You've heard of Object Permanence, but what about Financial Permanence??
Updated: Jul 10, 2021
When you are pregnant or about to become a parent, you might read about a little thing called “object permanence” that young children begin life with. It’s the concept of only knowing about, recognising and thinking about, an object when you can see it. When you can’t see it – to your brain it simply doesn’t exist. At all. That's also the reason that children hide their faces but not their bodies when playing hide and seek - they only know what they can see.
Babies don’t learn about object permanence until around 7 or 8 months old. Prior to that age, when they can’t see their favourite toy, blanket or even people, they believe that they have vanished for good.
You might have read these opening paragraphs and thought – heck- that’s not very cheery is it?!
Whilst it’s not that cheery – it IS the basis of an important financial lesson for us parents. That lesson is Financial Permanence – that is, looking beyond what we can see immediately as the benefit - to the long term advantages of our expenditure in helping us reach our goals .
Let me give you an example.
When we have a baby we tend to fixate on buying lots and lots of different products and toys for our children. We also spend lots of money on things like baby groups and sensory classes. I knew of one mum who took her 5 week old baby to music classes to aid her development and stimulation. Whilst this “might” benefit our babies in a small way, I want us to be real in this post, and to confront the honest truth: that we do these things and buy these products, in many cases, for our benefit rather than our children.
I’ve already told you that babies don’t develop a sense of object permanence until around 7 or 8 months. So whilst they derive enjoyment from sensory groups, new toys, people and activities – that enjoyment, and the benefit, is in the moment. Fleeting. Transitional, if you will.
From my own experience as a new mum, and from the experience of many of my mum-friends; I bought and paid for lots of things, consultants and products that I thought would help me in the “moment” as a parent.
When Rosalind wouldn’t sleep on anyone other than me, I bought a baby sling – only to find that after spending £50 on a Baby K-TAN, that she HATED it. When my breastmilk wouldn’t come through, I mail-ordered lots (and lots) of boxes of lactation cookies and Fennel Tea, both of which I read helped. My milk still didn’t come through, but I did gain 7 pounds (thanks cookies); learn that I hate herbal tea, and my husband had to drink a hell of a lot of fennel tea (resulting in him refusing to even eat fennel these days…)
Those are two examples of my spending as a new parent where I wasn’t thinking in terms of “permanence”. I was experiencing a problem, spending to resolve the pain point, and hoping for the best. I’m not the only mum or parent that has ever spent in that “mindset” – of experiencing something and wanting the quick “fix”; and to be perfectly transparent, I still spend on occasion in that way even today.
Rosalind lost my perfume the other day. More accurately, she took it from the bathroom drawer and secreted it somewhere so that I couldn’t find it. I only own one bottle of perfume at a time, and given that we are meeting family twice over the weekend for lunches and I don’t want to smell, I next-day delivery ordered a new bottle.
You can guess the end of this story, can’t you? Richard found the bottle I lost that same night in Rosalind’s backpack.
As a coach it isn’t my job to tell new parents how to spend, nor am I lecturing you that every bit of money you spend should be “financially permanent” – that that purchase or expense should benefit you way into the future – because it won’t, and I’d be lying. You aren’t spending your money “wrongly” or in error by spending in the now, when it matters.
But being able to ask yourself with each expenditure that you do make what the benefit is – whether it’s a fleeting “in the moment”, transitional expense, or whether it is “financially permanent” – going towards helping your achieve your longer terms goals - well that’s the crucial point – and ultimately the crux of this post.
When I as a money coach talk about “family goals” and your financial “vision” – it is easy to think that I’m talking “woo”. That I’m not really going to help you on a day-to-day basis look at how you can best use your money.
But the thing is, that having a really clear vision of the “big picture” – what your family future looks like and what your money goals to achieve that vision are, is FUNDAMENTAL to helping you with you day-to-day spending and assessing it.
Through knowing what your long-term goals look like (and how you want to get there, and by when), you gain the ability to be free. Free to make proactive choices each time you spend, about whether that expense is giving you “financial permanence” – e.g. getting you closer to your goals, or whether it provides a fleeting fix or temporary joy.
Being conscious of the “permanence” of our spending, and of the financial decisions that we make for our family doesn’t mean that we berate ourselves for spending to provide instant gratification or fix a pain point, be that for ourselves or our babies. Rather, it simply means that we are making a conscious choice each time we do spend to move towards, or take a slight diversion from, our overall financial goals.
That in turn means that we can stop “beating ourselves up” if we choose to next-day deliver a bottle of perfume that we later find out we don’t need; or we buy a caterpillar pull along toy that our baby never plays with (that one is still sat in the corner of her room 437 days after purchase – still untouched); because we know that our overall family goals remain permanent – and we will get there in the long run.
My job as a coach is to help you decide what your family goals and your vision for the future is – and ultimately to help you make money decisions that, over time, will allow you to achieve those goals – aka financial permanence money management.
You don’t have to make every decision and spend count towards those goals – just start being aware of what you want to achieve, and mindful of how your behaviour is affecting you achieving it. And if you want help, I’m here.