The guest this episode is Mark Butler. Mark is the founder of the accounting startup Let’s Do The Books as well as the bookkeeper, CFO and confidante to top online entrepreneurs like Brooke Castillo. Before working in finance, mark co-founded three online businesses that brought in close to 2 million in total revenue. Today, Mark combines his business savvy with his certification in life coaching to help business owners take control of their finances and work through the shame and anxiety that almost always comes up when dealing with money.
One of the reasons I wanted to speak with Mark is because he has an expansive money mindset and money philosophy. And so, I hope that you will consider some of the activities to build your own habits, to find out what you believe about money, what your values are, and the relationship between your consumption and your earnings. As Mark says, it all starts with self-awareness.
We recorded this episode on April 12th 2021.
Contact and follow Mark at https://markbutler.com/.
If you spend fewer dollars than you earn, and in the long run if you steadily increase your income, that sets you up to do whatever else you want to do.Tweet
Timeline of the Chat
Money is mostly neutral in our lives.Tweet
- The Psychology of Money: Timeless lessons on wealth, greed, and happiness, by Morgan Housel
- Let’s Do The Books website
- Mark’s website
Rely less on other people’s consumption decisions to inform your consumption decisions.Tweet
Transcript of the Episode
Money School [01:48]
Damianne President: [01:48] I just read in your bio that you help small businesses, but you recently started a program where you’re also working with individuals. Can you tell listeners a bit about it?
Mark Butler: [01:58] Yeah, a few months ago, I decided I wanted to take some of what I had learned about from life-coaching, and of course what I’ve learned as a CFO about finances and kind of bring them together and teach a course on personal finance called Money School. So I taught a six week series of classes for free, had about a little over a thousand people participate in that. That has gone on to a very small group experience where I’m spending 12 weeks with a couple of small groups helping them implement what we talked about in the six weeks series.
Damianne President: [02:34] That’s where I met you was in that six week series with Money School.
The cause of anxiety and fear around money [02:39]
What I really liked about your program and why I wanted to talk to you today is your money mindset is different than what I had encountered before. A lot of people, including myself, face a lot of anxiety and fear around money, and conversations about money could feel very stressful to people. Why do you think that is? What’s been your experience with that?
Mark Butler: [03:06] I think that our culture attaches so much meaning and so much emotion to money that it makes it very difficult for people to think clearly about it, to make confident decisions about money, and I think it has caused a lot of people to sort of adopt cultural programming about what is true or not true, correct or incorrect about money. I think it comes from the fact that there are these supposed rules that we hear about all the time. And there are expectations that are created for us, both that are spoken and unspoken, and we end up suffering a lot because without even realizing it, we’re buying into other people’s beliefs and expectations.
Damianne President: [03:58] That resonates with me because I consulted a personal investment advisor a few years ago and he suggested that I read a book. The book had lots of formulas about how much money I should have saved at different ages. I don’t remember what the formula is because it was discouraging and by the time I read that book, I was already in my thirties. And I’m like, unless you’ve been planning for this from the very beginning, I don’t know how people get to this point where that formula actually makes sense for them. And so I imagine that the investment advisor had the very best intention getting me to read that book, but it certainly didn’t do anything to help me figure out what I needed to do to get to a place where I didn’t stress more than I was before about money.
Mark Butler: [04:56] It’s interesting that you make that point, Damianne, because I think we assume that there is a set of formulas that will solve our problems, that will make us feel better because they’ll give us the amount of money we need to do whatever. I do think there’s a place for formulas to help us make decisions, to help us think about our longterm financial situations.
The challenge with formulas is formulas have so many assumptions built into them that by the time you’re looking at a formula, all you’re really looking at is other people’s foundational ideas that are translated into a set of equations. I don’t think that actually works out very often. I think it ends up producing numbers that are so big that they make achieving almost anything seem impossible.
You said it perfectly, you were already in your thirties when you’re talking to this person, they gave you these formulas, these equations based on your age and the amounts of money that the formulas were telling you were good or necessary. The whole thing seemed impossible.
I think that’s most people’s experience. It comes from this definition of retirement that I don’t think is very useful but that drives so many of the other conversations we’re having about money and some of these crazy equations that spit out numbers that just seem impossible to all of us.
