional difficult topic, having money coach is often awkward for people. And so you know, creating some legitimacy around why this is such a tough topic and why the conversation from a coaching stance can be valuable is a large part of the battle.

Brian Portnoy 29:17

You know, the DIY investment community and more or less DIY guy and I also started my career at Morningstar, which is just a fabulous organization and has always, to some extent embraced sort of low cost diversified index fund investing, which I would advocate for many people. The challenge is people are like, well, I've got access to Vanguard, I don't need help. And I actually think that's a little arrogant and a little, a little bit wrong. For one, the investing pieces the easy, easy piece, yes, you can go build a diversified portfolio relatively cheaply through any number of services or platforms. But first of all, rebalancing that, recalibrate in light of life circumstances, not that easy. And as you get older, with aging parents and growing kids and you accumulate some assets, financial planning, having nothing to do with investing is super important and really complicated. So the idea that people can just do this themselves, I really object to and then the next layer down is, you know, articulating goals and and managing those goals over time. I think everybody needs help on that. If the DIY attitude is, you know, either one, I can beat the market or two, I can't beat the market so I'm just going to own the market. Well, that's fine. And there's usually some bravado that surrounds that attitude, which I don't always enjoy. But it's really not the point. Yes, it's easy and cheap to get broad, diversified market exposure. That is a small piece to the funded contentment puzzle.

Jamila Souffrant 30:56

Yeah, and actually want to highlight something you said about financial planning being more than just the like investing part. Can you just dig a little deeper there? What would that what would a comprehensive financial plan look like for someone other than just investing in index funds?

Brian Portnoy 31:10

Yeah, and even skipping all the squishy purpose stuff and things I find interesting, but really, really important. Money life has multiple dimensions. And so how we earn, how we save, spend, insure, manage other sorts of risks, how we borrow, how we give, giving and being charitable is an enormous section of money life that receives relatively little systematic consideration. We all know it's good to give. And many of us I'm sure you do I know we do. You try to be as charitable as possible, but there are smarter ways to go about doing that. There are different philosophies of doing that. The point is that across all of those areas, earning saving, spending, giving and so forth, there are better and worse ways to do it. There's also a pretty big distinction between between making a decision and forming a habit. This is something that most advisors, let alone clients or investors ever really think about. You know, the brain is a muscle that muscles get tired. And we make so many decisions a day. If we are thinking every day about every money decision, and being good and disciplined, the cake is sitting on the kitchen island and you're just going to resist it every day. At a certain point, you're not going to resist it, you're going to take a bite, if at all possible. We want to turn good decisions into good habits in the same way that none of us really think about brushing our teeth in the morning or the evening it just you do it. It's it's not something that requires mental energy, the ability to form good habits in all of those other dimensions of money life not investing related, super important. And I think the industry is on the ground floor of making that happen. In no small part because Decision Sciences and the science around habit formation is just hitting it's stride right now.

Jamila Souffrant 33:01

Yeah, you know, maybe I'm a little biased because I'm in the personal finance space. But I feel like this is why podcasts and platforms like mine are, I think, popular with people, because it helps to change their habits. You know, that's what helped me honestly, like, get really more aligned and serious about what I wanted to do with my finances was listening to podcasts and kind of like hearing these ideas and how people were actually doing it in their real lives in the day to day management of money. So I think that's just part of why people are so into like the blogs and hearing from people's personal experiences, because they want to understand how do I actually apply this to my actual life? Like what is what what's possible for me and then seeing that through communities, right, like a big change. It's like surrounding yourself with like minded people and people that are on the same journey with you are like, super important.

Brian Portnoy 33:49

Yes, I completely agree. And, you know, historically, behavioral finance has been this fascinating academic study of human decision making. But the problem for decades was that it wasn't particularly practical. It didn't have like, you know, suggestions or tools that came out of it to help people actually make better decisions. And what's exciting is that over the last five, or at most 10 are really five to eight years really on the back of the big financial crisis of '08 and '09, we're seeing more application of some of these ideas in ways that are just really practical for regular people.

