Might We Become Richer Much Faster Than Anyone Thinks?


On my Everyday Leadership radio show on Saturday I asked callers to say what they thought would help us emerge from the recession and emerge stronger and more prosperous? As you would guess, I stressed the personal dimension of the question: What do you think you need to learn and do differently?

One caller – was it Dave from Dewitt? – said that he and his wife had been married for ten years, and feeling the economic pinch, they began to budget as a family. What they found out as they looked at their spending data was that their entertainment expenses were a big slice of the pie. He said that they have now become more disciplined about what they really need. One of the byproducts, he said, was that they have become imaginative about entertainment, spent more time at home, and really enjoyed this family time. A second fellow echoed the same message: Get back to basics he said; distinguish between wants and needs. Part of our way out of this mess is precisely that: Much more focus on what truly brings what the economists call “utility,” and we might call happiness or satisfaction.

This is pretty cool from a spiritual perspective, as well. In the economic market, it’s simple efficiency. When funds get tight, entities –whether families or businesses – tighten their belts and spend on the necessities that are most valuable. Yet this veers into the spiritual realm, as we distinguish between wants and needs. As one of my callers said, “You start to realize that having a third bathroom is not really that important.” The material world isn’t the whole enchilada.

Although things may look terrible from a material perspective, one can look deeper, and there you find some surprising silver linings. I think of a friend of Jack’s. This boy’s grandparents were comfortably semi-retired in Florida; or so they thought. But a job layoff and the hit on their retirement accounts led to foreclosure on their home. They moved back to Michigan and moved in temporarily with their daughter and their grandchildren. No one likes to be forced into such a circumstance, into this “efficient” way of dealing with a capital shortfall. But for millennia and in many countries to this day, grandparents’ living with their grandchildren is the norm if not the ideal. It’s possible if not likely, that the grandparents and kids actually have a RICHER life in the full sense of that word.

In these tough times, both at work and at home, it behooves you to ask: What is real wealth? How rich is our life? And: What do we really value? – As you . . .

Lead with your best self.



  • Dan:

    “In these tough times…” your reflections on what is really important struck home. So much of what many of us are going through is more psychological and spiritual than material. That’s not to say the financial reality is not central for many of us right now. It is just that the real price we pay for the continual and unrelenting challenges is often at a deeper level.

    Yesterday, Sunday, the place I most did not want to be, church, was the place I most needed to be. Being unemployed for the first time in forty years, having more than 100 resumes out with little response, knowing that we face an upcoming crisis where our home is concerned, and looking into the eyes of my six daughters and seeing their unshakeable confidence that I will “fix it,” was beginning to wear me down. There is a bottom to what I might have once thought of as a limitless reservoir of confidence.

    I had made up my mind to skip church, but when I came back in the house after shoveling snow my wife had all six girls dressed and ready to go. Since there is no way either one of us can handle all six at church one-handed (They are 10, 8, 6, 5, 4 and 4), I found myself feeling somehow put out that I would have to even though I didn’t want to. At the moment, God and I were not on the best of terms and I had no desire to spend an hour in God’s house.

    The place I did not want to be did indeed turn out to be the place where I most needed to be. As it happened, our church had planned a healing service as part of the Sunday liturgy. I resolved not to participate, and then found myself headed up the aisle at the last minute; realizing with every step that I had much more that needed healing than needed “fixing.”

    Throughout the liturgy I was aware that across the aisle from me was Bishop Coleman McGee, retired head of the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan. I had not seen him in nearly twenty years, but being with him there reminded me of the important work we had done together, along with Bishop Tom Gumbleton and others, in peace and anti-war efforts over the years. Catching up and sharing memories after the service reminded me of how much it is not about just me and mine.

    Finally, the Pastor of St. Stephen’s grabbed me by the arm as I turned to go and asked me if I would consider joining him on retreat in March for a couple of days. Lord knows (Read that anyway that fits.) I could use just a day away to re-center and recharge. What perfect timing.

    What is “real wealth?” I have been powerfully reminded. I am surrounded by it.


