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Personal Finance FAQ

Stop Rationalizing!

Your ability to rationalize your own bad deeds makes you believe that the whole world is as amoral as you are.
–Doug Coupland

How many times do we use the word “need” when describing something that we have done rather than using the word “want,” which is what we need to do? Get a pay raise, and suddenly you need that convertible which you have managed to, up until this point, live your entire life without.

Most commonly, rationalization is couched in terms which make the actual action seem reasonable. Think about going to the mall and seeing something on sale. You don’t need that jacket/electric chainsaw/72” HD TV; however, it was ON SALE! Monkey Brain makes you shake and quiver with the intensity of the impact of this sale. IT’S ON SALE Monkey Brain bellows, YOU NEED IT! 15 minutes and one very happy sales rep later, you are walking out of the store buoyed yet burdened. Driving down the road, you start to get second thoughts, and then you find yourself seated deeply in buyer’s remorse. At this point, you could turn the car around, go back, burst the bubble of the still ecstatic sales rep, and return the item.

But, you don’t. Instead, you start to think of the justifications of making that purchase. You come up with explanations. The 70” HD TV wasn’t big enough; you NEEDED 72”. Nobody wants you to be blind when you get older, do they? The language of the justifications and rationalizations turn more and more towards needs rather than wants, even though they were wants in the first place.

By no means do I expect you to live on the bottom rung of Maslow’s hierarchy. You work hard so that you can have security in your future and a good standard of living. However, don’t let impulses lead to rationalizations and lead you astray from your plans. Spending money to increase your current standard of living is fine as long as you’re doing it with intentionality. With a well thought out plan, you can look for those great sales and buying opportunities and know that it’s all part of your grand strategy. You can look people in the eye and proudly say that you made the purchase because you WANTED it…and, naturally, you paid cash for it!

By

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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