Cash-in, do-good; before it’s too late.
by Neil Jenman
Reading Time: Apx 7 mins
You can’t eat money. I know, I tried. Over the years, at some of my talks, I demonstrated how people look at money the wrong way. I grabbed a hundred-dollar note and began to chew. I never swallowed. I was just making a point to my audience.
The point is this: Money is a means to an end. It’s not money we want, it’s what we want to do with money. Try it yourself: Find a home for sale and ask the agent, “What do they want?” The answer will invariably come back in dollar terms.
But you can’t eat money.
So, what’s the point in accumulating money – especially in real estate – if you don’t know what to do with your increased wealth?
A LARGER HOME
In the late 90s, we were expecting twins. Our Melbourne base was a one-bedroom apartment; too tiny.
We went searching. Our limit was $800,000. All we found was shoebox apartments. Big glass towers of cold sterility. It was depressing. But that was our budget.
One day, at another ‘shoebox’, a salesman said: “Check the view. See the lights of Crown Casino.”
Yes and think of people losing their houses – and families torn apart. No thanks.
We had a helpful buyers’ agent. I mentioned some apartments above one of Melbourne’s newest hotels.
“Way out of your budget,” said the agent.
“Show me anyway,” I insisted. “Can’t hurt to look.”
Sure enough, they were gorgeous. The one-bedroom apartment was larger than most two bedders in normal buildings. It oozed style. But it was a million dollars. The two-bedder was $1.4 million – this was 1999, a huge price back then.
Nice, but no, not big enough.
“Got any others here?” I asked.
Only two-storey ones, he replied. But they’re $1.7 million each.
Again, as pointless as it seemed, we asked to see a two-storey apartment.
As soon as the door opened, the atmosphere grabbed us. It felt like home. My wife and I loved this apartment. But, at $1.7 million, it was a million dollars above our budget.
And yet how we loved it.
WHY DO WE INVEST FOR THE FUTURE?
I began to think. All our lives we’d scrimped and saved. Every time we made a major purchase, we took the cheap option. My first car had no radio. I saved for mudflaps.
When I met my wife, she had a Daewoo with no air conditioning.
Everyone had air-conditioning. But not my future wife. Not Miss Frugal. An air-conditioner cost another $2,000.
Since we both started work – my wife at Westpac and me in real estate – we thought of the future. We saved money. We worked extra hours. We bought our first homes. I rented out rooms to help pay the mortgage.
And then, when savings grew and opportunity arrived, we did what thousands of Australians do – we invested. I started buying property in my early 20s – all over the nation. From Brisbane to Sydney to Melbourne. If I couldn’t afford a city, say Sydney, I went further afield. Like Perth. Or Hobart. Or maybe Launceston. Anywhere I could pay a deposit, get a loan, and find a tenant.
I discovered a little-known property phenomenon – many regional centres out-performed inner-suburbs of the glamour cities, like Sydney and Melbourne. That’s still true today.
I bought real estate every chance I had. It wasn’t always as glamorous as it sounds – and it was often far from easy. But our focus was on the future.
And now, the future was here. Happily married with children on the way – but, dear-oh-dear, having to live in one of those shoebox apartments, so depressing.
Both of us felt resigned to, once again, settle for second best. To walk away from a property we truly loved because we did not have the money to buy it.
It was a sombre moment that, today, more than 20 years later, we remember well. A moment when sombre turned to sober.
IF YOU REALLY WANT IT
I’d been thinking about our financial position. Yearning for something – especially something you love – does that to you. It clears your brain. No longer was I feeling drained by years of struggle. I was about to feel liberated.
I turned to my wife and said: “Do you love this place as much as I love it?”
“Of course,” she replied, “But we can’t afford it. Let’s not torture ourselves.”
And then I told her: “If we sell most of our investment properties, we could buy this place.”
“We can’t do that,” she said, “Those investments are for our future.”
