Money has a way of doing the exact opposite of what we intend it to do. At the exact point we feel comfortable with it, there is a pull or a tug if you like in the amount we consider enough. Is it like that proverbial river, the one that never stands still, never is the same from one second to the next. Standing in the flow on the banks means that for an instant you are are where you want to be and then that moment is past.
How can we possibly hope to be investors, retirement planners, or even personal finance experts of our own worlds when what just happened cannot be returned for a second look?
There is a minimalist movement that suggests we make several choices in our lives that revolve around making those choices once. We are not really conditioned to be that way and the world of commercialism and capitalism wouldn’t have us adopt such a system. But they would be incorrect in assuming that such an adaptation would be bad for business. What qualifies as a final choice and why don’t we make them?
First we have to understand the amount of energy we expend on making choices at all. Come to a crossroads and find four gas stations, all priced exactly the same for a gallon of gas. Which do you choose? Do you base your choice on brand loyalty even if you have no idea what makes the fuel for your car different from one pump to the next (truth is all gas is exactly the same – the differences are in the additives each company enhances the fuel with that supposedly makes the difference)? Or is the one that is closest to your current direction? Would a penny difference make the choice easier and worth crossing lanes of traffic, making a turn you hadn’t intended on making to sit a line you probably didn’t have the time to sit in?
We approach every commercial interaction the same way: indecisively. And when we do make a choice, we have a tough time with the comfort of that choice, wishing for the do-over, the moment to come back to allow you one more opportunity to decide again. And when that happens, we suffer the remorse or the regret that had you made a choice just a little better, done a little more research, perhaps delved a little deeper into the subject, even entertained some additional advice, you would feel more comfortable with your decision.
Is it any wonder why we read about those surveyed, and I have never met a single person who has told me they took part in any of the innumerable financial and retirement surveys I seem to constantly find online these days, and question our decisions. Keep in mind, those decisions cannot be undone and if you think about that, you worry about making any decision at all.
Every day you make final decisions about how you envision the future. Consider the decision to buy a kitchen knife. No one buys such a tool with the intention of ever buying it again. You will replace pots and pans, stoves and refrigerators, utensils and plates, but a good quality knife will live on for generations. If you take the time to make the decision, you will never have to make it again. So why do you treat your financial journey differently?
Each time you reach for your wallet, you impact a future. Each time you invest in your retirement, you impact an event far off in the distance. Each time you question where you have been against the decision you are about to make, even though you refer to is as experience, you add more choices to the mix, complicating the process. Each time you think some calculator you stumble on online has the answer, you find yourself farther from where you think you should be: regretful and remorseful and now even more indecisive.
There is nothing personal about personal finance. Every choice you make impacts not just you and the small world of dependents that rely on you, but thousands of others as well. Your choice is their future. That statement isn’t designed to add yet another layer of angst to the process. Instead, I want you to think not about what happened but about what this choice, the one you make today, will allow you to do next.
You already know how much it costs to live. Yet you worry about how much it will cost to live in the future. You calculate inflation and taxes and where you live based on things you do not know. You are told that the financial choices you make today will impact the life you live tomorrow or a year from now or 30 years from now.
Forward thinkers are applauded for their foresight. And yet there is no such thing and thinking forward is not possible. You hear them: I’m saving 15% of income for retirement, I have no debt, I own my house and my kid’s college is fully paid for. And that is sold as forward thinking. It isn’t and those thoughts aren’t yours. At some point, Mr. Forwardthinker made a final choice.
You have done the same. You continue to mine the information out there for some tidbit of validation that the choice you have made is the right one. It is the right one; the one you made. You could regret it but you will only do so if you think someone else has made a better one. Suggesting you will need to work longer to be comfortable in retirement is not a choice. A choice is something you do now; not a plan on doing something. You have made the choice to invest or save or deal with your debt and lifestyle and working longer won’t make the choice any more right or for that matter, any more wrong.
You may buy a good quality kitchen knife once and never have to think about it again. It is impervious to the user or the things you use it for. At the risk of sounding too Zen-ish, your retirement plans or even your approach to the impersonal nature of personal finance depend on you making a single decision and building on it. If you regret a decision, don’t make it again. It cannot be undone. Instead it becomes a lesson that cannot be untaught. Make each financial decision as if it were your last. Because that decision is your final choice.