If you’ve started reading through any money related articles, books or blogs like this one, there will tend to be a lot of “textbook” advice. This attempts to give a one size fits all approach to personal finance. Unfortunately, there’s a reason it’s called Personal finance. There is no secret sauce that everyone can pour over their financial life to fix all of their problems. Many finance authors try to give as broad of advice as possible, but at the end of the day, it all comes down to you.
Generally, this advice should be seen as a good starting point. However, attempting to follow rigid rules forces you to push your way into a cookie cutter set of circumstances. It doesn’t take into account varying priorities and expectations. For example, the rule that you should not exceed 28% of your monthly income on your mortgage payments. This does not account for the family that makes the conscious decision to live in the home in the better school district even though the home would be 35% of their income. As long as they’ve trimmed their budget in other places and made the intentional decision based on their values, then they should be able to do that.
If all we learn are “rules of thumb,” it’s easy to assume that that’s just what we’re supposed to do and there are no alternatives. These assumptions can stifle creativity in the way that someone lives their life. There are so many possibilities for how a life can be lived. Shouldn’t there be a way to budget for each of them?
The young family underwater on their mortgage and the elderly couple just starting their retirement won’t benefit from the same generic advice. Even being the same age doesn’t preclude you to needing (or wanting) the same financial advice.
The only way to know for certain what we all want out of life is to ask. Start by questioning everything. Start with these questions:
- What is important to you?
- What are the goals for your life 5 years from now? 10 years? 20 years from now?
- Do your current spending habits align with your values and goals?
- How can you change your spending habits to better align with your goals and values?
These questions will provide you with the building blocks to build your life (and budget) in a way that is meaningful and practical for you. Of course, if you are not the only stakeholder in your finances, you will have to discuss your goals with the other stakeholders. For example your spouse will probably want to know what your goals are for your life together. Be certain that you are all aligned before moving forward. If not, your financial journey will be a constant struggle and source of stress.
The important thing is not to stop questioning.Albert Einstein
Once you have questioned everything, take what you have learned to set your spending to align with where you want your life to go.
In asking yourself these questions, you may realize that you know where you want to go, but you don’t know how to get there. Don’t worry about it. Personal finance is not going to be everyone’s forte. Going to someone like a financial coach or fee only financial planner is a great thing to do in this case. You can get a second opinion from someone who better understands the budgeting strategies, tax laws, savings/investment options and various retirement vehicles available to you.
When you do go see your financial mentor, be sure to know the answers to the questions up above. Otherwise, it’s as if you expect the GPS to take you somewhere without telling it where you want to go.
Don’t Compare Yourself
Once you are on a path (read: have a budget and working to stock to it) written by your goals/values, don’t compare yourself to others. It doesn’t make sense to compare your life to someone else’s. You have a different destination.
So when you see an article on Facebook titled “30 things you need to do with money before you hit 30”, remember a couple of things… First of all, half of those ideas are unnecessary, terrible advice and/or just ads. Second, the general advice they give may not even apply to you at all.
Wrap It Up!
To sum up what I’ve covered here:
- Base your budget on your values by questioning yourself to find out where your values truly lie.
- Taking your budget from ideas of values and goals into hard numbers may require some help. Get help if you need it.
- Once you have your personalized plan, don’t waste time comparing your path to others.
- Check in with your budget often! My wife and I check in with our budget monthly to see what we have coming up every month and how we will have to adjust to accommodate it.
- Check in with your answers to your initial questions from time to time. Your answers may change as your life changes.
The fact that you’re even here, reading articles on a personal finance website means that you are working on adding intention to your financial life. That’s worth more than any advice.
Did you found this framework useful? Have you found any other questions or advice useful? Let me know in the comments below!