I thought of dozens of migrants I’d met in my real estate days. They lived in modest homes they’d bought in their 20s. But, over the years, they toiled and invested in houses. It was common to see Greek or Italian migrants in their 50s or 60s owning a dozen homes.
Yet, despite their well-deserved wealth, they lived like near-paupers. If being financial secure gives you comfort, someone forgot to tell these people.
My wife was right: “We bought our investment properties for our future” The thought of selling had always been anathema to us both.
I made a statement that changed our lives for the better. A milestone moment. I told my wife: “We invested to make our future better than our past. Well, the future is here. Let’s sell the properties we never live in and buy one we’ll live in.
And so, we did.
We bought that beautiful apartment. Looking back, that was one of the best decisions of our lives, both personally and financially.
Of course, we didn’t stop working. We continued to save. Saving, to us, is a lifetime habit. And from time to time, as savings increase, we invest in assets And, soon, assets accumulate again – like a perennial well-watered crop.
But that early experience taught us something. It’s nothing most people don’t know, yet few people do it. There is a difference between saving and hoarding.
WHEN DO YOU CASH-IN?
Of all sad sights in the world, one of the saddest is people who live poor but die rich. These are the people who, mostly through fear, hoard assets. Their wealth is just wealth. It has no purpose.
As soon as over-prudent, over-cautious and hard-working people die, guess what? Relatives descend. Like crows on fresh roadkill, they come from everywhere.
Even before the funeral, the homes of the newly deceased are often stripped of worthwhile goods. The hoarder unwittingly adds to the hoarding of others.
In all this hoarding, where does it lead? What happiness does it create? Very little. The only exception, perhaps, are people who accumulate wealth – and, unwilling to spend it on themselves, give it away. I always feel good when an elderly lady leaves several million dollars – to, say, a home for stray cats. Now, that’s meaningful.
I also feel good when I see people who’ve worked hard all their lives and now seriously enjoy their lives. There are no harder workers, nor more kind and decent people, than my friends Michael and Tina Kies. Each year they set aside weeks for an adventure. As do my friends Jim and Kathy. They remind me of the saying, “Life is for living.”
THE FREEDOM TO BE GENEROUS
There is another reason or benefit with acquiring wealth – the ability to help others. Somerset Maugham called it “the freedom to be generous.”
And the wonderful part is that, if you give during your lifetime – as opposed to after you die – you witness the joy you create.
Like most people, I need to give more. I know the joy from giving, from helping others. And best of all, through giving anonymously – which is true giving.
Last Saturday night, we had a friend over for dinner. I left the table to get a photo from my phone.
THE WORST DAY OF MY LIFE
And then I saw it. A text.
A text with the worst news I’ve had for years – perhaps ever.
I was so shocked; I could barely breathe. I read the message again – it was only short. I read it three or four times. I was hoping, praying, begging, pleading, ready to do anything other than face the truth.
One of my best friends had just died.
Suddenly and unexpectedly. No warning. Just dead. A likely heart-attack.
I was so distressed I could not return to the dinner table. I called my wife. When she arrived, she said, “What’s wrong?”
I couldn’t speak. My wife kept saying, “What’s wrong? What’s wrong? Darling, tell me, what’s wrong.”
The sight of my beloved wife, shaking with fear, caused me to speak.
I sobbed three words: “Thomas is dead.”
Yes, Thomas Maissen. He’s dead. Gone, just gone. The morning in the village. He died.
THOMAS MAISSEN – A WISE AND LOVING FRIEND
Thomas Maissen lived in Switzerland – in the same village all his life. We met in 1983. By any definition, Thomas was a true success. In business (he was a shopkeeper and optometrist), he was respected and admired. One of those who receive constant greetings in the street. Thomas loved to smile.
But it was his friendship I most valued. Having worked hard his entire life, lately he was devoting more time to living, harvesting the fruits, if you like, of a lifetime of labour.
So many of us could have learned so much from this beautiful man. But now that he’s tragically gone, let me share a tiny portion from this giant of wisdom – Thomas Maissen, my dear friend.
