You Can’t Take It With You

you can'tA while back, a reader suggested that I watch the 1938 Frank Capra movie You Can’t Take It With You, featuring Lionel Barrymore and Jimmy Stewart. I recently had a chance to sit down and watch the film and it left my mind flooded with thoughts about money and why we really chase it.

The plot of the movie is very straightforward. A businessman falls in love with his secretary and proposes marriage to her. One of the business deals revolves around buying the final unpurchased house in a twelve block area which would allow that whole area to be developed in a different way. The house is, of course, owned by the secretary’s family. That family doesn’t care a whit about money and instead focuses their energies on friendships and enjoying themselves. When the secretary introduces the businessman’s parents (the Kirbys) to her family (the Sycamores), there’s an inevitable culture clash, and eventually the secretary has to choose between the two – and she chooses the friendships and simple pleasures of her family in the end.

One might expect that a personal finance blogger would admire the Kirbys. After all, they’re the ones who carefully invest their money, focus on their careers, and have accumulated serious wealth. Isn’t that what we want here?

In truth, though, I identified much more with the Sycamores. They were far from rich, but they had enough financial stability in their lives that they simply didn’t have to worry that much about money. They didn’t have all of the material trappings, but they had worry-free relationships with each other, deep friendships, the ability to freely laugh, and a full life.

My own life brings this to bear. If my focus were on making as much money as possible, I’d be handling my professional life in a much different fashion. I’d focus on making every post as palatable as possible for social bookmarking sites, with lots of lists and articles that are intentionally written to shock or stand out instead of presenting ideas I really believe in. I’d spend every spare minute following up on every single media request – I’d probably even hire a PR firm to suck up some more attention.

I’d also be spending every evening honing things. Gone would be the lazy evenings playing Agricola with my wife. Gone would be the afternoons chasing my children around the yard. Gone would be the long weekends back in my hometown where I don’t even bother checking my email or anything else.

I’d be a “success,” but would I be successful? For what I want out of life, not really.

I want financial success not for the success, but for the fact that it secures my life with my family and my hobbies and interests and enables me to do work that I enjoy. I want to achieve some degree of wealth not so I can drive a Bentley, but so I can drive a Toyota and not worry at all about tomorrow and can just enjoy the day today without worrying about bills or work responsibilities or anything else.

The financial success I want isn’t the exorbitant riches of the Kirbys. It’s the simple life of the Sycamores, surrounded by the things that make me happy and secure in the knowledge that they’re safe from the world. Give me a quiet little country house with a big garden, not a mansion and a Rolls Royce.

At the end of my days, I’d rather leave my children and grandchildren with a slate of great memories and a great personal character than leave them with a fist full of money. One is a part of you for the rest of your life and is passed down over and over again to the people you love. The other one helps you remodel your kitchen.

You can’t take it with you, after all.

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