Everything in life… has to have balance.
Whether it’s the bike you’re riding, the ice cream you’re planning to eat, or the money you’re saving for later – you need balance.
And that’s true even for good things. It’s been said that too much of a good thing is actually a bad thing.
Dieting can help you lose the extra pounds you gained after that big family dinner. But taken to extremes, it can lead to serious eating disorders.
Exercise is important for staying healthy. But let it become an obsession and it can rob time and effort from more important aspects of your life.
Even certain life-saving medications, when not balanced properly, can become poison.
And of course, ice-cream. A few scoops are ok, but eat too much and you’ll end up needing diet, exercise, and maybe even some medications (all properly balanced, of course).
Money is no different.
Elizabeth Warren said it nicely - “Balancing your money is the key to always having enough.”
So to properly manage your money, always have what you need, and not go crazy in the process, here are 4 of the most important factors we encourage you to balance correctly.
The Future vs. The Now
Obsession vs. Ignorance
Pinching Pennies vs. Splurges
Spending on Yourself vs. Spending on Others
Let’s start with the first one.
*And don’t forget to check out the rest of this series “The Meaning of Money” with real money principles for real people like you.
The Future vs. The Now
Should I live in the present and travel the world without thinking about tomorrow?
Work like crazy so I can retire at 40?
The proper balance lies somewhere in the middle. Let’s look at the dangers of going to extremes with either of those ideas.
The Future - The FIRE Movement
The goal of the FIRE or “Financial Independence, Retire Early” movement is to...
Save and invest aggressively while you’re young
Live an extremely frugal lifestyle
Retire in your 30s or 40s
Continue to live an extremely frugal lifestyle while only having to work as much as you want to
The ability to retire in your 30s or 40s can be really alluring. Instead of retiring when you’re almost 70 and already dealing with the effects of old age or sickness, you get to enjoy several decades of retirement while you’re likely still young and full of energy.
Sounds like a winning plan, right?
Remember, balance is needed.
If you get swept along by the idea of retiring early with a hefty nest egg, it’s really easy to focus too much on the future and not enough on the now.
In order to save enough to retire in their 30s and 40s, many people end up working crazy schedules and dealing with added stress from managing multiple careers, businesses, and side-hustles.
Is it really worth it? Is it really worth it to..
Spend your healthiest years full of anxiety and obsessing over money?
Miss out on your child’s formative years?
Neglect your own wellbeing and possibly end up suffering from serious health problems early on in life?
While avidly preparing like this for the second half of your life, it’s easy to miss out on some of the most important parts of your entire life.
The FIRE movement in its modern form is relatively new, so we’ll have to wait and see more about the psychological toll it takes on people.
-Will they regret the opportunities missed in their 20s and 30s?
-How will their family dynamics be different than those of a traditional family?
-Will they wish they’d spent more time with their kids?
Is it even healthy to be retired for 50+ years? Some research suggests that retiring early and not staying mentally and physically active can contribute to cognitive decline.
If you rest, you rust.
So to find the balance, remember…
Your life doesn’t just start after you retire. You have a life now. Find the balance and enjoy it.
But not too much, remember – BALANCE. Don’t fall for the other extreme.
Carpe Diem - Live for the Now
At the other end of the spectrum is the “live for the now” crowd.
-Special deal on tickets to Iceland? Let’s do it!
-Rent an exotic car for the weekend? Why not?
-Retirement savings? We’ll worry about that later.
Sure, it’s fun in the moment. But spending impulsively without any regard to the future leads to big credit card spending, big loans, and big problems down the road.
It’s a few moments of freedom for years of enslavement to mountains of debt.
But it can be hard to see past the desire of the moment. It can be hard to identify with our future selves, to stop and think – “What would my future self want me to do right now?”
Sadly, this trend of thinking only about the now seems to be the popular one.
Statistics show that Americans in general are not prepared for the future. Most have no retirement savings, no emergency account, and loads of debt. More and more live paycheck to paycheck with “no light at the end of the tunnel”.
“But I’m young and don’t plan on retiring for another 40 years.”
Even if you’re young and don’t plan to retire early, you still need to be ready for the future.
Even the near future can bring unexpected events that force you into a form of “early retirement”.
That’s exactly what we saw during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Industries were disrupted, businesses tanked, nations’ economies were rocked, and many had no choice but to force early retirement. Even unexpected health struggles can force early retirement.