Jamila Souffrant 34:29

Yeah. And you know, what are the things and maybe you can help me from a behavioral science point of view on people investing in getting help with their finances or you know, paying whatever for a course a coach or deciding that they're going to pay a financial advisor. I find that like if I were selling a product more based on like making money, or something else, I don't know starting a business that I feel like it'd be easy for me to make money because this promise of making money and showing you how to make money is very, I believe more appealing to people, but when I talk about, okay, let's talk about like maybe budgeting and you know, mapping out a life of financial independence and helping you get to that point, I find that it's a harder sell to people. And I always like we joke like in the personal finance space and more personal finance friends, I'm just like, people don't, they'd rather spend like $2,000 on this course to like, earn this amount of money doing this versus maybe pay a couple hundred dollars, like for coaching or help in this area that would help them you know, not discounting the course that cost $2,000 but to help them like on the ground level to really change their behaviors in the outlook like, I don't know, I find people don't really see the value in that as much. Do you know why?

Brian Portnoy 35:41

Well, it gets back to our now versus later stuff. I'll be less nice or more critical than you if someone's paying thousands of dollars for a how you can make money in fill in the blank. You know, real estate, they're wasting their money, because you just think about the absurdity of someone who has a great investment idea or angle sharing the idea with lots of others, the world is littered with useless seminars like that. But let's kind of go back to the analogy with physical fitness and the various ways in which people decide to get in shape and stay in shape or not get and stay in shape. You know, there's so many ways to skin that cat, you know, could be you play hoops, you run outside or you join a gym. Maybe you have a coach, maybe you have a Peloton. I mean, I think kind of the old school and just kind of think a lot about this now, like the old school hub and spoke notion of financial advice is being challenged in the sense that, Oh, I'm going to go sit with a financial advisor and they're going to help me make great decisions and I'm going to retire comfortably and it's going to be great.

Brian Portnoy 36:49

I think if we take it from the perspective of financial wellness and coaching, instead of making more money and advice, it kind of opens up you. me, many others to just great conversations, who understand that there's a problem and would like some help. There are plenty of forms of physical fitness coaching that I don't want. I just don't want to do that. But there are others that I do. And so for me, you know, as a consumer in that space, I want to go find somebody who might be a great provider of something I think I already want, as opposed to someone trying to convince me that there's a completely different way of doing things. And then I should buy into that, and then in turn, choose them. Now there's a form of selling, notice the solution sale or the challenger sale where you help someone define their problem. And as a result, you end up being their solution, and that's good. And in some cases, it's it's highly ethical. It's an integrity based dialogue. But a lot of the times people want to solve the problem. They think they have not be told that they have a different problem. So that's it. Maybe a reframing of what you've asked, and not really an answer. I do think, for digital natives, people under the age of 40, or even maybe under the age of 45, or 50, who just grew up in a world of having all information at their fingertips. And they know not only about Vanguard and index funds, but also about Acorns, and Personal Capital and Betterment and YNAB (you need a budget) which is great app, you know, they're pretty aware of that whole landscape. In a country of 330 million people, there's going to be lots who need help along along that journey. And not everybody's going to want the same thing because we're all coming from different perspectives in the same way that if you and I showed up at the same gym, and hired the same trainer on the same day, and I'm guessing that we wouldn't have the same routines put in front of us.

Jamila Souffrant 38:59

Right. I love that you were just like, okay, people selling those courses are whatever. But I would like to say just as a caveat that while I didn't use that as an example, I do feel like some of those tactics or strategies right to help people earn more money can be legit. I knew that or I felt like and before I started this journey, in terms of entrepreneurship and having to be my full time thing and turning it into something that can actually sustainably make money that I did find benefit in it. I just want people to get their priorities straight when it comes to that stuff where it's just like, you just want to jump straight to the action to earning or you know, making money in this idea or this thing and you haven't even really covered the basics maybe with understanding how to manage the money you have now kind of thing.

Brian Portnoy 39:46

Right Right. Right. Well gets back to this topic of being rich versus being wealthy. You know, what is the quest for more one is is funding contentment and look wanting more, and the more positive spin is wanting to grow, wanting to achieve your goals? That's pretty awesome. Nothing wrong with that. I mean, that's the source of human progress, right? So like, there's nothing wrong with wanting more. It's a genetically natural instinct. It just should come with some caveats that it's not the end all be all, because we also at the same time, have an instinct for presence and stillness and enough. And the last chapter in The Geometry of Wealth and probably a pretty big writing project in my future is really going to be focused on this rhythm between wanting more and having enough because I think it's too easy. It's a cheap thrill to say that we should all just focus on the fact that we have enough you know, you've a roof over your head, and that's all good. But then there's still something nagging at us. And what's nagging at us is our humanity which is that need for growth in a variety of different ways and that growth could be connecting with with others or that growth could be expressing your craft your passion, but whatever, whatever it is. So we don't want and can't deny that element of our spirit, what we can do is recognize that the need for more and the need for enough exists simultaneously, and they're very much at odds with each other and there creates a tension through our entire lives that we can manage or not.

