I call myself a personal finance blogger. It’s not because I write about money all that much, but because I can’t think of a category that would be more accurate for the type of content you'll find here. Free to Pursue is more of a “lifestyle blog” but the category doesn’t really fit because it conjures up too many images of stuff, relationships...even sexual orientation!
Here’s why I don't focus on money per se:
- Money issues are rarely, if ever, about money.
- Living a better life—living life on your terms—is often in conflict with making money.
- Living a rich life is not highly correlated with living a rich lifestyle.
These three tenets are so fundamental that they merit further exploration.
1. Money Issues Are Rarely About Money
Every day I see posts about how to get out of debt, how to spend less, how to save, how to invest and how to retire early. The writing runs the gamut from saving pennies with life hack all the way to how to grow a personal retirement portfolio from $0 to $1M in ten years. (Wow!)
Most personal finance writing is about the what and the how.
From a purely mechanical point of view, we can all follow defined steps. We can all automate our bill payments and savings, spend less on goods and services and yes, even skip our daily lattés. It’s simple stuff. Or is it?
The big reason we don’t do what it is that we know we should is that our why isn’t clear. Saving money to save money is fine, but it’s far more powerful when it’s tied to a feeling, a desire for something we can wrap our heads around.
When we have the desire to do something—beyond fleeting short-term motivators—we do it, regardless of whether we have the ready-made recipe to follow.
The lack of desire to spend less and save more is more of an indication that someone feels stuck than it is about a person’s laziness or lack of attention. It’s about not being clear about what we care about. It’s about not getting real about what makes us feel good over the long term.
Shackling ourselves to various financial obligations is the single easiest way to ensure we don’t have to make big life decisions. The more of our paycheque goes towards a home, one or more cars, credit cards and other monthly obligations, the more we close off dreaming about what options we might otherwise entertain.
The more shopping we do, the more we think we can fool others and ourselves into thinking we’ve arrived thanks to a vineer of new attire and household items. The more stuff we have, and the more short-term commitments we need to tend to, the less time we have to spend facing the reality of how we might want our lives to be different.
Stripping away all the noise—all the stuff—helps us get real about why we’ve built a complex, busy world around us. It makes us take a look at our lives, at whether or not what we do and what we spend money on is in line with what we really want out of life.
When we’re clear about what really matters, we start shedding obligations. We start saying “NO” to what’s not essential. We redirect our efforts toward the life we want to build as opposed to focusing on what others want from us. And when we do that, desire emerges because we want it to:
- We spend less because we care more about how we spend time than money.
- We reduce our debts because we want more flexibility around how we allocate every dollar we earn.
- We save for emergencies because we don’t want to get distracted by short term shortfalls.
- We save for the long term because of how it feels to know we’re planning for the future.
2. Living A Better Life Conflicts With Making Money.
The biggest lie society tells us is that living the good life is about maximizing our earning potential. It’s the lie that makes it possible for corporations to offer ridiculous salaries for soul-sucking, meaningless work. (Soul-sucking work is any type of work that makes you feel you need a shower when you get home; work that requires you to tell yourself that you’re “just doing your job” because the policies you need to follow aren't in line with what you know deep down are the right thing to do.)
Earning potential is what keeps us from making a career change we know would make us happier, more fulfilled. It’s what keeps us working for more years than we need to thanks to golden handcuffs. It’s even what will keep parents from making the decision to stay home because of what the absence from the workforce will do to their promotability. Ultimately, the message that we need to maximize our earning potential because it’s what will allow us to save more and to give more tells us that our personal worth is reduced to how many zeros we can tally up over our lifetime.
The quality of our lives has very little to do with the number of zeros we accumulate as part of our net worth. The assets we should be tracking aren’t tangible and the time we spend making money reduces our ability to accumulate more of them:
- Happy memories and few regrets
- Strong personal relationships (family & friends)
- Accomplishments that are meaningful to us (purpose-driven, exciting work/research/creation)
- Community participation (leagues, sports, councils, charity organizations, boards, teaching/coaching)
3. Living A Rich Life Doesn’t Mean Living A Rich Lifestyle.
The best that money can buy just isn’t the best life has to offer. What’s truly priceless can’t be bought: loving and feeling loved; awe-inspiring sights such as a mountain range or a sunset; health and vitality; gratitude; fulfillment; and joy.
Ironically, our ability to notice and feel the best of what life has to offer is hindered when our attention is redirected to the superficial we’re taught to value.
Living a rich lifestyle is complicated. The more stuff we have, the more our stuff owns us. The more stuff we have, the more decisions about our stuff we need to make: storage, usage, maintenance & repair, upgrades, accessories, etc. Making decisions about our stuff and making time to use our stuff takes time and attention away from what matters in the long run.
I won’t deny that shiny new things are fun to buy and to have and we should enjoy having them in our lives, as long as they don’t lead us to make choices that take us away from leading the type of life dreams are made of. Our dreams, anyway.
So there you have it. My fixation on the why keeps me from talking a whole lot about the what and the how of money management. And, if that makes me a lousy personal finance blogger, I’m ok with it.