Much of the writing by “money experts” starts off with a story about how they had fallen deep in debt, hit rock bottom, experienced some kind of epiphany and through a radical shift in behavior, managed to un-dig their financial hole. This entire experience becomes their motivation to show others how they can dig out of their holes too.
But what about all those people who are just kind of hanging in there? For these types, the problem is more about being muddled, frustrated or stuck, but they aren’t on the verge of bankruptcy. With no major external shock to upend them, life just kind of drifts along. In these situations, we often need some kind of “nudge” to wake up and pay attention to what we’re missing or, should I say, missing out on.
My story is an example of this. I offer it to you because the method my wife and I used to become unstuck not only improved our money lives but also enriched the quality of our lives.
In the fall of 2008, my wife, Dorothy, and I had had just moved into a beautiful new home on a large, tree-filled lot in southwest Burlington, Ontario. The financial system in the USA was on the verge of collapse and we, along with everyone else in the developed world, were holding our breath. A good part of our income and net worth was tied to the financial markets. We sat by and watched both plummet. Welcome to your new home indeed!
In Canada, the effects of 2008 were fairly short-lived. By the spring of 2009 the Canadian real estate market was growing again, our banks were all profitable and for most, life went back to normal. For Dorothy and me though, something had shifted inside us. The calamity of 2008 made us feel very vulnerable but for the moment nothing changed. Still something didn’t feel quite right, something we couldn’t put our fingers on.
In retrospect, it was a number of things that had stirred an awakening in us: the 2008 shock to our incomes, a house that seemed to have an insatiable appetite for money, the crazy amount of time we spent tending to yard work and what seemed like a huge amount of effort required to manage the money pieces of our lives.
At the same time some important things were missing in our lives. I loved golf and riding motorcycles but wasn’t doing enough of either. Dorothy had just rediscovered her passion for horses and wanted to go deeper into the sport. We longed to bring more of these things into our lives but felt financially strained and conflicted. After all, there was still a mortgage to repay and a retirement fund to build!
It was on a winter vacation, briefly separated from the daily grind, that we began to ask a series of “why” questions:
- Why do we want this house we live in?
- Why do we want to live in the suburbs where we can’t go anywhere without a car?
- Why do we spend so much time involved in things we don’t enjoy?
- Why do we throw money into the things that don’t fulfill us while those things that do go unfunded?
- Why do we, two bright finance people, find it such a struggle to get our money under control?
- Why have we allowed ourselves to drift off course the way we have?
By the end of that vacation we resolved to make some changes. Over the next few months we did some self-coaching to clarify our values, craft a new vision and set new goals. Even before we made any changes, our emerging clarity had boosted our energy and brought us closer together.
So, the first step of our revitalization wasn’t a catastrophe it was an awakening. I’m going to stop here and throw out a little challenge. Nothing too difficult, just some questions and a request that you spend some time in reflection. First the questions:
- Are your personal finances adrift?
- How long have they been that way?
- What about the quality of your life? Are you doing the things you want to do?
- What are the places your money’s going that don’t (or no longer) provide fulfillment?
- If nothing changes, what’s the outlook?
As you ponder these questions about how things are now, reflect on what your “ideal scene” would look like. Consider:
- What new things would you be doing?
- What things would you stop doing?
- What new things would you have?
- What old things would you get rid of?
- Where would you be?
- Who would you be with?
- How would you feel?
There’s no risk, so don’t be afraid to let your imagination run!
In Part 2 of this post I’ll describe the changes we made to revitalize our finances and our lives.