Making financial decisions based on self-awareness [06:19]
Damianne President: [06:19] So what is the better way?
Mark Butler: [06:22] For me, the better way starts with the deep understanding of self because if I’m willing to take the time to truly get to know myself and my desires and my habits and kind of my programming, some of which I’ve created for myself, some of which was given to me by my parents, some of which comes from my biology. If I’m willing to take the time to get to know those things at a deep level, then I can look at money through the lens of my own self-awareness instead of trying to look at money through the lens of other peoples bias, that’s where it starts.
Once you have a really deep awareness of who you are, what you like, what you care about, what you don’t care about as much, then you can start to build your consumption decisions and your earning decisions around that awareness. You still may end up with goals or with numbers that seem difficult to achieve. It may show you, oh, well, if I want to consume all of these things in my lifetime, the math tells me that I’m going to have to earn an amount of money that at the moment seems really difficult, maybe even impossible.
But now, I at least understand exactly where that number came from because I created the number and I created it from a place of deep self-awareness instead of from a place of asking a bunch of books, blogs, friends, and family members what I should care about. If I’m working from that awareness, then I can build out my desired consumption plan, meaning these are the experiences I want to have in life, these are the things I want to own in my life, this is who I want to become in my life. We can adjust those things based on what we feel like we want to earn and how we’re willing to earn it. That whole process becomes possible in a more peaceful way if it starts from that deep awareness of ourselves and our motivation.
Damianne President: [08:28] What I’m hearing you say is that by having this self-awareness, we can really ground our decisions in our values as well as in the experiences we want to have.
Negotiating our desires with ourselves [08:39]
And then we can start to negotiate with ourselves in terms of earnings and consumption as well.
Mark Butler: [08:47] It is a negotiation and it’s not that that negotiation will always be easy or comfortable, but it will be productive because in that negotiation, we’ll no longer have an urge to rebel against the external forces and voices that have been trying to impose values on us. So if I go through the self-awareness exercise, and really get to understand myself, my motivations, my desires, then I’ll know that when I’m negotiating, I’m truly negotiating with my own truth instead of wondering whether other people are imposing it on me. That’s how it can become productive.
Challenges to building a money mindset [09:24]
Damianne President: [09:24] In your experience, where do people get bogged down in this process? What’s the most difficult?
Mark Butler: [09:28] The most difficult is developing the ability and the habit to rely less on other people’s consumption decisions to inform your consumption decisions. We, as human beings are wired, maybe we evolved this way, maybe we were created this way, to refer to each other, constantly, meaning as I’m scanning my environment, I’m looking for information that helps me make decisions to help me stay safe and healthy and happy.
When it comes to consumption, if we keep doing that, then we end up consuming differently than we would if we were truly tuned into our own motivations and desires. So one of the hardest things for people to do is stop looking at other people for their most important information about what to spend, what to buy, how much to spend on it, how to earn and how much is the correct amount to earn, et cetera.
The healthiest place I think we can be is where we still are able to refer to people, but at arms length, meaning we use them for a reference points in our lives for information but we don’t make it a source of anxiety or self-criticism or feeling behind or any of that. We’re truly just looking at it as, Oh, that’s an option. Do I want that option? Why do I want that option? Maybe I do. Maybe I don’t. I think that’s the hardest thing for all of us. I think it’s the hardest thing for me.
Damianne President: [10:55] Yes, and I think for me as well, because it’s about having that curiosity rather than finding the answer and it’s very appealing to have the answer because then that’s easy. And so I can definitely see that being a challenge.
Book recommendation on money [11:13]
There are so many different messages out there around spend less, don’t buy the Starbucks coffee every morning, and try to earn more. And the whole part about earning more, I think it’s much less in the environment than the reduce the consumption part of it. Are there examples of good messaging that you see out there, other voices besides your own that people can subscribe to and listen to, to be in this space of having a healthier mindset around money?
Mark Butler: [11:48] You know, there’s a book I read a few months ago and I’ve read it a few times now and I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s called The Psychology of Money by an author named Morgan Housel, I believe H O U S E L. I thought it was excellent. It did present his opinions, but it presented them in such a calm and reasonable way. It’s one of the least dogmatic personal finance books I’ve ever read and I appreciated that about it. And he just had a lot of good insights. Not a lot come to mind because most personal finance books, blogs and podcasts are so dogmatic. They’re so opinionated about the “right way” to do things.