Jamila Souffrant 41:21

Right? Yeah, such a good point. And you know, one of the lessons I do want to bring up because I thought it was something that is underrated when it comes to tapping into why certain certain people have these ideas are able to follow through with them or seem successful more than others, and is this idea of like adaptive simplicity. And you talked about in the book, I just want to read this quote, it's a mindset that accepts that change and complexity are unavoidable features of daily life, but then responds by embracing the frequent challenge of rolling with the punches and cutting through the noise. Adaptive simplicity is the engine that moves us along the path towards funded contentment. And I was like, Yes. Because it's not that we can avoid the adversity completely, and that people who are successful never had these challenges or adversity, it's how they adapt to them. So I would love for us to talk a little bit about that.

Brian Portnoy 42:14

Yeah,yeah. Thanks. What a brilliant passage.

Jamila Souffrant 42:16

Yeah, who wrote that?

Brian Portnoy 42:18

Yeah, kidding. So, and I'm probably kind of lead voice in the choir here in terms of complaining about noise and complexity in the world. But the fact is that another way to spin noise and complexity is the richness of life like life's rich pageant. And we don't want to live in empty homes with bare walls. So the noise in the mess of life is life. And it comes with color. And it comes with texture, and it comes with contour. And it's a pretty beautiful thing a lot of the times. Meanwhile, that sense of presence and stillness and cleanliness, you know. It's not a surprise that Marie Kondo and her tidying up mindset has just taken off, you know that I don't even know if the magazine still exists Real Simple, which was always ironic to me because it was like 400 pages a month of things that were really not simple. But adaptive simplicity to me is growing or embracing the path from complex to simple in a never ending loop. So complexity is a good thing. For the reasons I mentioned, it's tied to life's rich passion to it's the source of solutions to big problems. Simple is really good too, because we can focus we can feel alive, we can feel light. I think a lot of the action in life is not saying complex as good or bad, simple as good or bad. But I think that we many of us, all of us, to some extent, maybe we need to feel like we're on a path of simplification. So it's neither end of the spectrum that's relevant. It's the process of the journey or the path. It's the process of simplifying of moving from complex to simple, that kind of captures a lot of what we're trying to do for ourselves and to manage, as opposed to just saying things are a mess or things are perfect as they are. I mean, this law of entropy in physics is also applicable to our human lives, which is that things fall apart. Nothing ever stays the same. And if you can't deal with, that, you're going to have a hard time navigating and some people do many people do. And going even further, if you can embrace entropy. What a fun time you're going to have, you know, like, life is going to be an adventure because you know, all of those changes are seen as opportunities as opposed to the disruption of well laid plans.

Jamila Souffrant 44:44

Yeah, and what a time to be talking about this. With so many changes and on the you know, in the economy, and what's going on with the pandemic and how so many people's lives day to day lives and money have changed as a result, and I have no way to diminish any feelings that someone has like that are real for them, to be afraid right now when it comes to money, right and their income, and all those things. And so, I love that we're kind of ending on this note because I do want to just like give people maybe, who are feeling a bit like, I didn't know it was gonna be this bad or I you know, what do I do things kind of seem bleak. And I know a lot of my audience is optimistic, but some just are maybe struggling. Is there any like advice or a way that they can start to frame what's happening for them right now and helping them see certain things as opportunities or being able to come through stronger from this?

Brian Portnoy 45:31

Yeah, I appreciate, you know, it's it is a good way to wrap up because, you know, things weren't great beforehand, in terms of inequality of wealth, and some other, you know, just structural challenges in our society.

Jamila Souffrant 45:43

I actually love that you just brought that up, because we do touch on those type of topics, so we can dig deeper into those things.

