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Counting Your Money

Do rich people spend much time counting their money? Some Americans, including President Obama, must think so. From his speeches, the President appears not to like rich people very much even though he’s one of them. On more than one occasion he’s broadly characterized “millionaire and billionaires” as all owning jets, managing hedge funds, or “sitting around counting their money.”

I find the negative characterization of Americans who’ve worked hard, taken risks, and produced much to be inappropriate, untrue, and polarizing. Especially inflammatory was his statement at a town hall meeting in Reno in April: “I’m rooting for everybody to get rich. But I believe that we can’t ask everybody to sacrifice and then tell the wealthiest among us, well, you can just relax and go count your money, and don’t worry about it. We’re not going to ask anything of you.”

Jabs like these about the wealthy “counting their money” are meant to evoke visions of greedy characters like King Midas or the cartoon Scrooge McDuck sitting in storehouses of gold inventorying their riches. I suppose the modern-day equivalent is updating your financial statement.

I make my living working with people who’ve accumulated wealth, but I don’t know many of them who give much thought to counting their money. Most of them wouldn’t have time; they are far too busy working hard and juggling their various responsibilities as parents, spouses, children and employers.

Others simply don’t have any interest. Their focus is on doing the work they love and being productive. Because financial statements are a necessity of life in dealing with banks or governments, they typically delegate the “money counting” to someone like myself or their accountant.

When I present clients with their financial statements, it isn’t unusual for them to respond with a degree of disbelief as to what they are worth. For some, it’s the first time in a while they’ve had someone value their various assets, and the results are often pleasantly surprising.

What a financial statement represents for most of these successful business owners is a report card of sorts on their hard work, risk-taking, and innovation. In that regard, a solid financial statement is certainly something to be proud of, a worthy goal for any enterprising American to achieve.

Think of the past innovators whose hard work and risk-taking gave us products that have made life easier and more enjoyable for all of us. People like Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and Bill Gates changed our world. All of them became rich, and in so doing they raised the well-being of millions. Certainly, no one is poorer because of their successes.

I actually encourage my clients to “count their money” often. It serves as a tool of awareness, just like counting calories can help you lose or maintain your weight and tracking your spending can keep you from worrying and overspending.

Counting your money serves as a reminder that your hard work is paying off. There is something satisfying in seeing your children’s 529 plans grow, knowing you are providing for their education. It is exciting, after the early years of contributing what seemed to be paltry sums, to watch your IRA or 401(k) plan grow into something substantial and know you won’t have to depend upon a Social Security check when you retire.

President Obama apparently finds counting one’s money shameful. I am suggesting it can be a time of celebration and gratitude. Celebration for the fruits of hard work, good choices, and taking educated risks. Gratitude for good health, a country where wealth accumulation was possible, and a little bit of luck along the way.

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