I’m part of a number of different Facebook groups that discuss finances. Frequently on some of these groups, people will post something asking for recommendations for their current situation. Lots of times these folks may be in the process of paying off debt. Maybe they’re trying to retire early and want to know where to allocate their money. Some people just don’t know what they should be paying attention to.
Most of the time the responses to these questions are immensely helpful. Particularly in some specific groups, replies tend to be well thought out and super supportive.
Every now and then, though, you get the reply that totally ignores the most critical part of personal finances: the person.
And as it turns out, personal finance is very personal. To take a person’s thoughts, feelings, emotions, goals, and risk tolerance totally out of the equation is making a decision with only some of the facts.
Here are three situations I’ve consistently seen people get slammed about:
This tends to come up frequently. “Sell your house, live in a small apartment. Did you know you can build a Tiny House for like $25,000?”
Yes, I did in fact know that. We could pay off a Tiny House in just a few months, if we neglect property prices around here. If we moved somewhere where we could get cheaper land, it’d probably take just a year or two and we’d be living without a housing payment at all.
But here’s the thing: we would be so. damn. miserable. Our house is definitely larger than we need, but it’s awesome. The finishes are nice, it’s in a great spot…it’s perfect for us.
I’m not going to even call that lifestyle creep. No creeping; we full-fledged know our lifestyle inflated with the purchase of our home. And we don’t care. We figured out how to make it work and still hit our goals.
Retiring early is still on the table – and entirely possible – and we’re never losing sight of that. I use my own spreadsheets and tools like Personal Capital to help me keep an eye on that.
When it comes to where you live, sometimes money isn’t about numbers. Sometimes it’s about having a safe place for your family. Maybe it’s about being close to friends, family, or work. Some people love the hustle and bustle of city life; others despise it.
What’s the point in saving money on housing if you hate your life every minute you are at home? Maybe from a numbers perspective the math works out, but if it’s making you miserable, it’s not a good value to you.
When it comes to where you live, sometimes money isn’t about numbers but about living in a place that improves your quality of life and makes you happy.
While housing tends to have a lot of people in the “sell your house!” camp, work is a different situation. Here’s the scenario:
Preface: You have some hobbies on the side that may or may not yield some side-hustle money. You’re just starting out, and want to give it a shot, but also know that your career is your primary source of income for right now.
Maybe your manager is awful, so you’ve decided to leave the company. You start interviewing, and because you’re a purple squirrel you have your pick of jobs.
You have narrowed your list down to one of two jobs to choose from.
Job 1: The Status Quo Bill-Paying Job
Job 1 pays okay, and has awesome flexibility. It’s relatively low stress, “overtime” isn’t a word the company even knows of, and if you play your cards right you may be able to work from home every now and then. The caveat? The work isn’t all that interesting; it’s kind of just status quo stuff. Sure some of it is good, but much of it is mundane. Maybe this job will give you some time to focus on your side hustle, but maybe not. Even if it does, it’s not making any money that you can count on.
Job 2: The Challenging, Growth-Focused High-Paying Job
Job 2 pays better, and is interesting work. It’s a high-pressure environment though, and comes with a company phone – yay to never being able to escape work! It’ll push you, it will make you grow, and it’ll certainly be challenging and stressful. At the end of it, you’ll undoubtedly have new skills, be able to market yourself better, and make more money from your career. Because of the high demands, you won’t have any significant amount of time for a side hustle.
Which do you pick?
That answer will vary wildly from person to person. Some folks love the side hustle and would happily take the semi-mundane, bill-paying job with hopes of turning a side hustle into a full-time thing. Others are career-oriented, driving to push their income higher and higher through their day jobs. Obviously these two will have different recommendations.
What’s more, that decision may change for an individual person based on their current life situation.
If you’d ask me to pick between those two jobs when I was 25 versus today, my answer would certainly be different. People grow, and what we want out of our lives changes. As we grow, our lives will change, and that will lead us down different paths than we may have envisioned.
When it comes to work, sometimes money isn’t about numbers but about a better work-life balance while still paying the bills.
Specifically when it comes to dissecting budgets, people love to nit-pick on a few key areas in other people’s budgets. Over and over, the gym membership is on the chopping block.
“Wait, you pay for a gym membership?! Cancel that, STAT!”
This is, obviously, horrible advice taken at face-value. Your health isn’t something you should skimp on (among other things). While it’s true that many people pay for a gym membership and then don’t go, many people still do.
And, in fact, some people prefer a higher-cost gym because of what it provides. Maybe it’s something like having a personal trainer or small group classes to push you harder in your work-out.
Kristin is a prime example of that. When we were in California she had a personal trainer, and here in Minnesota she pays for a relatively expensive gym. It’s a non-negotiable line item in our budget.
Why? When it comes to working out, Kristin is extremely extrinsically motivated. She’s gone to the gym and she’s worked out from home. But she does a lot better when she’s getting help from someone, and has someone there to push her. She needs that external motivation to keep her going and make positive impacts.
It has worked. Since the beginning of the year – combined with our diet – she’s lost about 30lbs, looks great, is stronger than she’s ever been, and feels great. You can’t put a price on feeling great. But if you had to, for us, it’d be the cost of her gym membership.
When it comes to our health, sometimes money isn’t about numbers but about keeping ourselves healthy in a way that works for us. Our physical, mental, and emotional health is the most important asset we have. No amount of money is worth saving if it’s sacrificing your health.
Sometimes, Money Isn’t About Numbers
There’s more to decisions than the financial implications. Sometimes they are obvious, but many times they are not. Remember: just because someone drives decisions in an extremely analytical way, assessing the numbers alone, does not mean everyone does. In fact, I’d argue that most people don’t make decisions that way.
However, there’s merit to at least considering a purely numbers-based approach. After all, it is emotions that tend to get the best of us and make us spend too much money on cars, on houses, and on stuff.
Balance is the key; but in the meantime, understand that we all make decisions based on what we think to be right for us. And sometimes that means that money isn’t about numbers – but something more. Something that drives each of us to be uniquely us.
What are some other decisions that people get grilled on, perhaps unjustly?