Financial nonsense is everywhere and easy to spot, but one of my favorite hobbies is finding financial information. wisdom where could you No expect it, especially in the arts and music. In previous posts, I’ve explored the deep financial insights of Bob Marley, Mumford and Sons, Jason Isbell, and the Avett Brothers. Today we examine the financial phraseology of one of the most respected rappers, J. Cole.
“I can’t take it when you die, but you can’t live without it” is the central refrain squeezed between the percussive “Count, count, count” chorus throughout the song. ATM, on his hit album, CODE. (Uh mom, before we go on YouTube and play this song for dad in the kitchen, let’s talk. 😊)
While Cole explores many different themes in the song, including the desperate drive to rags to riches, the magnetism of wealth, and the trappings of excess, I believe it is this two-sided coin in the chorus that represents such a gem as Oliver Wendell Holmes describes it as “simplicity on the other side of complexity.”
Note that it starts with the end in mind, the unavoidable truth you’ll never see on a billboard or financial industry commercial (and that’s totally contrary to hip-hop canon), that “I can’t take it when I die.”
Hedge fund manager and author Bill Perkins devoted an entire volume to this reality in his controversial book, die with zero, in which he insists that every dollar we leave behind (yes, including those for children and charities) represents potentially enriching life experiences that could have been but never was. Furthermore, he views the time spent producing and investing those unspent funds as sub-optimally spent time, compounding the “loss” incurred by dying while still sitting on a pile of cash.
It is safe to say, however, that the pronouncement, “Well, you can’t take it when you die!” , has preceded many very bad financial decisions. So Cole doesn’t leave it there; it also addresses the apparent contradiction that, in fact, “you can’t live without it.”
Avoiding money as something bad or unimportant may be a surefire way to avoid putting up with the neighbors, but it invites a host of problems of its own. Even minimalism costs something. So where does that leave us, if not by holding these two seemingly opposite truths in tension, unable to refute either?
I would like to say that the tightrope we walk between the two of us is that money is not inherently good or bad; it is simply a neutral tool to be used well or badly. It’s not an end in itself, but it can be an incredibly useful means.
Practically speaking, there are four ways in which money can be put to useful use. We can use it for:
· LIVE comfortably and confidently.
· PROTECT your family, property and lifestyle.
· GROW your assets to recreate your income in the future.
· GIVE to the people and causes most important to you.
Those with a discerning eye will note that I’ve strayed into relativistic territory here. You may agree with me that money is a neutral tool that is used well or badly, but our opinions will almost certainly differ on what exactly is a wise or unwise use of funds.
Sure, there are certain things we could universally agree on, but I’m also sure we could find someone opposed to giving money to feed hungry puppies and someone who supports using high interest rate credit card debt to buy lottery tickets. But regardless of where we set the limits of virtual certainty, there are plenty of gray areas in between, the correctness and incorrectness of which can only be defined by you and yours. (That, by the way, is the real work of life’s financial planning.)
That is also the reason why I have not given the numbers in the list above, but bullet points. Each individual and family must determine their financial and life priorities, and they are likely to change over time. Today it might be LPGG, but in five years it might be GPGL.
Still, while it’s our job to manage the tension between these two truths, J. Cole has provided us with the undeniable parameters, that when it comes to money, “you can’t take it when you die, and you can’t live without it.”