A birthday as a time of financial reflection

I spent some time looking into the significance or mention of birthdays in Jewish sources.

Senior citizens participate in laughter yoga in a park in India. (photo credit: AMIT DAVE)
Senior citizens participate in laughter yoga in a park in India.
(photo credit: AMIT DAVE)
Age is a case of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it don’t matter.
– Satchel Paige
It’s birthday season in our family. This week my father turned 90 and my dear wife turned 29 again (they should both live and be well until 120 – though it’s hard to get there when you get stuck at 29!).
For some a birthday is a day of fear, it means one year older. For others, like my father, it’s just another day. Whenever I would call him to wish him a happy birthday I would ask him how he feels, and he would reply, “I feel no different today than I felt yesterday.”
I spent some time looking into the significance or mention of birthdays in Jewish sources. Rabbi Aryeh Leibowitz, in an article where he concludes that there isn’t a whole lot written about the celebration, brings a fascinating citation. “The Talmud Yerushalmi  (Rosh Hashanah 3:8) records that when Amalek came to do battle with the Jewish people, they were careful to have those whose birthday it was, fight on the front lines. The commentator Korban Edah explains that on one’s birthday, he has a special mazal (luck) that may be helpful in an otherwise risky situation.”
Does that mean that you should run out and buy a lottery ticket on your big day? I wouldn’t recommend it. Aside from it being a day of “luck,” birthdays are often used as a time for personal reflection. Obviously Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah get the headlines when it comes to inner reflection. But a birthday is a great time to reflect as well. The older you get the more you tend to look back on the past.
The problem that I see with others as they look back and focus on the “what could have been” they stop there and get depressed, instead of learning from the past to better their future. It should be a constructive exercise. Not a time to beat yourself up. Look back and focus on what went wrong and then make appropriate changes going forward.
Writing about the significance of a birthday, Simon Jacobson of Chabad.org says, “It is also an occasion to rethink your life: How great is the disparity between what I have accomplished and what I can accomplish?
“How can I strengthen the thread that connects my outer life and my inner life? A birthday can also teach us the concept of rebirth. To recall our birth is to recall a new beginning. No matter how things went yesterday, or last year, we always have the capacity to try again.”
When it comes to money people often tell me that had they done such and such they would be millionaires by now. If all you do is look back with regret, it’s going to be hard to solve problems moving forward. Personally, I can admit that had I followed my instincts and bought two specific stocks, I wouldn’t be writing this column anymore. I’d be sitting on an island sipping a drink with an umbrella in it. Now I can sit and cry about it and accomplish nothing or learn from my mistakes, understand what I did wrong, and if the same type of opportunity comes along pounce on it.
Change is worth it
No one says that change is easy. But just because you have lived a certain way financially for decades doesn’t mean that you can’t change. Start making smart financial decisions. If you live in financial chaos and feel that you’re being pulled in many directions and sinking into debt, take control of your situation, start to make financial order and get on a budget.
It’s okay to say no sometimes. Yes, you may seem like the bad-guy for telling your kids that you can’t buy them a smartphone or an Xbox, but you need to have the confidence that by saying no, you are immediately improving your family’s financial situation. Some sacrifice today will enable you to live comfortably in the future.
If you don’t have the money, don’t make the purchase. You can’t buy what you can’t afford. No justifications or rationalizations.
Look forward as well. You need to define your goals. Where do you want to be in five to 10 years? Goal-setting is imperative to improving your financial lot. It helps you move in the right direction. Even if you don’t reach your goal, by getting part of the way to the end, you, by definition, improve your situation.
Use your birthday to reset your financial life. If you need a bit of help, speak with a financial professional.
Daddy, remember that 90 is the new 60. Dear wife, 29 is the new 29?
Happy birthday to you both!
Aaron Katsman is the author of Retirement GPS: How to Navigate Your Way to A Secure Financial Future with Global Investing. www.gpsinvestor.com; aaron@lighthousecapital.co.il.