I’m trying to bring a slightly different voice to the conversation that says, look, the truth is in defining financial success for ourselves, and then pursuing that success, we will probably spend less in some areas and we will probably over time make an effort to earn more money. Those things seem to be true, but exactly how, and when you do that is completely up to you and you don’t need to follow any particular authors or bloggers prescriptions for the order of things, whether it’s paying off debt or saving an emergency fund or funding a certain amount to your retirement accounts in any given month
I think that if you’re headed in the direction of your own values and priorities, you’re doing it right. How you combine all those other ingredients is up to you. That’s the message that I want to bring to people. I haven’t found many other voices who are kind of promoting that idea.
Use priorities to make decisions [13:29]
Damianne President: [13:29] Yeah, and what I’m also trying to get at is the whole education piece. So for example, I can think of my dad always saying save money, or family members saying it’s very important to buy a house. There are all of these ideas that we get, that we’re fed socially, culturally, and it’s only in recent years when I’ve being exploring different blogs that I see there was actually an alternative. It’s not always better to have a mortgage; there are different options.
I think the education piece is missing for many of us in terms of, we may get glimpses from our parents about save for retirement, put some money away, but we don’t get enough information to be able to make a good choice or to make a useful choice.
Mark Butler: [14:28] Well, my opinion is that when we get advice like that, you know, like your home is a great investment, you should always own a home, or you should save this percent of your income for retirement, the people who give us those pieces of advice, what they’re really saying is you’re not capable of making your own decisions so I’m trying to get you to make this decision the way I would make it.
I don’t believe in one size fits all personal finance advice. The only personal and financial advice I feel is pretty much universal is that if you spend fewer dollars than you earn and in the long run, if you steadily increase your income, that sets you up to do whatever else you want to do with money in your life, but exactly how you do that is completely up to you.
So owning a home, not owning a home, buying used cars, buy new cars, leasing cars, any of these other things, I don’t care so much about. I want to help people to learn to make decisions confidently. So then they can decide whether a home is a good fit for them, or whether becoming a lifetime renter is a good fit for them because either one of those could be great depending on a person’s life plans and priorities.
Financial education [15:41]
Damianne President: [15:41] One thing I’m wondering about is financial education for everyone. What do we need to know? So say I accept it’s up to me to have some self-awareness, to make my own plans, to make my own decisions how do I get those basic pieces of information to be able to…
Mark Butler: [16:02] What are the basic pieces of information that you have in mind?
Damianne President: [16:05] So do I need to about stocks? Do I need to know about compound interest? Are there any basic pieces of information that one needs to have to be financially literate, to be able to come up with a good plan for themselves?
Mark Butler: [16:21] You know what Damianne, that is such a good question. And I don’t even know that I have a great answer today. And my answer might not even be that useful, but my answer would be that because money is such a big part of our lives, I think it would make sense for a person to always be educating themselves about money throughout their entire life.
If I had to say, what are the basic pieces of information that a person needs to sort of set the table for the rest of it, I would still kind of come back to the ones I said, which are spend less money than you earn on average over the course of your life and increase your income over the course of your life.
If I were going to add one more, it probably would be compound interest because learning about compound interest helps people understand that every decision comes with a trade-off, that if I’m purchasing this thing today, what I’m giving up is the ability to put that money somewhere else and have it earn interest over the course of my life. That’s really hard to wrap your head around until you understand how powerful compound interest is.
But I will say, I think you make a great point and you ask a great question and here’s the tricky thing in my mind. I do think there are some basic principles of personal finance and money that would benefit people. What’s really hard to find is something that educates people about those basic principles without infusing it with very strong opinions, judgments, thank you, that’s exactly it. Now I want to go find that resource. It’s gotta be out there, doesn’t it?
Damianne President: [17:59] Well, I kind of feel like it’s an important resource, but I’m not sure that it’s out there.
Mark Butler: [18:05] That’s really interesting to think about.
