The world of personal finance is chock full of textbook answers for nearly every single financial “why” behind every budgeting goal. Why are you maxing out your Roth IRA? To save for retirement. Why are you paying down your mortgage more quickly? So I can be debt free. Why are you putting money in a 529? To save for my children’s education.
Those answers are good and well, especially if that’s enough to keep you motivated to keep a budget and save. But they’re also boring and ambiguous and general. And personal finance is supposed to be just the opposite — personal. But why are you really working toward these goals? If we’re just working toward them because it’s the responsible thing to do, then it’s no wonder why we give up or fall off track or find other financial priorities.
Time to get all Doctor Phil-ly up in here. Ready? We are all here on this earth, living this one life we’ve been given. We have one chance to make what we want with it. YOLO, right? Our choices, financial and otherwise, should be driven by that fact. Nothing else. We shouldn’t be basing financial choices on what others are telling us is right. Or what we think is responsible. Or what makes us feel like a very good boy or girl because some person in a book said it was important. We should be making choices that fulfill our wants, dreams, and ultimate happiness.
We need to dig a little deeper and ask the extra why to really find the human element — the reason that has a heart beat and makes you feel something. In the end, this is infinitely more powerful as a motivator than some blah-bity-blah goal. Otherwise, years from now we’ll find ourselves scratching our heads wondering what the late nights and tax-advantaged savings vehicles and store brand cereals and budget tracking apps were all for. In the “good, better, best” paradigm, good is at least attempting, but ultimately losing sight of a goal. Better is succeeding at a goal, but without much rationale besides “it’s what I’m supposed to do.” And best is having a motivation and vision so clear and so real that you can’t stop yourself from working toward that goal every day of your life.
The key is to dig a little deeper and spend a little more time on discovering the extra why — the human why. The why that’s not monetary, but gives you the feels. This, friends, is what will keep our punch bowl of financial motivation filled to the brim. We’ll achieve our goals and then some. And we’ll realize that it was never money that we were saving after all. Money, that dumb piece of paper, was merely the vehicle used to take us to our destination — making the most of our lives.
- You’re not saving for your children’s education. You’re saving so that your kids can worry about how to afford going to college football games instead of buying class credits. You’re saving so that they can graduate from school without the burden of debt — something that mom and dad weren’t fortunate enough to avoid. You’re saving so that they can take a few extra 100-level classes and find the perfect major without worrying about the consequences.
- You’re not building an emergency fund. You’re building a get-well-soon fund for your soon-to-be-dead car battery so that you can still get to parent-teacher conferences. You’re building a more restful night’s sleep that doesn’t have you wondering if tomorrow might put you in the red. You’re building a worry-free fund so that when life’s real worries find you, you have one less thing to worry about.
- You’re not saving for retirement. You’re saving so that so that you can finally devote most of your time to projects and causes that aren’t about you. You’re saving so that you start a tradition of taking every single grandchild on their very own trip to any national park of their choosing. You’re saving so that at night you can sit in bed with your spouse and chat about what to do the next day — every day.
Some of these hypotheticals aren’t so hypothetical for Joanna and me. But we know we need to beef up our “whys” and give ourselves even more reason to believe. Give us one of your human whys, one that will make us all nod our heads and feel what you’re after. And then watch Hot Rod or Dumb and Dumber to get all this seriousness and feelsy stuff out of our systems.