First appeared in USA Today and The Indianapolis Star
This past week, I asked about 50 people in two different states to tell me their ultimate financial aim.
You might be surprised to learn that the answers didn’t really vary. Of course, people gave answers like “to be able to buy whatever I want” and “to not have to budget,” but ultimately those two answers as well as all of the other answers fit into one tidy category: to not worry about money. That is their aim. That is my aim. That is your aim. None of us want to worry about money ever again.
But somehow, society has confused not worrying with having more — more money, more stuff, and more freedom. Additionally, despite the aim of being worry-free, people often make financial decisions which lead to both immediate and long-term worrying.
Consider all the manifestations of wanting to not worry. I want a high income. I want to win the lottery. I want to have a 100-year-old wealthy uncle with no other heirs. I want my financial life to be easier than it is now.
Unfortunately, what many people typically seek to remedy their worries can often lead to more worries.
Retail therapy, the aptly named process of spending money to feel better, is the perfect example of getting the opposite result that you’re seeking, especially when credit is involved. You’ve been there. You feel bad about your finances, so in an effort to feel better, you purchase something which represents comfort or even luxury. You get a temporary sense of relief from your financial stress, but the pendulum eventually swings back and hits you in the face.
We’re talking about financial stress eating. I eat unhealthy foods because I’m stressed; I’m stressed because I eat unhealthy foods. I worry about money because I’ve made poor decisions; I make poor decisions because I’m worried about money.
What financial worries do you have? And what are you doing to stoke those worries versus calm those worries? If you’re worried about college costs, and not preparing for the cost of college because you’d rather be a serial convenience diner (a person who habitually dines out to save time), then you should be worried.
The rub is this: you have to earn the right to not worry. If I run a marathon in the morning, I’ve earned the right to not worry about what I eat the rest of the day. If I’m doing what I’m usually doing, watching my wife run a marathon in the morning, I haven’t earned the right to not worry about what I eat the rest of the day. My experience in the financial industry has taught me that people don’t exactly like this message. People want their cake and they want to eat it, too. The only way that is possible is to fund your worries first, and then enjoy what’s left over.
You have to work backward. In order to not worry about money, you must define the events in life which illicit worry (e.g. college, retirement, housing, etc.), use your money to address those worries and then do whatever you want with the remainder. Everyone knows this methodology is ideal, however the challenge is in executing it.
Another way to think of this involves the classic to-do list. A to-do list is conceivably a list of worries. When do you earn the right to not worry? When you check an item off the list. If you walked around with a giant written to-do list with absolutely no intention of addressing any of the items, worrying is warranted, necessary, and logical.
I don’t want to worry about money. In fact, my personal mantra is “Never Worry About Money Again.”
I don’t want you to worry about money, either. But the only acceptable way to pull this off is to address your worries, not to ignore them or try to eliminate them by doing the opposite of what you should be doing.
Have a question for Pete the Planner? Email him at AskPete@petetheplanner.com or visit petetheplanner.com.
Peter Dunn a.k.a. Pete the Planner® is an award-winning financial mind and a former comedian. He’s a USA TODAY columnist, author of ten books, and is the host of the popular radio show and podcast, The Pete the Planner Show. Pete is considered one of the foremost experts on financial wellness in the world, but he’s just as likely to talk your ear off about bass fishing.