Thoughts on materialism, money and health


When I was a kid, I would have done just about anything to own a Porsche—or at least to drive one.

Today, if a friend said, “Take my Porsche Carrera out for a spin,” I’d probably want to do it at night, when nobody could see me. What does that mean?

Over the past twenty years, I’ve been slowly changing in ways that surprise some of the people I know. If you put me in a taxi, gave me an unlimited credit card and said, “Go downtown into the heart of Singapore [where I live] and buy whatever you want,” if I wasn’t allowed to give anything away, I’d probably go down to Borders Bookstore, and come back with a cool box of books. I’d bypass the Ferrari dealership, and I wouldn’t want the latest mountain bike, road bike or fancy electronic toy. What does that mean?

Here’s where it gets stranger. If you had the power to add an extra zero or two to my investment account balance, I wouldn’t want it. Nor do I want any kind of inheritance. What does that mean?

And there’s more…

I was running hard on a treadmill last week, thinking about the level of fitness I had before having back surgery last year. Running 8km at a painful clip, a new thought entered my head that surprised me more than other of my other strange personal revelations. If somebody had the magical power to restore my former fitness, I wouldn’t take it. Of course, I’d like to be as fit and strong as I was before my surgery, but I also think that I can do it on my own. Simply giving it to me would be like taking something away.

On the other hand, if somebody ensured that I could have my three ribs back (which were extracted during last year’s surgery) I’d take them up on that in a heartbeat. If they could ensure that my family and friends would live long happy lives into their 90s, I’d sign that deal with my own blood.

This post wasn’t something I threw together because I needed to fill space on my blog. This is the most personal thing I have publically written, and I needed to write it.

I’m not sure what happened to me over the past 20 years—but whatever it was, I’m happy it did.

Andrew Hallam

I’m a financial columnist for Canada’s national paper, The Globe and Mail, as well as for AssetBuilder, a financial service firm based in Texas. I’m also the author of Millionaire Teacher: The Nine Rules of Wealth You Should Have Learned in School and Millionaire Expat: How To Build Wealth Living Overseas. My mission is to educate, motivate and inspire people on basic retirement planning and best practices for investing, using evidence-based strategies. I'm happy to comment on your questions.

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7 Responses

  1. I got over my car thing in my mid-twenties after dropping some large bucks for me at the time on a Mazda RX7. The car was cool, but at the end of the day it was just a chunk of metal sitting in the driveway to get me back and forth to work, and to impress the girls. There are many more important things in life like health, putting food on the table, and having shelter and a loving family.

  2. Andrew, I believe I also got over the car thing. Don't get me wrong i'd love to buy an X5 but I am very happy with my corolla that i will be driving it until it is run down.

    I like to balance material/spiritual. I alternate between christian theology and investment books. Money is not everything in life and I already consider myself very rich when I look around at my loving family.

    Looks like your post will push your readers to share personal things too!

  3. @The Biz of Life

    Hey Biz,

    A friend of mine owned a BMW and a Porsche (at different times) but when he picked girls up on dates, he took his Toyota pickup. He figured out that the flash cars attracted the wrong kind of girls. But of course, younger men might not relate to that.

  4. @Mich@BeatingTheIndex

    Hey Mitch,

    It sounds like you've struck a fabulous balance. If you have people you love, you're a rich man no matter what. Nothing replaces that. I've talked to my students about that, but they don't get it. And that makes sense. They're young. But some of that is also cultural. In Asia, family comes first, but too many people in Asia think they're giving their families the best, when they're dishing out emotional penury. Fathers won't see their children so "they can give their children the best". In many cases, the fathers don't even live in the same country as the kids—they're off working elsewhere to provide the most money the can for the "best education." But the best education is teaching to love, I think. The Bible espouses that, as does virtually every other sacred text. Yet– how can so many people be so off base?

  5. The Rat says:

    This post really hits home in that I can totally relate to the underlying theme in this thread.

    Life milestones are so much more rewarding when you know that "you did it" – you've reached that major goal you've been working towards. You've had mountains to climb and there were challenges, but once it's been realized, you get that indescribable feeling of satisfaction.

    They say there's a "fine line between pain and pleasure"; my approach to life is to try and surf that wave to the best of my ability and for as long as possible.

    As for the car, if somebody asked me what I'd rather be up to this weekend, I would rather have a nice meal and a bottle of wine with my wife any day than drive around in a Porsche. Now, if I was single and in my younger years, that could be a different story! But as Andrew mentions, perspectives change over time, and we realize what is important to us through different experiences.

    Nice thread.

  6. We used to have a Cadillac CTS (company car believe it or not) and I hated driving it. I felt so…pretentious. It literally made me uncomfortable, and I think I drove it a total of 5 times the entire 39 months we had it. So financially, I get it. However, if someone dropped 100k in my lap, I would put it right in my kid's college funds and be happy as a clam. I do want to earn my own money, but I am terrified about covering college.

    I too prefer bookstores over shopping! Although I would have gone to Barnes and Noble! 🙂

    Where we differ is health. I would love to have back my pre-acl reconstructed knee and fixed shoulder and non-arthritic body. I eat the best I can and exercise quite a bit. But, the pain gets on my nerves. I will let you have your three ribs and I can have a knee, a shoulder and new sacroiliacs.

  7. @Everyday Tips

    Hey Everyday Tips,

    We sound a lot alike. I wouldn't want to be seen driving the Porsche—or the Cadillac. And I'd do anything to get the old ribs back, as you would the pre-reconstructed knee and shoulder. We don't have a Barnes and Nobles, but we do have a great store called Kinokunyia.

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