Brian Portnoy 45:51

Yeah. I'm happy to just stipulate that there's a better version of America that we haven't achieved and there are a number of ways to get there, what this pandemic has done, unfortunately, is aggravate already existing toxic political conversations. And even worse, it's introduced to the people who could least withstand it, a whole new set of economic challenges. Because at the end of the day, it's fine and wonderful to talk about purpose and meaning and all this kind of stuff. But if you can't have a roof that doesn't leak, and you can't feed your children, the way that they should be fed, and you can't live in a community that's safe enough, all of that kind of goes out the window. And you know, financial wellness is a broad concept. And, you know, there's sort of goal achievement and funding contentment and all that stuff, but there's also elements of just getting by and being safe, and those are more important. Those are more important. It's more important to be safe than it is to achieve your goals. And maybe that's controversial, or maybe that's vague, but we are wired for survival.

Brian Portnoy 47:02

So what I guess I would say, you know, for folks that have found this time to be especially hard is two things. The first is and this just comes from my friends, some friends of mine who were professional psychologists, they happen to work in kind of money world, but recognizing and acknowledging the pain and the suffering, mental suffering, and then not just accepting that, but recognizing that it doesn't define you, and that it's not all of you, and that there is hope. It's just so empowering. I mean, I'm reasonably comfortable in my lifestyle, but stuff happens, as they say. And I kind of keep that in mind. Like sort of, you know, take the blow, take the pain, and then recognize it's not all of you and that there's a way through. In a more practical sense, from a money management point of view. It's never the case in human society. We get a pause, and then a reset, to think about what's really important to us. And I think all of us hundreds of millions of us, maybe billions of us across the planet, are stuck at home. Take the opportunity, take the extra few minutes of quiet if you have and think a little bit more concretely about what this experience has highlighted for you as being truly important, and what might be less important, or at least more negotiable. And then maybe push it even further and think through well. What are the implications of those thoughts for the job that I want for the community that I want to be associated with and so forth?

Jamila Souffrant 48:39

Yeah, I love that. I love that. And like I said, this may come out, you know, maybe I'm dreaming here but everything will be like almost back to normal. We won't be all quarantined and scared to go outside anymore, but even so if not, and we're still kind of in the semi scared place as a society about just venturing outward that we can reflect all of us and get the support, whether it's through listening to podcasts like this reading books, like Brian's book, and reading more and whatever that whatever it takes for you to understand where you are, but then think about kind of things you want in life I think will be helpful. So Brian, thank you so much for coming on the show. This was amazing. tell people where they can where they can find you and what you're working on.

Brian Portnoy 49:23

Yeah, sure. So best way to find me, I have a website called shapingwealth.com and that gives a little bit of insight into the business that I'm building, which does offer financial wellness coaching consulting, for various audiences, for advisors for individuals, for companies. So shapingwealth.com has some of that information. And then there's a very vibrant and constructive and positive financial wellness community on Twitter of all places. The shorthand is for financial Twitter is fin twit, and so my Twitter handle is @BrianPortnoy and Twitter sort of my virtual office and I hang out with kind of hundreds of friends every day talking about everything from Big Picture, What's the meaning of life to how do I rebalance a portfolio during a volatile time? And so please follow me on twitter @BrianPortnoy.

Jamila Souffrant 50:17

Awesome I will actually put all that in the episode show notes and it's funny you mentioned Twitter because I saw that you just followed me and I'm going to follow you back but Twitter moves so fast for me I'm just like I can't I can't keep up. Like I can't formulate my thoughts in short like sentences and then get it out for the conversation it's like done and people have moved on. So I always find that people who are able to like get their thoughts out quickly on Twitter and stay there are just like amazing. Because I'm like I can't. I can't do it. So I just, I just pop in here and there and like scroll a bit, but I'll share all that in the episode show notes. Thanks again, Brian.

