But Why?

We budget to save money. But why? We all can dig a little deeper and ask the extra why to really find the human element — the source of all motivation.

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.

Below are a few hypothetical “human whys” (some of which you might not feel any emotion toward or disagree with), but you can see how these are much more powerful than the textbook savings goal we’re programmed to adopt.

  • 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.

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  • Reply Suzanne April 16, 2015 at 3:01 pm

    Great post! I completely agree with your ideals…we need to have purpose for our goals and not just strive to tick the boxes.. As for my why’s…. Why am I trying to be debt free? To feel free essentially. To jump in the air and say I did it!! Why did I fall down today and buy 2 pairs of jeans? Coz my bum looked pretty good in them (Joanna will understand!!)… Why did I feel guilty about it? Coz I blew my budget.. Tomorrow is another day though and I’ll start again… That’s what we do as people, we fall down and get back up again and get back on track with goals so that we can achieve what we set out to do, albeit with some bumpy roads on route 🙂 ..

    • Reply Joanna May 4, 2015 at 10:05 pm

      A good pair of jeans is hard to come by, so I totally get it. Small setbacks are going to happen to all of us on our financial journey, and oftentimes they’ll be self-inflicted. The important thing is to just keep on keepin’ on, and it sounds like you’re doing just that!

  • Reply Rob April 16, 2015 at 3:23 pm

    Yes dude, great post indeed!

    I think it’s only human nature that we all want life for our kids (and later for our grand kids) to be better than it has been for us and, in turn, much better perhaps than it was for our parents. That’s why we plan and save and make sacrifices and work hard to reach our goals.

    Both my parents and my wife’s parents weren’t all that well off when they were growing up. They were the folks that were somehow making ends meet during the Great Depression. And yes, I know that this may not apply to a number of your younger readers out there but this is our story, capiche?

    Anyway, my wife and I (like you guys are doing these days) were careful with money, budgeted, sacrificed, saved, worked hard to get out of debt and raise our family. Now these days, there are more and often harder challenges for today’s youth – finding employment, trying to get a good education, coping with high student debt, etc etc. So, with that said, we raised our kids to get good educations and get into great careers and now we save to have a pleasant retirement, not expecting our kids to support us (in our drooling old age – lol), and hope to be in a position to give any financial support that our grand kids may need when they also eventually finish their studies and embark on their own future careers. Hopefully they in turn will then have even more rewarding lives than we or our kids have so that they too can then repeat the process for their future offspring. And so it goes …

    • Reply Joanna May 4, 2015 at 10:39 pm

      Great mindset… Each generation is trying hard to help the next be a little bit better. That’s what life is all about. Having a second baby has reminded us of what’s important, and it all comes down to our little family.

  • Reply Gretchen April 16, 2015 at 9:05 pm

    So good – so true! Personal finance is personal, and that means that everyones goals, everyone’s reasons should be different! I’m judged all the time for my choices, but their mine. Not everyone choices will be the same because their theirs 🙂

  • Reply Yvann April 17, 2015 at 3:02 pm

    Great post! Made me think.
    I budget because I enjoy it – I like the feeling of control. I like knowing that our hard work, the hours of client-wrangling and spreadsheet-wrangling and commuting, resulted in something I can see. I budget because it reminds me to be generous, and not to be resentful in my relationship (we each have a discretionary budget… I often feel like I’m not spending mine and he’s overspending his, and the budget shows me that’s not the case).
    We save because we both had private educations at decent schools in the UK, and we want the same for our kids. We save because I want a house in London, and that costs £££££££££. We save because we can see the beauty of financial freedom in our parents’ styles of living, and we like it.
    And now we budget because I’m on maternity pay (I know, I’m lucky to get it, particularly compared to the US!) now and our rent is less than his take-home-salary… eeek. *reaches for the packed lunch bag* so either I have to go back to work (I want to, but it comes with ££££ for childcare) or we have to move. Simple.

  • Reply Ronnica, Striving Stewardess April 19, 2015 at 4:07 am

    These type of “why”s are so much more motivating than the “have to”s.

    I am paying down my student debt as quickly as possible because I will not be a slave to anything.

  • Reply Megan Wise April 26, 2015 at 10:45 pm

    I so love this post! Why do we budget? Because we want to control our money and not be controlled by the whim of our every desire. We want to feel the fruit of our sacrifices bringing us closer to each goal…. And speaking of sacrificing… Why do we sacrifice and live on 1/2 our salaries? Because we long for simplicity, and freedom from a world where its all too common to live above your means. And Last… Why do we blog about our debt and financial decisions so openly? Because the voice of the world is too loud. Because we want to show people there’s freedom and peace to be found with budgeting, saving, and being debt free.

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