I Should vs. I Need To

What do you need money for?  What would you do with a million dollars?  What stresses you out about money, personal finance, and life in general?

Getting started with Personal Finance seems intimidating.  Managing a budget, saving for a house or retirement, investing, taxes, bank accounts – it can all get pretty overwhelming.  And it is, especially if you have the mindset that you have to start.

Starting is hard.  That’s why we make New Year’s Resolutions, because it’s still satisfying to say you’re going to make a change in the future even if you don’t do it today.  Picking a date and a goal feels like an accomplishment, like you’re already making progress.

The problem with thinking of change this way is that we tend to gloss over the reasons we want to make a change in the first place.  Saying you want to start exercising because you want to get healthier sounds like a reason, but it’s actually such a flimsy reason that you’ll more than likely give up.  On the other hand, if you want to start exercising because your parents died early from preventable health issues and you’ve recently had kids of your own, you’re probably going to stick to that change.

Personal Finance is similar in that the typical changes you’ll make, like saving for retirement or paying off debt or using a budget, happen because people decide it’s the “grown up thing to do”, or they just want to get better at managing their money.

While these might seem like good reasons off the top, like our exercise example they don’t run deep enough to warrant long term, meaningful change.  And when it comes to money, doing what most other adults are doing is likely more harmful than helpful!

The questions at the top are meant to find that real reason you’re here.  For me, I’ve learned that doing things like paying off debt and saving money makes me feel more in control today.  It also makes me optimistic about the future, because once I’ve paid off my debt and have enough money saved I can be more picky about my job and how I’ll spend my time.  I’ll have more choices.

I don’t do these things because I should, but because I need to.  I need to remove the stress of student loans hanging over my head.  I need to feel like I have the freedom to pick a job for reasons other than money.  I need to feel like my desire to live a productive, meaningful life is more important than material possessions.

Before you go jumping into anything, ask yourself what you need.  It doesn’t even have to be related to money.  If you know what your goals, desires, ambitions and fears are you can make whatever changes you want and be confident that you’re making them because you need to, not because you should.

There’s one more thing, and I hope it makes you relax a little about all of this.

You’re already managing your money.  You’re not starting from scratch.

You already have a bank account, spending patterns, loans, savings, bills, etc.  Maybe you’ve already made changes like saving more money or making higher payments on debt, or you’re thinking about things like a house or retirement.

You’re not starting a workout regimen from scratch.  You’re not going to go out and run two miles tomorrow after being a couch potato for the last few years.  You’ve already started.

You just want to make a few changes.

The way you’re going to figure out what those changes need to be and successfully implement them is not asking yourself why you should, but why you need to.  When you ask yourself these questions, if you answer “because I should”, you haven’t gone deep enough.  Your changes aren’t going to be effective.

Once you reach the need, the rest is just patience.  Remember, need is going to create lasting change – should is going to burn out.  You know that something is going to work because you have clear motivations, and that you’ve accidentally already started – you’re already running.  You’re just making a few changes in the way you run.

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