Huge, unexpected changes to the economy hit hard for everyone. But they hit especially hard for those who are used to “living large” – spending their entire paycheck unnecessarily, trusting that next week there’ll be another.
Then, when suddenly next week’s paycheck doesn’t come and you have literally nothing to fall back on, you’re shocked into admitting that you should’ve been more balanced.
So how can you strike the proper balance between the future and the now?
The Future vs. The Now Balance
First, remember what’s most important.
-Your peace of mind.
You never truly know how long some of those things will last.
So make financial decisions that’ll let you enjoy them to the fullest both now AND in the future.
You don’t necessarily have to choose one or the other. Find the balance and you can enjoy both.
Go on reasonable family vacations.
Buy a safe car.
Go out to eat with friends.
Work hard, but make sure you have time for your family.
You know those first years with your spouse before the kids come along?
You know that moment when your kid is showing you the picture they drew on their first day of 2nd grade?
You know that magical age where your kids actually want to do stuff with you (before they’re too busy with video games and their latest crush at school)?
Once you miss it, you can’t get it back.
To find the balance now and make decisions that will let both your present and future self live, enjoy, and participate in life to its fullest.
Money doesn’t have to rule your life.
Don’t make the ironic mistake of the FIRE movement by sacrificing freedom during the prime of your life to work for the uncertain freedom of early retirement.
Find the balance.
Live for the now without forgetting to live for the future.
Let’s move on to the second factor you should learn to balance correctly.
Obsession vs. Ignorance
Should I be checking my portfolio every day?
Save what I can and hope for the best?
Where’s the balance? Let’s see.
We all have that friend who is obsessed with money.
They’re obsessed but don’t really know that much about managing it and don’t really have that much of it
They’re just the one who’s always thinking about it, always talking about how much they’ve earned, how much they’ve lost, what they’ve bought, and their next big idea to strike it rich.
And they’re also always the one who is never satisfied.
Obsessing about money doesn’t lead to happiness. Obsessing about money doesn’t necessarily lead to more of it. In fact, it can have quite the opposite effect. Why?
Here’s one reason...
One of the most powerful ways to build wealth is through compounding interest and returns. That requires patience – a lot of it!
Charlie Munger said – “The first rule of compounding is to never interrupt it unnecessarily.”
However, obsession leads to impatience. Impatience leads to interrupting the compounding process with excessive trading and always moving your money around.
Obsessing about money makes it really hard to take full advantage of powerful compounding interest and returns while making it impossible to focus on more important things.
So, stop obsessing.
We also all have that other friend – the one who irritates the “obsessor”. This friend has no clue about money. They don’t know what their monthly budget is or how much they’ve charged to their credit card lately.
They even have a t-shirt that says “Ignorance is Bliss”.
Ignorance isn’t bliss. Ignorance is just ignorance.
Ignorance about basic money matters is not a balanced way to live. In fact, it just creates a vicious cycle that just leads to more extremes.
You don’t have a lot financially so you figure, why bother with it anyway?
This leads to poor financial decisions
Now you’re even worse off financially
Which then makes it more painful to do something about it
As the cycle keeps going, you end up digging yourself a hole that’s harder and harder to get out of.
So where’s the balance?
The Obsession vs. Ignorance Balance
Want to strike the right balance between obsession and ignorance? Ask yourself these questions…
How often do I check my account balances?
How often do I think about money?
Do I know within roughly 10%:
what’s in my bank account?
my investment values?
What are my financial goals?
Try to find balanced answers to these questions.
While it’s important to not be completely ignorant regarding your finances, there’s no need to have to check your account balances every day.
Just make a reasonable effort to pay attention to your finances, educate yourself about investment best practices, and understand what you need to do to reduce or eliminate your debt.
*Be sure to check out the rest of the articles in our series “The Meaning of Money” for more tips on staying on top of your finances without obsessing over them.
Let’s continue with the last two factors that will help you stay balanced with your money.
Pinching Pennies vs. Splurges
Watch families order fast food and it’s easy to pick out the penny pinchers and the splurgers.
We have the splurgers - the family ordering supersized meals for everyone with toys, extra ice cream, and those little apple pies.
And we have the penny pinchers - the family that orders everyone a $1.15 hamburger with 50%-off coupons, ice water, and then grabs a bunch of ketchup packets on the way out to replenish the stash at home.