Finding our money patterns [18:07]
Damianne President: [18:07] The other thing I’m wondering about is investigating our patterns around money. I think that we begin to see threads in multiple places in our lives. And as we go through that self-awareness exercise to determine our own money mindset, how important are identifying patterns in that process?
Mark Butler: [18:29] I guess it depends on what you’re going to do with the information about the pattern. The reason I say that is to even call something a pattern is a judgment. In my work with businesses, finances, and also dealing with people and their personal finances, when people want to apply the label of pattern, what they’re doing is they’re taking a set of numbers, they’re organizing them into a group and they’re calling it a pattern. Somebody else could look at the same set of numbers and not call it a pattern. So by even extracting certain data points, certain numbers and describing them as a pattern, we’ve introduced some judgment. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; that can serve us very well.
So the question is what do we plan to do with the pattern? Do we plan to use it to inform sort of a compassionate decision-making or do we have a habit of using it for self criticism? My observation has been that people can see almost anything in numbers that they want to see.
I can be looking at a set of numbers and I can have a client looking at a set of numbers, and my client sees one story in that set of numbers and I see a totally different story. I do this sometimes when I will draw a pattern out using my own judgment and show it to a client, hey, look, you spend money in this way. I’m calling that a pattern. First of all, do you agree that’s a pattern? And if they say actually, yes, I do also see that as a pattern, then I can say, what do you want to do with your awareness of that pattern? Would you like to increase that behavior? Would you like to decrease that behavior? Would you like to maintain it exactly the same?
Once they agree that it’s a pattern, I’m able to ask what do you think is driving your desire for that pattern? What are you getting from it? Do you like what you’re getting from it? Do you dislike what you’re getting from it? If they agree that it’s a pattern, I’ll ask them were you even aware of this as a pattern? And sometimes they’ll say no, I had no idea that I was spending money consistently in that way over a period of time. And then I can go into the next question. Well, do you want more of it? Do you want less of it? How do you feel about it. To your point, I do think as long as you’re doing it compassionately and with an open-minded curiosity, there can be great benefit to that because I have had experiences where I’m looking at certain patterns in what I do with my money, and then I see those patterns elsewhere in my life.
I’ll see spending patterns and I’ll dig into what are the thoughts and feelings behind those spending patterns and I’ll see those same things show up in my relationship with my wife, with my kids, with friends, ways I’d make decisions, ways I approach relationships. So I do you have this idea that raising your awareness with money, there’s a side benefit that it will often raise your awareness everywhere else too.
Exploring your spending with curiosity [21:09]
Damianne President: [21:09] I’m thinking about one exercise that you gave us in Money School, which was to be curious about the ways that we were spending our money. You gave an example such as if somebody is spending money every day for lunch, what might that mean, and thinking about not necessarily that this is a good thing to do, or this is a bad thing to do, but just noticing, I wonder why.
I thought that was quite a great strategy with the, I wonder why question, because then that’s really considering, is there a pattern? What are you noticing? Are there any emotions or values tied into that activity? That’s what I was kind of referring to in terms of observing patterns and seeing threads that apply elsewhere.
I was speaking to somebody recently and she was saying that she was spending money emotionally, but then she also realized that this was tied to other areas in her life where she was not dealing with situations. And I guess as you said, our behaviors are holistic so the way we deal with money ties into other parts of our lives.
Mark Butler: [22:23] Yeah. Once we’ve identified a pattern, if we’ve decided to call it a pattern, then we can uncover is this spending pattern a part of me trying to avoid discomfort in other areas of my life, like, what’s really going on with me, and we can have great discoveries in that inquiry.
Building identity as a saver [22:41]
Damianne President: [22:41] Given that your approach is very open, very curious, very compassionate, are there particular habits that you notice are helpful to people in terms of having a money mindset that supports our lifestyle or supports having the life that we want.
Mark Butler: [23:06] One habit is to actively save money. It sounds very generic, but here’s what I mean by actively saving money. I have a habit where very often, I will take money from an account where I typically spend and move it to an account where I typically don’t spend. And that’s different from setting up like an automated savings plan or from having our employer withhold a certain amount of money from our paycheck to put into our 401k. Those things can be very powerful over the long run and I’m in favor of those things in the long run.