  • Dan,

    The key word in your title to this week’s blog is “WE”. If you represent the “WE” as in the politico insiders who vote on, and figure out, how to spend the taxpayers Billions, then, yes, you, as in “WE” will become rich very soon. Look at Wall Street execs, they were able to, with impunity, get rich by stealing assets of the company that they were the CEO/CFO/COO of. Then, in a stellar move caused due to complicity, Washington DC decides to reward them more with TARP funds without strings attached. I can see the money shift now. Maybe Bernie Madoff can start a consulting business from his Park Ave. $8M penthouse apt. showing Wall St. and Washington how to move all of those misappropriated (read = STOLEN) funds to safe havens that he discovered over the decade or so that he was scamming his fellow socialites.
    It takes Washington exactly 8 hours and twenty minutes to blow through a BILLION dollars. Putting the term BILLION in perspective, a billion seconds ago it was 1959, a billion minutes ago Jesus was alive on Earth, a billion hours ago man was living in the Stone Age, and a billion days ago no one walked on the Earth on two feet. More startling statistics are available. There certainly will be a few ‘rich’ folks, as soon as they get their greedy hands on the UNEARNED SOCIALIST FUNDING called the STIMULUS PLAN.

    • Mark,

      There is much anger and indignation out there. You give it voice. Seems to me that you need to sort it out. I guess I am in the “we” or “they” that is, to you, evil. I wonder if that works for you, either spiritually/emotionally or intellectually. Is suspect that the anger eats you up and then you explode – hopefully just verbally like this. Often people who seethe need some outlets. I hope you’re managing yours. As far as whether it works intelletually, I honestly don’t see the coherence in what you’re writing at all. Here’s my take for what it’s worth:

      There is evil in the world – in the hearts of humans. And in complex organizations – whether corporate or governmental – evil grows deeply embedded and people pay. Big organizations can institutionalize inefficiencies and worse, terrible moral inefficiencies. Governments, or GMs, or AIGs make stupid mistakes, and no one sees them.

      I think it must be especially vexing for people who write SOCIALIST in capital letters to know that CAPITALISTS – like Madoff – and capital markets – like Wall Street mess up. It makes it hard to just be raging against those LIBERALS.

      How do we attack government in one breath and then complain there was no decent regulation in the next breath? How do we rail like JazBee that cuts are coming to teachers at your school system and then complain that the feds will or won’t bail us out. Education is socialist, isn’t it?

      Hey, markets mess up. The church messes up. The Senate messes up. I mess up!!!!

      So we strive, as fallible folks to be better, and then to try to create instituions that work, too.

      Don’t let it get you down, man! Do what you can – as a shareholder, a Republican, a Catholic, a Michiganian – to make the systems of which we get to be a small part – work better. We have met the enemy, Pogo, it is us!


      • Dan,

        Non-coherence? Hmmm….interesting. Me; angry….well, yes, to a degree. More sad than angry though. I have been held responsible for my actions my entire life, yet, it seems to me, that, once you’ve climbed that CORPORATE ladder high enough, you can fail, thieve, lie, cheat, and instead of being held accountable ( a leveraging format supported by lobbyists), a continuance of GAIN seems to be thrown your way, such as with the TARP funding that allowed $20B to be used for exec bonuses in the midst of outragious and egregious failures. That is not how I was raised, and find a ZERO TOLERANCE in trying to be led down the path of acceptance for this irrational process. How about this approach to the “BAILOUT/STIMULUS” package; instead of giving more to the very same folks who’ve created this mess, based on greed, and unparalleled,unwarranted, unnecessary growth of government, from a municipality all the way to Congress, pink slips be handed out within, and then the Stimulus package is divided equally by how many legal citizens are in the USA, sending each one the $8600 check. Just so you know, I’ve rejected the two “pay for votes” stimulus checks that GWB sent out during his eight years of ineffectiveness.
        Regarding my personal relationship with God…..I am VERY grasteful for that,as it is timeless and priceless……but I will not allow that to be plyed into becoming a submissive, force fed that accepting the methodology of trying to fix our country’s financial problems by way of collusion between Wall St and the likes of Barney Frank, Chris Dodd, Nancy Pelosi, et al. These folks should be forced from office, with honest individuals replacing them. Ditto on the Republican side. This stimulus package is an absolute abomination and the beginning of the end of the great society known as the USA. Sounds pessimistic, eh? Rather, it is reality. I’m grateful that I lived in the America where you could prosper and grow through hard work, not be forced into a program where “everyone is a winner” at the expense of the middle class hard working backs. The gross amount of welfare recipients, along with the folks at the top who are more concerned about the “indians getting restless” and keeping their exorbitant wealth intact, pressuring the Gov’t to act as their new cash cow, is fueling the problem, not resolving it. When will we see Marshal law enacted in this country? In retrospect, Ron Paul should have been elected president. Blathering (as you perceive it) over……

