Why is Money Important to You? No, But Really, WHY?
I’m a bit of a bookworm. I read (or speed-read) half a dozen books each month. Can’t get enough of them. I actually have a “cooling off” rule in place for book-buying. If I see a book I want, I have to add it to my Wishlist and wait a week. I don’t spend too much time reading personal finance books, but every once in a while one comes across my path that changes my thinking at a fundamental level. Carl Richard’s One Page Financial Plan did that for me.
There’s a small taco shop up north of me a bit. It’s a pretty good halfway point between my office, and Carl’s office up in the mountains of Park City, Utah. I probably had my mouth full of tacos, while Carl told me about his next book idea. “I just want to simplify everything and get people to take meaningful action. I’m thinking some kind of one-page financial plan.” We chatted between bites, and I liked the sound of it. Especially the part where he would extol the virtues of being aware of what you spend. I’m the choir boy, and you’re preaching it, brother. I was able to snag an advanced copy of the book. What follows is a high-level view of how my thinking changed at that fundamental level I mentioned previously, and who should definitely (and perhaps not) read this book. (Plus, a giveaway for anyone who makes it all the way to the end of this post!)
Why? But Really, WHY?
I tend to be a tactical thinker. I want to know about the latest financial strategies and insights. Carl forced me to immediately forget about all of the tactics and ask myself why money is important to me. Really. Your first-blush answer is probably a cop-out: “Security.” “Freedom.” No. No. No. Why is it really important. To YOU. Don’t say what you think should be said. Say the real reasons. Peel back the onion layer by layer. I won’t dive into the therapy behind this, but I LOVE that it dovetails so nicely with the You Need A Budget philosophy, in particular Rule One: Give Every Dollar a Job. But what should those jobs be?! The answer? Whatever’s most important to you! This type of exercise is not something you can do in a few minutes. It’ll take some pondering, maybe some walking or hiking, and perhaps some writing. If you’re sharing your finances with a spouse or partner, then it’ll take some discussion. Deep, “no blame game” (as Carl puts it) discussion around why money is so important to you. This was one of my first fundamental shifts. I hadn’t asked myself that question in quite a long time, and I was due for a refresher. It was, well, refreshing.
Guess. Again and again and again.
Another shift in my thinking came about when Carl started telling me to guess. Just. Guess. One example mentioned in the book is a planner’s desire to have her client estimate their retirement expenses: “How much will you be spending on utilities in 21 years?” No idea. That’s the correct answer. But it feels uncomfortable, that guessing, so we make something up, plug our model full of assumptions, and get an (artificial) warm fuzzy. Then we file the plan away because honestly, in our heart of hearts, we know it’s pretty useless. Not entirely useless, but not necessarily actionable either. YNAB’s third rule is “Roll with the Punches.” It means you get to change your budget as needed. Nothing’s set in stone. I’m perfectly comfortable doing that with my monthly spending, but The One Page Financial Plan got me to take that “it’s okay to guess” mentality further out into the future. I suddenly felt more at peace acknowledging that I know less what the future holds. No, I don’t know how (or if) I’ll help my five kids with their college education. No, I don’t know what my business will look like five years from now. And no, I don’t know what I’ll spend on utilities during my golden years. I’m hopeful it will be some ingenious, environmentally-friendly, super-efficient, very inexpensive method that will give me the ideal climate control for shuffling behind my walker to the Lazy Boy. Acknowledging that I know less helped me feel better — it was liberating. Who would have thought?
Clarity in the Now. The Past is in the Past.
I’m sorry if a few of you now have the Disney song “Let it Go” stuck in your heads. That was (very much) my intention. One final potential shift in a reader’s thinking may come about when you choose to start. Starting can be so intimidating! The One Page Financial Plan does a good job of 1) helping you outline your WHY, 2) helping you decide where you want to go (lots of guessing here!) and then helping you get past this kind of scary point where you just… Start. We deal with this a lot with our new customers. They want to import mountains of historical data into our software. They love their historical data. They feel very attached to it. We tell them to let it go. The key in starting is not to dwell on the past (certainly not on the financial mistakes of the past), but rather, look forward. Driving while looking in the rear-view mirror is dangerous. While I feel like I have a pretty good handle on my current state of affairs, it was helpful to be reminded of the fact that the only direction we can move is forward, and that dwelling on the past is very unproductive. (Yes, we can learn from our past mistakes. The point is not to dwell on those mistakes. Especially if they’re keeping you from taking action now.)
A Few Other Highlights
I love the idea of a spending fast. I’m a big proponent of doing unsustainable things that move the needle to an extreme, then see if your operating baseline doesn’t change. Save “as much as you reasonably can.” How dare he! He doesn’t give us a set percentage at all. Going back to discovering your Why, if you’re honest there, then defining “reasonable” will be quite easy for you. The answer won’t be the same year after year. You’ll need to adjust and be honest with yourself going forward. The 72-hour test (something I alluded to with my book purchases) is a great little trick. Implement it immediately! As Carl mentions in the book, it’s not about not spending your money it’s about not spending your money on things you don’t care about. (Easier said than done.) The latter half of the book was more of a review for me. It’s solid financial advice that applies to pretty much everyone. Since I’ve spent the last decade seriously studying the personal finance space, I naturally found this part less than helpful. Which leads me to my conclusion.
This Book is For You If…
If you’re a personal finance junkie like me, you’ll get a lot of value out of the first half of the book (treat it like a therapy session and I promise you’ll score some major insights). You’ll find the second half of the book to be more like a review. Reviews are fine (especially on an annual basis, and tied to your Why), but I just want you more experienced folks to know that going in. If you’re just getting started “with money” you will get a lot out of The One Page Financial Plan. Carl nails the behavioral side of things (no surprise, since his previous book was The Behavior Gap) and then provides great advice that, when armed with your why, your goals, and your current financial standing, will provide you with great direction moving forward. Carl is a friend of mine, so I’m just overflowing with bias. The tacos were delicious, which certainly clouded my judgment. In all seriousness though, I was grateful to get an advanced copy and experience a few of those fundamental shifts to my thinking. The One Page Financial Plan will certainly help me make future money decisions that line right up with the answer to that simple, but terribly deep question: “Why is money important to you?”