I am a firm believer, from my own experience, that after committing to spend less than you earn, the most important thing that you can do for your finances is to truly understand what is important to you and what makes you happy. I know that at first glance this doesn’t seem like it has anything to do with finances, but I found that before I figured out what was important to me and what made me happy, I spent a lot of money on things trying to achieve these goals without knowing what they really were. Instead, I assumed that what would make me happy were the things that seemed to make other people happy (there is a reason that commercials have a lot of happy people in them).
Everyone is different and what makes one person happy won’t necessarily make another person happy. I found it difficult to accept what made me happy at first (even though it should have been obvious to me long before I did actually accept and act upon it) because it wasn’t what society was telling me was supposed to be making me happy. My financial situation began to really improve when I accepted that experiences (particularly travel) made me far happier than things did.
Once I had this fact clearly in my head, the way I approached finances completely changed. There were a lot of things that I had in my life that I didn’t want to give up because I thought that they were things that would make me happy (that societal force again) which were in reality were an image rather than what I truly wanted. When I needed to stay within a budget, this often meant that I felt I had to give up one thing over another when both seemed equally as important to me. Once I clearly knew what made me happy, the focus went from “what do I have to give up” to “what do I have to do to ensure what makes me happy happen.”
I still have to make financial sacrifices to achieve many of the goals I want, but I am more than happy to make them because the reason I am making them is to do something that I am sure will make me happier in the long run. To meet the goal of traveling 2 weeks every month in 2011, I have decided to give up many things that I believe most people view as “essential” these days. Not having them certainly makes things less convenient at times and forces me to be creative at other times, but it also means that I can do the things which I enjoy doing the most. I consider that a pretty good trade-off.
Friends and family see that I travel a lot and are often jealous that I am able to do as much as I do. What they don’t see or consider are the financial decisions I make to enable me to do so. That is what I will be writing about this year — those decisions and the consequences that result from them. I already know that some of you are going to think I am a bit crazy (don’t worry, I already have plenty of people that think of me that way), some of the decisions I make will definitely not be the ones you would have made (and that is OK because we are different and I assume what makes us happy is different) and I will make a number of mistakes along the way (I always do). What I hope is that from my financial decision making process you are able to develop your own that works for you and your financial situation.
Do you know what is important to you and what makes you happy? I mean, do you really know? It is a difficult question that can create a lot of anxiety. I know because it sure did when I was coming to terms with what made me happy. If you do, I’d love to hear what it is in the comments and how/when you found what it was. If you still aren’t sure, I truly hope that this series will help you to think a lot more about what does and what you need to do to make it happen.