  • You never cease to amaze me at how effectively you capsulate a huge problem into a call for an action plan. We have been dealing with the tough economic times in Michigan for the past three years in the grandparent/grandchild model you described.

    When our son-in-law’s place of employment closed near Traverse City–they lost their home and had to file bankruptcy for protection. They moved back home with us and the children began to go to school with me. That was wonderful! Now they have purchased, with the help of the other grandparents, a foreclosed-condemmed 120 year old farmhouse that was vacant for several years and turned it into a beautiful home. They live less than 1/4 of a mile from us.

    Our youngest is attending Henry Ford Community College. He lives in our home with his baby. He was let go at his part time job. We encouraged him to stay with us and finish school and we would help with the baby who is now 1 year old and a delight to have around.

    Occasionally, we are called to help our other sons who are married with children. Neither has been able to get into the housing market–which has turned out to be a blessing now since they will be in a better position to buy the next year or two.

    So, as you can see–I agree that every cloud has a silver lining, too. We just have to look for it and trust that God will provide for our NEEDS.

    The Mayor

  • My husband and I are Boomers who had kids late in life (I’m 60 and my youngest is 19). I watched all my friends buy bigger and bigger houses with many bathrooms and walk-in closets while we raised three daughters in a 1200 square foot house with ONE bathroom. Yes, we had to schedule showers and take turns in the bathroom and yes, we are still living there 24 years later with one bathroom (we couldn’t afford the remodel plans). It was easy to say no to their requests for designer labels and cars; there just wasn’t the money. Neither my 19 or 22 year old have a car because we simply can’t afford to (a) help them buy one that runs, or (b) insure their cars. The house is paid for and the equity line is a fixed rate that will be paid off in 4 years. We don’t have much in savings, but believe we’ve raised our kids to economize and understand the difference between wants and needs. Michigan and the rest of the country MUST get back to basics: is it needed or is it just wanted?


  • Dan,

    On the door to my refrigerator is the daily reminder that, “THE BEST THINGS IN LIFE AREN’T THINGS”.

    Since I, like Rainy don’t have much. I think I too, understand the difference between wants and needs. We are working on a financial literacy project where I go into schools and help teach kids about saving (paying themselves first) and what a typical month of bills looks like from their parent’s perspective. (Mortgage, utilities, food, phone, etc.) It is all about choices and budgeting within your means. Each student is given an identity where they may be married, single, divorced, unemployed, have multiple children etc., from many income levels.

    There has not been one single session where I have not had to say to these kids YOU CANNOT AFFORD A CADDILAC AND YOUR CAR PAYMENT SHOULD NOT BE MORE THAN YOUR MORTGAGE PAYMENT!

    I just hope this program will make a difference to them when it really counts.

    The TIP Lady~

    • Dear Tip Lady,

      Thank you for your comment- and example of the importance of showing kids before they leave home the importance of budgeting! I’m currently taking a course called Financial Peace University by Dave Ramsey and it’s been fabulous. A great reminder about the difference between wants and needs and the importance of budgeting. Personally, when times were good, our income was about 80% higher. My husband and I worked long hours in stressful jobs that we didn’t like very much. Now we’re regrouping- I’m leading a non-profit charity and able to work out of my home and be more available for my family- and make a difference helping kids that are currently in the foster care system. Letting go of the large income was not easy and took some adjusting- and there are times we still kick ourselves for not being better stewards of the large amount we formerly handled. But for now- life is good, and we are less stressed, have more family time, and our children will know about budgets and saving well before they leave for school or to start their own businesses.

