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Personal Finance FAQ

Answering the Question Why About Your Money

In order to answer the question why, there will be hard work. Nothing in life which is worth achieving comes without a cost. Even after reading the articles on this website, you may still have struggles with money issues, but you will be empowered to attack them and confident in the course that you plot.

This article, though, deals with you, and does not focus as much on money. It’s important for you to be able to answer the question Why? in your life.

Step 1: The Outcomes in Life

There is a gap between where you are and where you want to be. The first step is to actually think about where you want to be in life and what is important to you. A lot of people can rattle off a top 3, usually “God, family, country” or something similar, but rarely do they stop, take the time, think about it, and really list out what’s important to them.

That’s what you’re going to do right now. If you have a spouse, you need to do this exercise with your spouse as well.

List out the top five priorities in your life, in rank order from 1 to 5. However, this isn’t just an exercise in nebulous priorities, like family or God. Instead, focus on results. For example, you could say “We want to tithe 10% to my religious institution” or “I want to spend at least 6 hours a week with my kids” or “We want to travel at least once a year to an international destination.” (by the way, when we do travel to international destinations, we always get trip insurance from World Nomads (#aff). It’s important that you put outcomes down, focusing on results, because doing so will give you measurable goals that you can later go back to and say whether or not you achieved them. Make them audacious, but make them realistic too.

Top 5 Outcomes
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.

This list will be your guide throughout your personal journey. It’s not set in stone. My top 5 outcomes ten years ago were different than my top 5 outcomes are now. It’s meant to change, to be flexible, and to be a living list. It’s also a cornerstone for how you live your life. If you’re not focusing your time, effort, energies, and money towards the outcomes and results which are important to you, then you’re going to be unhappy and unfulfilled. There will be a gap between what you want out of life and what you have out of life.

Why a Top 5 and not a Top 10? If you are asked to list too many items and you cannot come up with enough, you’ll start to think that either the exercise is dumb or that you’re not up to par because you can’t come up with enough items. In either case, we’ve defeated the purpose of the exercise. With that in mind, though, feel free to add more if you’re so inclined!

Step 2: Articulating Your Reasons

Having a list of the outcomes in life that you want to achieve is a great step in the right direction, and really thinking through the list might have been a difficult exercise. Some people never really take the time to truly contemplate where they want to go in life and what they want to achieve, and introspection can be taxing.

Now, you’re going to challenge yourself a little further. Understanding why you have listed the outcomes that you did and in the order that you did will help you to reflect on your values and your motivations in your life. It will give you a better awareness of what drives you and what truly makes you get up in the morning and go tackle the world.

For the next exercise, you will take the list of outcomes that you have previously developed and articulate the reason why each outcome is both a desired outcome and in the order that it is in. Really think about what each outcome truly means to you and how it affects how you’re living your life.

Outcome Why is This Important?
1.  
2.  
3.  
4.  
5.  

Some of the reasons probably rolled out of your mind faster than your fingers could type them down, and you probably had to really dig deep and think about some of the reasons. Once you went through the exercise of asking yourself why each of the outcomes was important, you may have even gone back and actually changed the order of the results list which you initially made. That’s OK. You’ll probably go back and change the order again and again. This is meant to be a living exercise, one that you occasionally come back to in order to see if you still have the same priorities. Over time, we all change, and we need to make sure that what we’re striving to achieve remains in line with what we want to be achieving.

Step 3: Identifying the Obstacles

As you’ve been listing out your desired results and why you wanted to achieve them, you probably realized that you actually are achieving some of the goals, and some of them you’ve yet to reach. It’s OK that you aren’t hitting all of your desired outcomes. That’s part of the reason why you are reading this website!

For the results that you haven’t achieved, you need to identify the reasons why you haven’t achieved those goals. Some of the reasons may be money related, and some of the reasons may be due to how you’ve allocated your efforts and energy in life. You may not have even realized that something was really that important to you until you started going through this exercise and now you have the ammunition you need to change!

Before we go into the next exercise, though, let’s look at how Toyota gets to the root cause of their problems. Toyota’s founder Sakichi Toyoda, when he saw a problem on the production floor, would halt production and start to ask why a problem was occurring. However, Toyoda wasn’t satisfied with just asking why once. He would ask why five times to get down to the root of the problem.

Here’s an example of the process, as described by Wikipedia:

The vehicle will not start. (the problem).

  1. Why?– The battery is dead. (first why)
  2. Why?– The alternator is not functioning. (second why)
  3. Why?– The alternator belt has broken. (third why)
  4. Why?– The alternator belt was well beyond its useful service life and not replaced. (fourth why)
  5. Why?– The vehicle was not maintained according to the recommended service schedule. (fifth why, a root cause)

Once you get to the root cause of a problem, you can start to address it and find solutions.

Now, let’s identify why you’re not getting the results you want in your life. Below, we’ll list out the desired outcomes and next to each desired outcome, if you’re not already achieving it in your life, ask Why? five times. Once you’ve answered the fifth Why?, then write that answer down.

Outcome If I Am Not Achieving This Outcome, Why?
1.  
2.  
3.  
4.  
5.  

 

Some of these we’ll be able to answer in the forthcoming articles. Some of them are beyond the scope of this website, but being at peace with yourself about money and how you are managing it should reduce your stress and free up your energies to deal with the other Whys in your life.

The next article in this series is Monkey Brain’s Common Weapons.

By Jason Hull, CFP®

Jason Hull, CFP®, was the co-founder of Broadtree Partners, a firm that acquires $1-5MM EBITDA companies. He also was the co-founder of open source search consultancy OpenSource Connections, a premier Solr and ElasticSearch firm. He and his wife FIREd (financial independence retire early) at 46 and 45, respectively. He has a BS from the United States Military Academy at West Point and a MBA from the University of Virginia Darden Graduate School of Business.

You can read more about him in the About Page.

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