You probably have never heard of Simon Patten, but you are certainly familiar with his ideas. One hundred years ago Patten was at polar odds with a more famous colleague in economics named Thorstein Veblen. While Veblen passionately believed the way to wealth was through careful planning and a sense of modesty, Patten, chair of the Wharton School of Business at Penn, believed that American wealth would be best attained through abundance and consumption.
A century later, this bugs #b#Jay Sanders#/b# like you wouldn’t believe. Sanders is a New York-based CPA who yearns for the days when the United States saved a quarter of its gross domestic product, rather than embracing the belief that buying stuff makes your life better. Veblen, he says, had the better approach, since his did not lend itself to debt.
But Patten apparently made the better case.
If consumerism is fragile bedrock for a national economy — we are, after all, living through yet another recession in which over-spending has ground us to a crawl — the good news is that Sanders believes it’s never too late for anyone to fix the financial problems wrought by his own consumption. People just need to understand how their temperament decides how they spend their money.
Or don’t, as the case might be.
Sanders and Michael Edelstein, co-founder of the New Temperament, a personal assessment firm in Pennsylvania, will present “Money Consciousness and Your Temperament,” on Sunday, January 10, at 2 p.m. at the Center for Relaxation and Healing, 666 Plainsboro Road. Cost: $25. Call 215-598-7225.
To understand your temperament is to understand your approach to your finances, Sanders says. Think of it as orienting yourself in the woods. If you were dropped in the middle of the woods without a compass you would have to get your bearings, find a path, and set to town.
So it is with your money. Sanders sees an endless supply of people who have looked around and realized they are lost in debt. They want out, they just aren’t sure how to get there.
#b#Temperament bias#/b#. Some of us are introverts, some think first with our hearts, some are impulsive, and some protective.
Sanders says it is these very traits that dictate how we react to (or with) our money, and we need to know where we fall on the continuum.
Sanders describes himself as a former introvert who thought impulsively with his heart, but he altered that arrangement after Edelstein presented him with the idea that “temperament leads to transience,” once you understand it.
Like phrenology, which sought to remedy our personal shortcomings by making us aware of their existence, Sanders’ method prescribes a way to fix that which is holding us back financially.
There is no right or wrong type, each has its strengths and weaknesses, he says.
But you have to know where your strengths and weaknesses lie in order to accentuate the positive.
#b#Help, I’m stuck#/b#! Back when Simon Patten was arguing in favor of consumerism, people typically saved a quarter of their income for a rainy day they knew would eventually arrive. And even though life was rough, the one thing that most people did not face was revolving debt. These days, Sanders says, China saves half its GDP because it does not have safety nets like the 401k or Social Security. They save because they have to, but they tend to not get caught in spiraling debt.
If there is one thing Sanders would like people to learn about it’s compound interest. Credit card companies use this every day — the more money you have in an interest bearing account over time, the more money it generates. If you’re the creditor, it’s a lucrative source of income, but as the card holder, it translates into endless payments on your balance.
The good thing about compound interest is that it can work well for you. A 20-year-old who puts $20 a week in an interest-bearing bank account until he is 75 will build a nest-egg of more than $3 million, he says. “But you never see a commercial about compound interest,” he says. No one advocates that you save your money. “Everything is geared for people to spend.”
#b#What’s your sine#/b#? Sanders believes a healthy financial picture should be like a sine curve,with a smooth, predictable ebb and flow. Unfortunately, a lot of financial graphs would look like a rollercoaster, with a climb, a big drop, and then a series of not-always-thrilling twists and turns.
This is apropos for the people Sanders calls “advocates.” These are people who feel their way through, which is fine, but can lead them to go to Disney World with the family and spend $10,000, “when they could just stay home and talk.” There are also people he calls “discerners,” who are head-first thinkers. And they can be the get-what-you-pay-for type. “These are the people who say ‘I gotta have a Porsche — for the engineering,’” he says.
But the sine curve metaphor also works to show your vantage point. “People below the curve need to take bigger risks to get up the curve,” he says.
#b#Putting it together#/b#. Once you know where your starting point is, Sanders says, you can take the appropriate steps toward financial safety. If you’re mired in debt because you impulsively buy things, thinking they will improve your life, stop it. If you are so guarded that you have no ken for emotion and feeling, loosen up a little.
Easy enough to say, Sanders admits, but he has no illusions about the necessary work it takes to rewire yourself. “It’s never easy to change,” he says. “But you can.”
Sanders began giving his seminar with Edelstein about three months ago, but the approach had been developed over the course of six months prior. After coming to grips with the fact that he was introverted and emotional, Sanders became a whirlwind. He has booked public speaking engagements and taken his financial gospel right to the heart of the problem — the consumer.
Most people who come see him have an advantage — they realize they need help. So he has a relative luxury in that he preaches to people already looking for a path. But Sanders was always more of a go-getter than his introverted nature and job belie.
A native of New York, Sanders earned his bachelor’s in history from Alfred University in upstate New York in the 1970s.
But when he left college, there was little work for a history major, so his father, “an industrial engineer with an accounting degree,” suggested he start a business.
With a buddy from high school, Sanders started a wine and cheese shop that became quite popular and yet made no money. His father again made a suggestion — go to Nassau Community College and study business — and again, Sanders listened. It didn’t take him long to realize that he had a great idea for a bad business.
The amount of customers in his shop and the time they would hang out could never carry the expenses of operation.
Sanders shut the shop and studied accounting at CUNY and SUNY Albany, earning his CPA and continuing with his desire to have his own business. He started his accounting career with Arthur Young and eventually opened his own firm in Manhattan, yet to look back.
Then again, looking back is critical to financial health, and Sanders advocates it heartily. Until you know where you have been, he says, you cannot know where you are. And without knowing that, you certainly cannot know where you are headed.