Why does the future matter? Why should I care about the consequences of my decisions?
These are questions that have entered my mind. They all lead to the ultimate question: What drives me?
I don’t want to live life blindly. I desire to figure out what is happening on a deeper level, and not just focus on the actions themselves.
Why is this an important question?
I believe most of our behavior can be narrowed down beyond the actions themselves. We don’t act a certain way or do things randomly.
There is usually a reason behind our behavior.
This idea is relevant specifically to the bad habits we maintain.
For example, when I accrued massive credit card debt, I knew very well it was a bad financial decision. If I knew it wasn’t a smart move, why did I do it anyway?
I’ve touched on my past in previous posts. I think it boils down to convincing myself the cost is worth the reward. For whatever reason, I’ve accepted the lie that whatever I was buying was worth the cost at that moment.
Most of my overspending was driven by seeking things that got me excited. It is like a kid who goes into a candy store. They can’t help but think about the taste of biting into a Reese’s Peanut Buttercup.
At that moment, they might think they could eat pounds and pounds of candy. Most kids, given full freedom in a candy store, would seize the opportunity. And for a brief moment, they might enjoy themselves. But then the sugar overload would send them into a spiral downhill. They start feeling tired, their stomach hurts, and all they want to do is lay down. If they continue to gorge themselves, they will most likely end up in the bathroom.
Life is an exciting journey, and we should enjoy as much of it as we can. But we also need to realize not every desire is worth pursuing. Some things are only good and healthy when used in moderation (can anyone say alcohol!). Other things should be avoided entirely. In all cases, they need to be considered within the bigger picture of our lives.
Living in the Moment but Not in the Present
It is interesting to think about these things, as it reveals how we look at the world.
When we focus on temporary satisfaction, we are in a sense concentrating on what we are feeling at that moment. We aren’t thinking about tomorrow. And yet, our decisions today can have huge impacts on our future.
This idea is in contrast to having a proper perspective of where you are at in the world right now. What is going on around you? Where are you headed?
One way to think about this is what you would do if you knew this was your last week on earth? In my case, I would be much more aware of the world around me. The future of the world I am leaving would smack me in the face. Most of us aren’t going to have the luxury to know the exact time of our death.
It’s like having a first-person perspective of your life. In that mode, you are focused on what is in front of you. But if you have a 3rd person perspective, you not only have a better idea in what is happening right now, but it gives you a broader view of everything around you. If you can zoom out enough, you can start to see the trajectory of your path.
I’m blessed to be married to the love of my life and have two amazing daughters.
These humans define my world. Some people might say I’m codependent. And maybe there is a sliver of truth in that. But from my perspective, I can’t ever love my family too much.
The choices I make daily don’t just affect me. In fact, my decisions can change the future of my whole family.
And this is a scary thought. I’ve got my own issues and struggles. To think that one bad decision I make today could end up having a huge domino effect on three other lives is overbearing.
But that is looking at this from a negative perspective. The flip side is that the good choices I make today can have the opposite effect.
With all the bad financial decisions I’ve made in the past, I haven’t been thinking about what was best for my family. These actions were incredibly selfish. It isn’t that I didn’t care about my family; I just didn’t stop to think about how these choices would affect them. I would get blinded by the heat of the moment.
Finding a Purpose Worth Fighting For
Our time and energy are limited. There is only so much we can do. And we don’t know how much time we have left.
That is why figuring out the purpose of your life is so important. If you are not pursuing something you believe in, chances are it will not last.
This might sound cheesy and irrelevant. But a lot of the negative habits I’ve had (or continue to have), are from me not focusing on what makes me excited to be alive at my core. I’ve settled for specks of satisfaction that dwindle quickly, instead of working on an eternal flame that lasts forever.
I’m not here to tell you your purpose has to match mine. We are all different and are at varying stages in life. But the most important thing is to figure out what you want out of life because that will help you determine your purpose.
It’s kind of like a boxer going into a fight that doesn’t really want to win. Maybe they’ve been able to motivate themselves to train hard, but can they keep up that pace forever? A car is only going to be able to go so far without refueling. Our lives aren’t much different.
Building What Lasts Forever
In the personal finance space, it can be easy to focus on money. But we could wake up one day to realize that all of our money is worth nothing.
For example, if/when World War III happens, we might find ourselves in a situation where having millions of dollars in the bank isn’t worth anything. Or something catastrophic happens that changes our world. I’m not a doomsday advocate, but I think it is helpful to realize that money itself has very little value. It can be burned, lost, devalued or stolen.
The most valuable things in our lives cannot be destroyed.
Here is what I consider the most valuable things we have:
- Family bonds
- Helping Others
- Wisdom and knowledge
- Our health and being alive
Anything we do that pursues these things is giving us something money can’t buy. Some of them can change over time, like our relationships with people. Others will live on after we die.
Money can provide us more options that might help us pursue these things. But it makes money a tool, instead of being the goal.
Does this mean I don’t want to build wealth? No!
I just don’t want money to be the goal. Because then it is going to be easy to sacrifice what matters most to me in pursuing my net-worth; which defeats the whole purpose!
Keep on Truckin’
There is no doubt in my mind that I’m going to mess up. I’m not going to be a perfect husband or father. But I hope that even when I mess up, I can remind myself of what I am fighting for.
I’m also going to be tempted to give up the fight. Why bother in trying to get our finances together, when we can be broke like most other people?
Being broke, and always stressed about money, makes it hard to focus on what matters most.
This perspective is partly why we decided not to pay off our mortgage early. The safer, and I would argue the easier approach, would be to make extra payments every month to have our home paid off as soon as possible. But doing that would reduce the amount of money we have in the stock market, and even if we go through a rough patch in the market, this should put us in a stronger financial position in the future.
It becomes not only about pushing hard, but also about increasing our chances of success. It feels incredible to have to consider how we are going to increase our net worth, instead of figuring out how to pay off our debts.
And some times that means cutting back, because the extra money isn’t worth sacrificing what matters most.
The day-to-day struggles and distractions of life can make it easy to forget about what we are trying to accomplish.
Anything we can do to help remind us of the battle we are in for our attention and time, the more likely we are to stay on track. For me, that’s having photos of my family near my work desk. Making sure I take time every day to sit down or lie next to each of my daughters and talk about the day. Or going on long walks with Andrea.
These moments provide a “reset” button. They require me to slow down and notice what is happening around me. And more importantly, they help me create what will last when I’m gone.
Spending quality time with my family is an excellent reminder of how much they are worth to me. Seeing my daughters smile and laugh is worth more than $10,000,000.
Seeing how much my daughters reading over the years has improved is a memory I won’t forget. Helping my wife, Andrea, build a successful salon and see her enjoy her work makes my heart flutter like a butterfly.
These kinds of things are worth infinitely more than anything I could buy with money. There is something deeper going on that speaks to the core of who we are as humans that’s hard to explain.
Purpose Driven Life
I was hesitant to use this headline and post title, mainly from how this references a title of a popular conservative Christian book. But I think it sums up what I’m trying to say.
It comes down to figuring out what you want most out of life and focusing your energy on pursuing those things. For me, that comes down to allowing money to give us more options and getting out of the rat race. I don’t want money to be the central aspect of my life (which is required when you have massive consumer debt).
Money works best when it doesn’t get in the way of living our best lives.
Chris is a financial blogger who loves to be transparent about money-related issues. He’s paid off massive amounts of credit card debt and is the blog author of Money Stir. His main focus on Money Stir is talking about how money relates to our relationships, personal development, and how to plan for the future we want. He’s been quoted on Market Watch, The Ladders, and other publications.