So where’s the balance?
Being ultra-frugal is sometimes necessary for a time. But eventually, at the right time, a smart splurge is a good idea.
Notice the keywords… “smart” and “the right time”.
“We just paid off our credit card debt! Let’s go buy a new sports car!”
–Not smart. Not the right time.
But after a period of struggle or years of saving, a celebratory splurge is well-deserved and appreciated. Plus, you’ll enjoy a splurge more when you’ve planned well and know it won’t cause you more financial trouble in the future.
Some of the smartest splurges are ones that enrich you as a family. Think “experiences” not “stuff”. (Don’t miss a future article about this.)
Stuff loses its value and goes out of style. (Remember that $600 foosball table collecting dust in your basement?)
But experiences like a big family vacation, a trip to Disney, or a cruise with the grandchildren provide lasting memories you’ll cherish even more as time goes on.
But a word of caution… Experiences work great as splurges, as long as they’re “smart” and “at the right time” (just like any splurge).
It can be easy to lose your balance and let that one-time trip to Disney become a regular event. And when one-time splurges become recurring events, it’s likely to create a ticking timebomb that could eventually disrupt your future plans.
So work hard and save money, but don’t forget to plan a splurge from time to time.
Spending on Yourself vs. Spending on Others
Should you be the one everybody calls “stingy”, just to meet your financial goals?
Insist on always paying the entire dinner bill for your friends?
Being generous can be one of the best ways to use your money. (More about that coming soon in future articles!)
But does that mean I’m selfish if I spend a little on myself?
Where’s the balance?
Spending on Yourself
Rewarding yourself with a treat or a splurge from time to time can reinforce good habits and provide motivation to keep working hard.
Maybe it’s a new bike you’ve had your eye on?
A second monitor to help you feel more productive at work?
Or a bag of your favorite gourmet coffee?
It doesn’t have to be big or expensive – just a little something to show yourself some appreciation, a pat on the back to say “attaboy!”, or a reward for reaching a goal.
Just be careful not to lose your balance, like a lot do.
Just look around you. People who spend too much money on themselves outnumber the ones who spend too little.
And while you may experience momentary feelings of happiness when you buy yourself something new, spending too much money on yourself can actually lead to unhappiness and a lack of balance in other areas.
Your self-worth ends up becoming all tangled up in the frivolous things you’re buying for yourself. Then, when something unexpected happens and you have to lower your budget, your feelings of self-worth take a hit as well.
So if you’re going to spend money on yourself, spend it on something that truly helps enrich your life. Get something that’s an “investment” in your long-term happiness.
Always wanted to learn a new skill? Buy yourself a course!
Feeling stressed? Get a massage!
Need to get out more and enjoy nature? Get yourself a decent mountain bike!
Want to connect more with family and friends? Plan a vacation!
While rewarding yourself from time to time is a good idea, to stay balanced, you can’t forget about others.
Spending on Others
So how do you know if you’re being generous enough?
Think… Do I have enough money to help out others? Do I have enough to regularly give modest gifts, donate to a charity, and spend on my loved ones?
If the answer is no, think for a moment... How much have I spent on myself lately (frivolous things, not basic necessities)?
Remember, there are about 8 billion people on this planet.
So if we’re spending more on 1 person (ourselves), than on at least a few of the 8 billion other people around us, we’re probably too obsessed with ourselves.
A good generosity benchmark to shoot for is the Bible’s tithe rule. As Christians, we believe that at least 10% should be given back to God.
So to maintain a healthy balance between spending on yourself and others, we suggest spending a MINIMUM of 10% from what you earn on others. If you do more, that’s even better!
Researchers have noted that generosity is contagious. In fact, even just reading about acts of kindness makes people more generous.
So when we make it a practice to give to others, it creates a sort of ripple effect that can influence dozens or even hundreds of people in our network – a ripple effect that creates stronger families, happier communities, and a better world in which to live.
There truly is “more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.”
A Happy Life Is a Balanced Life
“Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance and order and rhythm and harmony”
– Thomas Merton
So when you’re riding a bike, eating ice cream, and especially when it comes to your money
– find the balance.
Enjoy the now while planning for the future.
Understand your finances without obsessing.
Spend wisely so you can splurge at the right time.
And enjoy the true happiness that comes from giving.
*Don’t miss the rest of the articles in this series “The Meaning of Money” with real money principles for real people like you.