Tucking my five year old in bed the other day, he asked if I could drive him to school the next day. Apologetically, I answered, “no, because daddy has to go to work.” He then caught me off guard when he asked “why?” Smiling, I told him he is smart and I am proud of him, then I kissed him good night. But, I left the question unanswered. However, after closing the door I wondered. “Why do I work?” Let’s be clear here, I love my job, and I have no complaints – past the usual annoyances. But the fundamental question of “why” applies to how we think about our finances.
Why do we work? Why do we play? Why do we do anything? Not to get too existential, but this simple question can become a treasure trove of information leading us to identify the ultimate purpose of our actions. With our personal finances, it is no different. Why do we want to save money? Why do we want to retire? Why do we want to pick one stock over another? By looking back and asking ourselves why we made a particular financial decision or pursued some financial goal helps us focus on the real reason and ultimately gives clarity to our actions.
Don’t think this simple question has a complicated answer. Sometimes it is the simple answer that gives us the most clarity.
Try this exercise:
Gather a piece of paper and a pencil, answer this question in one sentence: “What is the primary purpose of your personal finances.”
Not easy is it? First, you may tell yourself, “I have several things my finances are for, retirement, daily expenses, children education, etc…”
But, think about the question for just a minute, avoid the snap answer; put yourself in a quiet, undistracted place for just a few minutes and really think on the question.
You may realize that the primary purpose of your personal finances are to provide for your family; this encompasses all those things you initially though about above.
If you have children you may answer: To provide the essential needs of my family. Or if you don’t have children it may be: To enjoy a life of luxury. Others may have an answer closer to a particular organization or cause. Still some may have generational aspirations for their entire family. Your financial actions are tied to a purpose that you may or may not realize.
When Aldolf Ochs took over the New York Times in 1896 with money that was not his, but which he had borrowed, the New York Times was on the verge of bankruptcy. His vision for the paper was to create a place where every family member had a job.
In the same way our personal finances have a definite purpose. In the words of David Allen, the benefits of asking “why?” help us
- Define Success
- Clarify decision making criteria
- Align Resources
- Clarify Focus
- Expand Options
None of the above action steps are “financially related” yet they create clarity about our finances. Answering the simple question of “why?” helps us focus. Making time to understand the “why?” is just as important as the spreadsheets, the books, the advice, the balance sheets, and understanding your expenses. It is the quintessential beginning of your journey to successful personal financial planning.
Jonathon Rowles Captain, USMC (Ret.)
Disclaimer: (have to do it) – This blog should not be considered financial, investment, legal or tax advice. Consult your licensed financial professional, tax advisor or legal counsel. This blog is for educational purposes only.