When I talk about actively saving money, I’m talking about the difference between a passive habit and actually an active and creative habit. What I’ve observed in a lot of people is an idea that they’re bad with money or that they’re lazy or that they’re casual, or that they’re whatever; people have lots of criticisms of themselves when it comes to money.
And I’ve noticed that when you get people to form a very active habit, like moving some money from your checking account to your savings account, it creates an opportunity for you to affirm that you are good with money. You could affirm that to yourself without moving any money, because we know we’re in control of our own thoughts and we can think whatever we want to think. Physically moving the money makes it easier to believe that. It’s putting ourselves in an environment where it’s easier to point to a piece of evidence and say, look, I moved money from this account to that account because I’m a saver. I’m giving evidence for that. So yeah, I think it’s really a powerful habit.
Be curious about your spending [24:32]
Another powerful habit when it comes to money is the kind of curiosity question that you’ve already mentioned. I have noticed that many people, when they look at their bank balances, or if they look at a credit card statement, they have a default habit or pattern of criticism. I shouldn’t have spent that; I’m so bad with money; I can’t get ahead. There’s a set of tracks that they play in their head. Instead of trying to get them to play a whole different set of tracks in their head like I’m good at money and trying to jump straight to these very positive affirmation kinds of things.
As an intermediate step I’ll encourage people to bring in the question, I wonder why, to pick any one of their transactions or to look at their credit card statement, to look at their bank balance and to let the first thing that pop into their head be, Oh, my bank balance is X, I wonder why, and to follow that why thread down to some sort of insight instead of having it default to some sort of criticism. Those are probably the two habits I’m most excited about when it comes to money right now.
Mark’s Learning/Observation Journey [25:37]
Damianne President: [25:37] In terms of your own journey, getting to a place where you have this very different, very unique perspective on money and your money mindset, how did you get here? Would you be able to share some of that with us?
Mark Butler: [25:55] For me, I think the single biggest driver of this philosophy that I’m talking about came from the fact that as I’ve worked with business owners on their finances over the last seven years, I just kept noticing that business owners’ emotions, their beliefs seemed to be totally independent of their financial facts.
So I could have a conversation with one business owner whose bank account balance was almost zero and she would feel fine. And I could talk to another business owner whose bank balance was in the hundreds of thousands or millions and she’d feel nervous, she’d feel anxious, she’d feel stressed out, ashamed.
The more I saw these things, the more examples I had of people whose thoughts and feelings didn’t match up with what conventional wisdom would have said. Conventional wisdom would have said that the person with millions of dollars in the bank should be happy and at peace and the person with $0 should be stressed out and miserable. I kept seeing other things.
I kept seeing people with no money be very happy and content, and people with a lot of money being very stressed out and worried. And so it’s what helped me decide that a more curious and open view of money would probably serve us all better. If we think that getting to a certain amount of money, a certain bank balance is going to make us happy, I just have too much evidence now that that’s not the case. So I had to find another philosophy to explain what we’re all doing with our money. And this is what I’ve come up with so far. It’s this idea that money is mostly neutral in our lives.
Why it’s helpful to feel neutral about money [27:30]
Damianne President: [27:30] Are you beginning to notice, or have you noticed the same thing with individuals and also with your own personal experience?
Mark Butler: [27:38] Yeah. In my own personal experience, what I’ve noticed is that my general stress level and I feel them less often now that I’m letting go of the programming that I’ve had for the last 20 plus years of adulthood, which is that more money equals more happiness. As I’ve gotten curious about that and started to let it go, I’m calmer, I’m more present and focused on my work and with my family instead of constantly feeling like I need to chase a certain amount of money in order to feel a certain way. What I’m noticing in individuals with their personal finances is that as they’ve started to see money as more neutral and spending as more neutral and debt as more neutral, they felt more calm, and feeling more calm is changing the decisions they’re making.
It’s not that they’ve stopped spending because sometimes I think in the personal finance world, we glorify a lack of spending. What I’m observing in people is that they’re spending with more awareness and more confidence and less anxiety and less shame.
Damianne President: [28:53] Yeah, I haven’t read enough of his work to know enough of his philosophy, but I have kind of been following Ramit Sethi’s work and I did buy his book to go through it because some of what I’ve read from his work seems to suggest that it’s not the same for everybody. I need to delve into that a little bit more.
