The real importance of good personal finance

A solid personal finance foundation will help you reach your goals and prioritize your life.

Cheryl Ravelo/Reuters/File
Making a goal of good personal finance will help you achieve other dreams, Hamm argues.

Whenever I spend time thinking about my life, I get caught up in a lot of ideals. I think about writing a great novel. I think about some volunteer projects I’d like to work on. I think about the house I’d like to build and the great travel I’d love to do in the next ten or fifteen years. I think about my own physical fitness and I think about riding in RAGBRAI.

These are wonderful dreams. I enjoy taking little steps toward them because, honestly, I usually enjoy the process.

Yet, when I step back and look at the broader scope of my life, that’s not what’s really important to me.

First and foremost, my family (and I consider my closest friends a part of that) is the single most important thing in my life. Bar none. Secondary to that is learning new things and, hand in hand with that, sharing what I’ve learned.

Almost every other interest and passion I have in my life is secondary to those things.

I’ll give you some examples to illustrate what I mean. Anyone who has read the site for very long knows that one of my favorite pastimes is playing board games and card games. I love playing games with other people across the table from me.

Yet, when I dig deep into it, it’s not really about the games. I do enjoy them, don’t get me wrong, but what I love about them is that it gets people I care about around a table engaging in a shared experience.

If you asked me what my favorite memories of board gaming are, they revolve around people. I think of playing Old Maid with my children. I think of playing Risk Legacy with my wife and three of my closest friends in the world. I think of sitting in my friend John’s living room, playing Descent with him and another of my closest friends.

Another great example comes from reading. If a friend or family member really enjoys a book, I’ll almost always give it a read. Why? Beyond merely being a good book, it becomes a shared experience with that person.

So let’s bring this home: what does this have to do with personal finance?

Personal finance is all about goals. If you’re not selecting a goal – whether it be freedom from debt, saving for an abundant retirement at age 70, or something else entirely – you’re either already incredibly rich (and you probably got there due to goals) or you’re spinning your wheels. Progressing toward a better and more secure financial state is something that pretty much every reader of The Simple Dollar shares.

However, goals are useless if you don’t feel completely motivated to move forward with them. You might desire a change in your life, but unless you’ve reached a point where that change feels vital to your future existence, it’s not going to happen. If you’re not getting out of bed with the feeling that today you’re going to move toward that goal, you’re probably not going to move toward that goal.

So, what is it that’s truly important to you? There is no right or wrong answer. It’s a matter of simply figuring out what’s truly important to you.

Here’s an example. I have a friend who dreams of being a sports announcer. He talks about it a fair amount. However, he also has a wife and a child at home. Recently, he told me that he thinks his sports announcing dreams are going to go on hold for a while. I asked him why, and he told me that chasing that dream requires a level of time and commitment that he can’t give to it right now. He had realized that his family was more important to him and he was sticking with the things that motivated him deeply every single day.

Does that mean that he’s abandoning the dream? Not entirely. Instead, he’s finding new ways to channel that passion that’s more in line with the rest of his family. He’s gotten involved with youth sports, assisting with the production of videos and other materials for other parents. This allows him to follow his passion while also being involved with his children. In fact, he’s starting a small video production company as a side business, where he creates professional videos highlighting a team and sells them for a reasonable fee. Several youth sports leagues are going to partner with him, so all he has to do is hire a few people to film the games, then edit them at home. He can film his own child’s games himself and involve the family in the production process at home.

Spending time with his family is the most important thing to him. Because of this activity, he’s spending time with them, earning some money on the side, and showing his children an entrepreneurial spirit along the way.

I can tell a very similar story about The Simple Dollar. My motivation to change my financial habits came from my oldest son. My motivation to write about it was many-fold: I enjoyed writing (value #2), I wanted to share some ideas with my friends and family (value #1), and I hoped to earn some money on the side to make our financial journey better (value #1), plus I would be able to involve my wife and my children in the process (value #1).

My dreams of making a living from writing didn’t start happening until I oriented them around what truly mattered to me. The same thing is true of my sports announcing friend.

So, what’s important to you? I think the easiest way to identify those core things that are important to you is to evaluate what you actually do over a long period of time. I’d focus on activities outside of the workplace, because we all need to earn a living, unless you’re already doing a job that’s key to what you value.

What do you spend your spare time on? I spend mine with my family and close friends as much as I can, and when I’m alone, I read and learn things. I bridge the two by finding ways to express what I’ve learned. This is what I enjoy doing.

My personal finance success came entirely from those things. My family inspired me to make changes with my money. My desire to read and learn educated me on how to do it. My desire to share what I learned launched The Simple Dollar.

You can follow a similar path with what you value the most. The key thing is to always remember that, no matter what your goals are, a solid personal finance foundation makes it all much, much easier to achieve.

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Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

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