Jamila Souffrant 50:56

Okay, journeyers. I really hope you enjoyed that episode that conversation with Brian. We covered a lot. I mean, I could have kept talking to him because there are so many good points in this book. But again, I encourage you to get the book if you want to learn more, listen to the episode again, follow Brian where you can to keep up with his work and what he's doing. I also want you to think about for you what wealth means. I love this idea that we talked about in the episode of funded contentment. And we're like, what's enough? Because ultimately, we all may say we want a number right in the bank account or amount that makes us feel secure. And then you know, you're hear people who have achieved that, who are millionaires who've achieved the things that you want, and they don't necessarily feel secure. They're just going after the next thing. And if you think back to maybe something you've accomplished recently, and how you felt before you got it, you thought that thing would be it right? And it's not like you get it and it's okay. It's like, what's the next thing and I think it's interesting when we think about our goals and what we want about financial freedom and independence, and I think it breaks down to enjoying and figuring out today, how you can reap those benefits because you're going to forever be on a treadmill if you don't understand what contentment is for you. So again, really happy to have had this conversation on the podcast.

Jamila Souffrant 52:13

Don't forget if you want the episode shownotes to get any of the links mentioned in this episode, go to journeytolaunch.com or click the description wherever you're listening to this to get the link to the show notes. And if you want that free jumpstart guide to help you on your financial freedom journey, text launch to 33777 text launch to 33777 to get your free guide today or go to JourneytoLaunch.com/jumpstart.

Jamila Souffrant 52:46

If you want to support me in the podcast and love the free content and information that you get here, here are four ways that you can support me in the show. One, make sure you're subscribed to the podcast wherever you listen, whether that's Apple podcasts, that purple app on your phone, your Android device, YouTube, Spotify, wherever it is that you happen to listen, just subscribe so you are not missing an episode. And if you're happening to listen to this and Apple podcasts, rate review and subscribe there, I appreciate and read every single review. Number two follow me on my social media accounts. I'm @journeytolaunch on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. And I love love love interacting with journey are there three support and check out the sponsors of this show. If you hear something that interests you, sponsors are the main ways we keep the podcast lights on here. So show them some love for supporting your girl. Four, and last but not least, share this episode this podcast with a friend or family member or coworker so that we can spread the message of Journey to Launch. Alright, that's it. Until next week, keep on journeying journeyers.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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This week on the Journey to Launch Podcast, Brian Portnoy simplifies the complex world of money. Brian has over two decades of experience in the personal finance space, and he’s also an investor, educator, writer, and entrepreneur. In his book, The Geometry of Wealth, he tackles the challenges of making better investment decisions and how money fits into a joyful life. 

In this episode, we go beyond the numbers and talk about the behavioral science behind your relationship with money. Learn how your behavior impacts your ability to become wealthy and why your brain chooses survival over wealth.

In this episode you’ll learn: 

  • The difference between wealthy and rich
  • Why your brain is wired to make terrible money decisions
  •  The meaning of the Geometry of Wealth
  • How to set goals to become wealthy (and not just rich)
  • What a comprehensive financial plan looks like, and more

Special thanks to YNAB for sponsoring the podcast in its 3 year anniversary month. Get your free 34 trial of YNAB today (no credit card required to sign up) by going to youneedabudget.com/journey

I'm listening to Episode 163 of the #journeytolaunch podcast, The Geometry of Wealth: How to Shape a Life of Money and Meaning with Brian Portnoy! Click To Tweet

Sign up for the Journey to Launch free class on July 16th here.

In This Free Online Workshop, You Will Learn:

1. What the elusive term of Financial Independence really means

2. The FIVE major stages you must move through on the journey to reaching Financial Independence and how to identify where you currently are on the journey

3. The barriers stopping you from reaching your goals and how to eliminate them

*It’s a virtual meeting so you can join us from anywhere by registering here.


Books mentioned in the episode: 

The Investor’s Paradox by Brian Portnoy

The Geometry of Wealth by Brian Portnoy

Escape from Freedom by Erich Fromm

The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz

Other related blog posts/links mentioned in this episode:

  • Learn more about the Money Launch Club here and make sure you join when doors open up again!
  • Check out the other tools that help me with my finances and business here.
  • Check out the Journey To Launch Podcast index here which categorizes all of the Journey To Launch podcast episodes by subject. Now you can binge on your favorite topics or type of episode.
  • Join The Weekly Newsletter List
  • Leave me a voicemail– Leave me a question on the Journey To Launch voicemail and have it answered on the podcast!
  • Watch me on News12  Watch my latest segments on News12
  • YNAB –  Start managing your money and budgeting so that you can reach your financial dreams. Sign up for a free 34 days trial of YNAB, my go-to budgeting app by using my referral link.

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