Mark Butler: [29:16] That’s funny because earlier when you asked if there’s any sources out there that I would point to, Ramit does pop into my head. He has a slightly more forceful personality, but his core message seems to be that we should spend lavishly on those things that we love and ruthlessly cut spending on those things that we don’t love.
Damianne President: [29:39] Yeah, I think you are right about that.
The danger of the words should and shouldn’t [19:42]
Mark Butler: [29:42] And I appreciate that perspective. I think that’s productive.
Damianne President: [29:45] Not necessarily accepting all of it, but what I like about that approach and the similarities with our conversation now is in terms of thinking about what’s important to you and the whole idea of we’re not necessarily going to cut on all the spending, which is very common advice in the finance world.
So with your expertise on finances, money, and money mindsets, does the concept of self-acceptance come up in your work.
Mark Butler: [30:18] Yes. Yes, because very often what’s at the root of a person’s supposedly financial anxieties, worries, et cetera, is really just a lack of self-acceptance because when a person is not coming from a place of self-acceptance, there’s this basic conflict in them, and the word that captures that conflict is the word should or shouldn’t. I should spend less. I should save more. I shouldn’t buy that. I shouldn’t use a credit card. I shouldn’t go out to dinner with my friends and family. The word should or shouldn’t is really a signal. It’s a signal that you’re disconnected from what you really believe.
There may be times that you choose not to go out to dinner with your friends because you’re prioritizing something else, but you really can’t prioritize something else until you’ve fully become aware of it and accepted it as the thing you care about more. Or there may be times that you go out to dinner with your friends instead of putting the money in your 401k, and that’s an example of self-acceptance because you’re saying I know the math of putting that money in that 401k for the next 40 years; I understand compound interest. I am actively accepting the fact that I’m choosing to go to this dinner with these friends, because I think the experience I’m going to have with them is worth more to me than the value of those dollars saved for the next 40 years in some sort of compound interest account.
That’s a very different feeling, an attitude, than, well, I shouldn’t go out to dinner with my friends, but I’m going to do it anyway. Or, well, I really wish I could go out with my friends tonight, but I know I shouldn’t, so I’m going to put the money in my mutual fund. It’s a very different feeling. I think in the long run, when you come from an attitude of should or shouldn’t, you set yourself up to not sustain good habits, habits that you actually like, because it’s all built on this resistance that comes with should or shouldn’t instead of saying, I know what I want, I know why I want it. I choose it, and I accept the consequences.
Choosing what we want [32:35]
Damianne President: [32:35] I guess this comes up in other areas too with the whole deprivation mindset. If we’re always trying to convince ourselves no, for all of the things that we want, then at some point, I don’t know how well we can sustain that.
Mark Butler: [32:50] That’s my opinion too. In my opinion, if you’re working that way where you’re constantly depriving yourselves of those things that seem important to you, you’re suffering more, or you’re suffering as much as you would if you spent the money. The basic negative emotion is equal in both scenarios.
So drop the negative emotion from the spending decision and then you end up happier with the result in the long run. You end up forming different habits and making different decisions so that you don’t have the negative consequences that you were trying to avoid in the first place. Does that make sense?
I think we suffer more in pursuit of these supposed ideals than we would suffer if we just rejected those ideals completely.
Damianne President: [33:32] What I’m thinking about is that there seems to be a glorification of delayed gratification. And so we buy into the idea or we often get presented the idea that saying no right now to something that we think we want is almost invariably good.
Mark Butler: [33:51] That’s right.
And if you follow that as a pattern, if you glorify delayed gratification above all else, you end up in situations where you don’t know when it’s time to stop the delay. Have I delayed long enough? There’s somebody in my life who she basically told me, she said, well, I’m very good with my money.
Being “good” with money [34:09]
And I said, Oh, good. What do you mean when you say you’re good with your money? And first she was confused because she thought that that was just sort of, what do you mean, I said I’m good with my money. I’ve stated the facts. But I probed just a little bit and said, well, when you say you’re good with your money, what do you mean? And I asked her a few more follow-up questions and it turned out, she said, well, I guess when I say I’m good with my money, what I mean is that I don’t spend it. And I said, so that’s interesting because what you’ve done is you’ve set yourself up where you have an identity that your goodness and your value relates to not spending money. So anytime you’re faced with an opportunity for an experience that does cost money, in order to enjoy that experience, you have to break, you have to go against your basic identity, your view of yourself.