He and his lovely wife, Elsi made two recent visits to Australia. One in 2019 and another, in 2022 during the covid crisis.
“What about the pandemic?” we asked him. “I don’t care,” said Thomas, “You are more important. You are my friend.” As always, he added three words: “I love you.” Rare for a Swiss person.
“We leave tomorrow,” he laughed down the phone.
And what a visit. His wife and my wife, the four of us, headed west to those iconic outback towns, Barcaldine, Longreach and Winton. It was May. And one of the best weeks of our lives.
This is true wealth.
Forget investment properties, sell them and do this, that’s the message Thomas would tell you.
In a small town in North Queensland, lives Desmond. He and his wife Julie sold their assets ten years ago. They bought a small home in a friendly country town for a tenth of the price of their city home. I don’t know if I could take such a drastic step. But these are two of the happiest people you’ll ever meet. They had eight years travelling the country. Now, they have nothing except their tiny home. But they have a lot more than many people in the cities who are growing old doing nothing. They have eight years of magnificent memories. Desmond – a former accountant – now drives the local school bus. He loves it. Indeed, the way he tells it, he wishes he’d made the move years earlier. He told me, “Money is over-rated.” Maybe – in many cases, sure.
Since I got the news about my friend Thomas, I have been grief-stricken. I’ve struggled to sleep. I keep waking and thinking it is a dream. My wife, my sons – and other friends – remind me how lucky I was to have had a friend like Thomas Maissen. He lived more than most people live in ten lifetimes.
Thomas Maissen improved my life in his life. And he’s going to improve it in his death. When I recover from this crushing sadness, when I finally stop crying, I hope to do more “living”. Living that creates happiness – especially for others, for making my world – the one I shared with Thomas – a better place.
I must do more good for good people who need help. Wealth from a business will never be my major focus. I will use business to help others. First with real estate support and then, when we are paid (by agents) I will ask my son Alec and my wife Reiden to support my aim to help others. They will agree because Reiden my wife and Alec my son are two beautiful ‘givers’. Thomas loved them both.
Once you earn enough to have a good (lovely) roof over your head, once you have financial freedom – the freedom to choose, what more do you want? Try doing good. Try making your piece of the world a better place, just as Thomas Maissen did.
TWO TYPES OF PEOPLE IN THE WORLD
There are two types of people in the world – givers and takers. Thomas Maissen was one of life’s great givers. I know. As his friend I was the recipient of his generosity. And his love. I loved him and am pleased I told him so. His reply always lifted my spirits: “I love you too, Neil.’
How’s your life?
Are you accumulating for the sake of accumulating?
If so, try reading – and then studying some philosophy – like Kahlil Gibran. In his classic work ‘The Prophet’, the high priest Almustafa of Orphalese, outlines what is between birth and death. The priest’s words on wealth and assets, were seared into my soul years before I met Thomas. “It is when you give of yourself that you truly give. And what are your possessions but things you keep and guard for fear you may need them tomorrow?”
And these life-defining words: “What shall tomorrow bring to the over-prudent dog burying bones in the trackless sands as he follows the pilgrims to the holy city?”
Many people die with bones still buried.
Thomas Maissen invested financially, of course, but he rewarded me, my wife, and my family by living and loving and laughing with us. He shared his wealth – in lucre and character – with others. That’s why he will be remembered as one of the best friends I ever had the honour to call best friend.
For those who are financially secure yet hoard assets – such as investment properties, the Prophet asks: “Is not the dread of thirst when your well is full, the thirst that is unquenchable?”
If your financial position is strong, if you have surplus investment properties, perhaps your well is full. Perhaps you may consider cashing-in those surplus properties. We’ll support you to get the best result.
And then you can spend more time with your friends and those you love – and who love you.
Before it’s too late.
That’s what I plan to do. Follow the example of my friend, Thomas Maissen.
I loved you, Thomas. So much. Thank you for being one of my very best friends.
In memory of
Died February 17, 2023. Aged 72.