I’ve seen almost every children’s film that’s been made since the birth of my sons. Some movies have been a struggle to get through. If I think back to the films of my childhood, most of which come with warnings at the start now, the underlying moral of the story is often really great for children and well thought through.
In one particular film, Zootopia, we’re thrown into a world populated by anthropomorphic mammals. Judy Hopps, a rabbit from a rural town called Bunnyburrow, fulfills her childhood dream of becoming the first rabbit police officer in the city of Zootopia.
In the movie’s soundtrack, ‘Try Everything’, Shakira sings: “Birds don't just fly. They fall down and get up. Nobody learns without getting it all wrong."
She also tells us: "I want to try everything, I want to try it all, even though I could fall."
The song may have been written for children, but it got me thinking about the importance of embracing our inner child and stepping out of our comfort zone well into adulthood.
Of course, there’s a financial message here too. Our finances can facilitate this type of experimentation and help us live a meaningful life.
When people talk about financial freedom, more often than not they’re talking about retirement. More specifically, retiring early — thanks to the rise of the FIRE community since the 90s.
(That’s Financial Independence, Retire Early, for the uninitiated).
But there’s another type of financial freedom that many people overlook. And you don’t have to sacrifice short term pleasures or wait 20 or 30 years to achieve it.
My idea of financial freedom involves using your money to buy flexibility, fulfillment and fun in the present. It’s about ‘Trying Everything’, which is a fantastic mindset for children. Whether it’s judo, archery, chess club… try everything. Why does that end when we become adults?
One of the most wonderful aspects of being a parent is watching my children’s identities develop over time. They’re learning about the world and building their own personalities — and we get to watch it happen in real time.
It’s interesting how different my two boys are. One thing we’ve noticed about my oldest, Charles Barnaby, is that he doesn’t like rugby. Instead, he’d prefer to spend his time reading a book.
His love for reading is something we encourage and celebrate, of course, but I really felt for him when he said: “I’m no good at sport.” He’s only six!
Rugby, football, and Tough Mudder 2035 might be off the cards. Yet I’d hate for a fear of failure, a lack of confidence or negative assumptions about his own capabilities to stop him trying new things.
I have a theory that everyone is good at one sport. It’s out there somewhere. And once a child finds it, it gives them focus, discipline and something to improve over time. It provides you with a community of lifelong friends, as rugby did for me, and I suspect that it’s the same if your sport is racing remote control cars, fencing, or kite surfing, whatever it may be.
I also believe that failure itself (and going out of your way to find it) has benefits too, whether you’re 6-years-old or 60. The voyage of discovery, trying something new, deciding it’s not for you is just as valuable as finding your true path in life.
But what does all this have to do with you and your finances? Well, with a good financial plan in place, you have the freedom to try new things, be absolutely terrible at them and fail over and over again. Doesn’t that sound fun? Jane (Mrs Skinner) gives me the freedom to pursue new interests because both of our main financial goals are mapped out (in WealthMap, of course) and that reduces anxiety when one of us decides to spend money on a new hobby.
Some financial planners focus solely on the long term, but I’m an advocate for making the most of our money in the present too. Here’s the key, and where financial planning is so valuable, as it can help you find that balance. Between living for today and saving for tomorrow. I’ll help you build a retirement portfolio and tax efficient estate, but I’d rather you didn’t live the life of a recluse for the next 10 or 20 years, if that’s at all possible.
I try to live by the lessons I teach my sons, but it certainly gets harder as you get older. For children, everything is new and exciting. They don’t have the skepticism, grumpiness and anxieties that come with age. They're more malleable. Life has a funny way of grinding us down. It takes conscious effort to avoid it.
One of my regrets when I was younger was that I turned up at University, all those years ago, as “Tom the rugby player”. And the significance of a speech someone gave at the start, which went along the lines of “if you get a group together and want to pursue something, as long as it’s safe, Birmingham University will support you”, went completely over my head at 18. What a waste of an opportunity that was! I could have tried anything. There were skiing, scuba diving, American football clubs - and I did the same thing I’d always done. I played rugby.
Last month I headed down to Dorset to try coastal rowing. When I told my friends and family about this, they were quick to voice their concerns:
"Have you ever done any rowing before?"
"What if you get there and you don't like it?"
"What if you get there and you're wearing the wrong clothes?"
"What if you fall in?"
No wonder so many adults are too scared to try new things. These negative thoughts get drummed into us. If we’re not careful, we can spend our whole lives in our comfort zone. We reach retirement with a £2m investment portfolio yet most of our memories involve work.
Financial planning and wealth creation provide us with so many opportunities. We can explore the world, release our inner child, and pursue new hobbies — even if we drop each one a week later out of embarrassment. If you’re fortunate to have this kind of financial freedom, it’d be a shame to let it go to waste.
I hope that as my boys grow, this is something they live by. They can wake up every day and redefine any labels that were previously ascribed to them. They can try something new or even become someone new. Look at me. I’m officially a coastal rower now!
I did fall in, in case you were wondering. But I lived to tell the tale, as people who try new things usually do.
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