Damianne President: [34:55] You have to become bad with money.
Mark Butler: [34:57] You have to become bad with money in order to enjoy these experiences. And she said, I’ve never thought of it that way.
She was an example of this extreme commitment to delayed gratification, instead of saying, well, I’ve really developed a self-awareness. I know what my values are. I know what my priorities are. And I act according to those priorities and sometimes acting according to my priorities means spending right now and other times not. But it flows from my awareness of self rather than this sort of deification of waiting to spend.
Damianne President: [35:35] Yeah. I was having a conversation with a friend because they want to go on a trip to Australia, but it’s a long way from Ottawa to anywhere in Australia. They were saying I can’t handle such a long flight. And I always said, well, save your money and buy a business class ticket for that trip.
And they were like, but those are so expensive. And it was so interested because how do you decide that’s worth it and this is not worth it, like we’re always valuing and judging things.
Mark Butler: [36:06] It’s very interesting. I think that shows up all over the place where some types of spending seem to get special treatment, like first-class airfare, where I think people’s view of the thing, their view of first-class airfare or business class travel it’s disconnected from the actual dollar value. It becomes much more of like a dogma. It’s like no, first class airfare is frivolous. So we call it expensive.
Damianne President: [36:32] People like us do things like this. That’s what Seth Godin would often say.
Mark Butler: [36:38] That’s right. That’s exactly right. And people like us don’t do things like that. I love that Seth Godin says that. You’re exactly right. So what I’m trying to do, you seem to be thinking along similar lines, is we’re trying to make spending less of a representation of identity and more of a representation of situational values.
I don’t have a universal rule against business class travel. I have a value of being able to travel, and I have a value of wanting a certain amount of comfort while I travel, because people don’t go the other direction do they, not that you even can do this. But the person who’s truly committed to the idea that first-class travel is frivolous, shouldn’t they find if they could pay for a seat in the cargo hold, wouldn’t that be the more rational decision because it’s the less expensive decision. No, they’re not doing that.
So I try to make it less about these identity issues and say, given my value of a certain amount of comfort and the ability to go to Australia from Ottawa, how do I want to express those values right now? Well, it really would maximize comfort to fly business class so I’m going to choose that in this situation. And then when I fly somewhere else, I’ll choose something else. I trust myself to think critically and to make my own decisions. That’s the message.
Struggling with money mindset [37:56]
Damianne President: [37:56] Where do you still struggle with this personally?
Mark Butler: [38:00] For me, it’s the voice in my head that says more money equals more status and more happiness is not completely silent yet.
I don’t struggle with a lot of dogma around spending, meaning like the business class thing. If I were flying to Australia and I had enough notice, if I had a long enough timeframe, I’d say, well, okay, I think I want to fly business class. That wouldn’t be tough for me at this point, but there is still a part of me that says, you know, when your business is a certain size, you’re going to have credibility with a group of people that you won’t have otherwise. You’re going to be accepted into certain crowds that you won’t otherwise be accepted into. That voice is much quieter than it used to be, but it’s not yet silent.
Everyone is lucky [38:44]
Damianne President: [38:44] In a recent newsletter, you said everyone is lucky, but not everyone will overcome fear and complacency and turn luck into success. What do you mean by everyone is lucky?
Mark Butler: [38:57] I think if you go into everyone’s life, if you could study their life, you would find opportunities and relationships that are advantageous, meaning that could be turned into two bigger things that they’re excited about. It just seems to be true. Every person I’ve ever talked to who has very successful businesses, for example, they can point to different moments in time where they’ve had great luck.
But when they’ve described those examples of luck to me, they very often sound like, and then I was introduced to this person, or, and then I had the opportunity to go to that event or to be in that room or whatever, or to go to this school. Everyone has these kinds of things in their lives, but some people choose to leap off of those experiences and then to create amazing things after those experiences.
