How an Ex-Monk Does Money

Are all spiritual problems manifestations of financial problems?

Photo credit: Joseph Kranak, CC BY 2.0.

You know what I still haven’t done? Finished rolling over my 403(b). I spent a whole week looking at whether I should do it, and then I decided to do it, and then I found out it was going to be more complicated than pressing a few buttons. So the whole thing kinda stalled, even though I have someone at TIAA I can contact to get the process started again.

So you’ll know exactly why I’m sharing this NYT article today:

The Monk Who Left the Monastery to Fix Broken Retirement Plans

The shortest version of this story is that a former monk named Doug Lynam studied 403(b) plans, realized they weren’t necessarily giving people the best financial outcome, and created an asset management firm to provide people with better 403(b) options.

“These plans have drifted for decades,” [Lynam] said. “There are poor investment choices, high fees and annuities that are abusive. Schools have forgotten that they are fiduciaries, and we’re seeing retirements being torpedoed by negligence, essentially.”

The whole article is worth reading, especially the parts that describe Lynam’s life in the monastery. Last month Megan shared that article about the nun who took a vow of poverty; these monks appear to handle their finances less well, to the point that they consider whether they need to individually file for personal bankruptcy. (It’s a little unclear from the article whether they actually do it.)

But here’s the part that will stick with me:

The stream of visitors to his monastery would arrive with many purported reasons. As the junior monk, he did not give much religious counsel. But he soon recognized a pattern: Every person who arrived with a spiritual issue had a financial problem lurking somewhere beneath it.

Are all spiritual problems manifestations of financial problems? I’m not sure. It seems a little too pat to be true. To me, the question of how to live is separate from the question of how to earn enough money to live, although they are both obviously related.

But it’s something to think about.

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