A reader of one of my blog posts recently emailed to tell me that my post about making progress really hit home with her. I appreciate that readers are connecting with what I write, and I was surprised because on the surface I wouldn’t have guessed that she was struggling with her financial life.
It got me to thinking about why we struggle with money so much. Why isn’t it easy to understand what we have to do, and then just go out and do it? I’ve come up with a few thoughts on this that I hope resonate with and inspire you.
Control is an Illusion
Many of you ask “How much do I have to save for X goal in Y amount of time?” We can run all the numbers for you and give you an answer. Then we can run them again, and get a different answer. Why is that?
It’s because you only have so much control over what happens in your financial life. Two of the most important inputs to the numerical answer above are inflation and investments returns. And you don’t have control over either of those. Sure, you can invest in inflation-protected securities. You can invest in products with guaranteed returns. But you pay a price for that in lower returns. You can diversify away some of your risk when you shoot for higher returns, but not all of it.
You also don’t have control over some things that happen in your life. Your company could go out of business. You could lose your job. You could have a health situation. All of these things make certainty difficult to achieve in your financial life.
So what do you do? You work on the items you can control. You save consistently, however much that ends up being. You protect yourself with insurance. You mentally prepare to respond to changes as they happen. Over time, you develop the confidence that you can handle uncertainty. You make the best decision you can, with the information you have at the time.
Financial Decisions Aren’t Only About Money
So if you don’t have total control, you want to make the “right” decision. You collect all the data. Crunch the numbers. Decision Z is the “right” one to make, right? It’s not that easy.
Even if all the data is available, and things go exactly as you plan, THERE ISN’T ONE “RIGHT” ANSWER. Shocking, I know. Clients are often surprised (and a little uncomfortable) when I present them several options to answer their financial question. Often the “right” decision depends on the client, and only they can make it.
Don’t discount the emotional response that you have to each option. Often feeling good about your decision allows you to stick with it. The snowball strategy of debt repayment works for some people because they feel really good about paying off small balances, even if the overall interest they pay over time is slightly higher.
So run the numbers. Then ask yourself what your values are. Ask yourself what kind of person you are and how you react to different situations. What makes you happy? The “right” decision for you will be different than for someone else and doesn’t always depend on the numbers. Then decide if someone else actually needs to be involved in the decision.
Struggle Multiplies as The Number of People Involved Increases
There’s a reason money struggles/arguments are one of the top reasons for divorce. Even if you are able to gain control, and have a handle on your emotions, you throw someone else into the mix and everything changes.
Each person has his/her own money attitudes, opinions, emotions, and personality. What seems like a no-brainer decision to you can send your spouse or a family member into a tailspin. Maybe they are more or less risk-averse than you are. Maybe they had a complicated relationship with money during their childhood. Maybe they use money to make them feel secure. Maybe they spend to deal with uncomfortable emotions.
Money in relationships is almost never about the numbers. Take the time to understand where the other person is coming from. Get professional, objective help if you need it from a counselor or financial planner.
The struggle is real. Despite the fact that people aren’t talking much about it, you are not alone. I hope my words help you recognize some of what may be causing your struggle, and inspire you to make changes that will improve your financial life.