Damianne President: [40:00] We could both meet the same person and use that experience in a very different way.
Mark Butler: [40:07] Yes. And that’s where for me, this conversation about luck, it’s like the intersection of effort and luck. Some people will say how much does my hard work matter to my success in life and how much does luck matter to my success in life? I don’t think it’s one or the other.
I think the people who are willing to work hard, I think one of the things they should work hard at is preparing themselves for the luck that is inevitable in their life, so that when they meet that person who could springboard them to interesting and exciting new things, they are prepared to impress that person or to intrigue that person so that some magic can happen there.
If a person were totally committed to the idea that everything in life is just luck, then they wouldn’t prepare themselves to that moment, they wouldn’t increase their skills, they wouldn’t work on their mindset, they wouldn’t be active and trying to create relationships because they would assume that everything is just luck. But if a person recognizes luck as a factor and hard work as a factor, they will develop their skills, they will work on their mindset, they will try to create relationships, knowing that somewhere in that effort there will be serendipity, there will be moments that they will only be able to attribute to luck. But it will be their preparation that allows them to turn that luck into something else.
Damianne President: [41:27] You already gave us two great suggestions of habits that people can apply to improve the relationship with money, their mindset around money. Do you have any other invitations or challenges that you would like to share with listeners?
Mark Butler: [41:44] The biggest challenge I give people right now, and I’m trying to convince them how powerful this challenge is, is the active saving habit I talked about earlier. But it’s the active saving habit combined with a habit of increase, meaning I tell people to start with a dollar per day. Move a dollar per day from a checking account to a savings account. After a certain period of time to be determined by you, increase that from a dollar per day to $2 per day. After a certain period of time when you’ve gotten comfortable with the new amount, make it $3 a day. Keep increasing over time. If you do this over a period of months, eventually that dollar per day that you’re setting aside is $20 a day. And then it’s $40 a day. And then it’s $60 a day. But because you’ve approached it so incrementally, the amount never felt difficult.
If you’ll experiment with this, what you’ll notice is that your life will adapt to the habit. It’ll adapt in the form of changing the way you spend. And it will also adapt in the form of changing the way you earn so that even though you’re now saving $60 a day instead of a dollar per day, one does not feel more difficult than the other, one does not feel like more of a sacrifice than the other.
Even though that $60 per day habit has much bigger financial consequences than the dollar habit, approaching it in the steady incremental way will transform your life in a way that seems like magic. It’s not magic; it’s just the power of steady, incremental improvement. That’s the challenge I would leave anybody who happens to hear this.
Fast Five [43:18]
Damianne President: [43:18] Let’s end with fast five, which are five questions in which you can answer with one word or one sentence.
You have a high power meeting coming up. What do you do in the 12 hours before that?
Mark Butler: [43:34] Remind myself what I can do for the person that I’m going to be talking to.
Damianne President: [43:40] Do you have a phrase or a pep talk that you give to yourself or motivation?
Mark Butler: [43:45] Probably the one that sometimes I’m aware of and sometimes I’m not, it’s sort of a driving belief in my life is, it’s all going to work out.
Damianne President: [43:54] Where do you live and if you have guests, what’s the first thing that you show them, or the first place that you take them.
Mark Butler: [44:03] I live in salt Lake city, Utah, or near salt Lake city, Utah. In Salt Lake city, Utah, the thing that you really probably should see is something called Temple Square. It’s where there’s a religious temple, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. There’s a whole area dedicated to this temple that took 40 years to build and it’s a beautiful structure and it’s quite an experience.
Damianne President: [44:23] What is the thing that is guaranteed to recharge you and increase your energy.
Mark Butler: [44:28] A long walk
Damianne President: [44:29] And then last one. You are given the gift of time so you have some time affluence and that means you have a free day and you can do whatever you want. What are you doing for sure on that day?
Mark Butler: [44:41] Walking, truly. And, uh, also, uh, computer programming actually is a hobby of mine, a pure hobby. I’m a novice, but it’s something I really enjoy. It really relaxes me
Damianne Presidenr: [44:55] In which language
Thank you so much for chatting with me today, Mark.
Mark Butler: [45:14] Thank you for having me. Damianne I really enjoyed getting to know you better and being able to talk.
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