      There are always silver linings and we’ve learned to trust god even more through this time.


  • Please square the theme of your column to the Governor’s comments about newer more stringent CAFE standards for automobiles actually being good for the failing auto companies.

    Yes, more government regulation for the auto industry will help them a lot.

    And then when the liberal “fixes” result in more misery all those people can find their “wealth” in time off because they no longer have jobs.

    Did the governor really say in Midland last week, (loose quote) that, “there’s no reason for school districts to lay off employees because of the federal stimulus package. Our little district is cutting 5 teachers tonight, that is $500K. Are we going to receive $500K from the fabulus liberal fix called the stimulus package?

    And even if we get $500K, the centralized government will have so many restrictions on the use of the money that it won’t do us any good any way!

    • Five teachers being let go at a savings of $500K. WOW, that equates to a $100k per annum per teacher. Pay is good in Michigan for teachers! In fact, based on this figure, I’d expect that these teachers are producing high numbers of students that excel in math and science. Is that the case, or are the teachers represented by the UAW?

  • Thanks for great perspective and comments. I’m mindful that we may have to stay in this mode of efficiency for quite a while yet; a mode that is unfamiliar and somewhat un-American, given our societal penchant for buying things – even good things, but non-the-less things. Like wants and needs, I believe there’s an even greater contrast – important and not important. There are many important things that get drown out by not important things – especially when we have the resources to acquire those not important things. Like the extended family in your message today, perhaps we all should reap the long-term benefits of more time enjoying the important things of life during this period of less: family, friends and faith. Thanks again.

    • Thank you, Dave.
      Just read the beginning of Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, Outliers. The intro is all about a village in Italy that was transplanted through emigration to a town in Pennsylvania. It turns out the town was an “outlier,” with almsot no heart attacks, ulcers, etc. They couldn’t figure out what it was. Turned out to be quality of life and community. Seems like a rich place to live.
      Was talking to a famous governor last night. He was saying that in his home country in Europe families stayed together over many generations and that there was a richness. He was somewhat bittersweet that the reward for raising a capable child was that the child would move across our great expanse of a country to go to school. It’s an odd form of success to leave your family behind.
      It looks like we may have some time to learn about a more efficient ecological system, focused on the most important things.

  • I am a member of the out of favor political party and have for years had a tough time trying to convince democrats and republicans that economics is a unifying issue, if a person realizes how often conservative and liberal theories merge. Any persons financial wealth is often dependent on the wealth of others. And so the spiritual connection of people is fundemental to the idea of accepting that we share this world, that our wealth of all kinds depends on the well being of others. There was a a wonderful video on CSPAN not long after Obama was elected president. It was a speech he gave not long after being elected to the US Senate, when he was talking about his book about his father. I wish I had a transcript of that speech. Near the end Obama says, “My personal salvation depends on your collective salvation.” To me this was a totally original idea. Mark John Hutner – Alpena

  • A rich and wonderful message. We have done similar ourselves recently, probably more so due to the fact I am building my own business at the moment and my wife is not working than due to the current financial situation. In fact my business continues to thrive so that’s great but we are still in start up phase on a single income with four kids and I’m sure we won’t be immune to what is happening forever.

    Back to the point, this very focus on spending and budgeting is a lost art these days – we have ignored it ourselves for some time i.e. we had a budget a while back, then lost track, and are now back on track. To solidify oneself against the monolith that modern consumerism is and focus on special and creative ways that you can relax and replenish is special. It is so needed and brings rich rewards as I believe the net effect is that you end up focussing far more on each other than on getting things or doing ‘stuff’ to fill in time where often your focus is on some activity than on each other.

  • >