The Desire That Defines Your Direction

What do you want right now?

I’m not just talking about the big things or your goals in life. I’m talking about everything. What are your greatest desires right now?

It might be very short term. You might want to go to the restroom. You might be hungry or thirsty and want food or drink.

It might be something material. Maybe it’s a gadget that you want. Perhaps you want a new article of clothing.

It might be something personal. Perhaps you wish to spend some time with your girlfriend or your husband or your children. You might be looking forward to a particular event.

You might desire a professional improvement, such as better hours or something else like that.

It could be anything. We all have desires.

What’s interesting, though, is that those top desires really steer the choices and actions we take in our lives. Those top desires fill our thoughts. They guide our actions. They eventually lead us to fulfilling that desire in some fashion.

I see this over and over and over again in my life. If I’m really filled with desire to crank out some writing during a given workday, I can buckle down and produce a lot of first drafts. If my desire is elsewhere, though, then writing can be like pulling teeth and I realize I’m usually better off scratching that other itch, whatever it might be (today, it’s baking a pound cake for a friend who could use a lift, for one, as my reaction to a friend in need that I don’t know how to help is to bake).

So, what does this have to do with personal finance?

There was a time in my life where an awful lot of my desires revolved around spending money. I desired gadgets. I desired books. I desired DVDs. I desired video games. These desires would fill my thoughts. I’d read reviews. My mind would wander to them. Unsurprisingly, I’d eventually fulfill those desires, costing me money and sacrificing a bit of my future.

Why did I feel that way? There were a lot of reasons for it, of course, but I think the biggest part of it was that I had never really dug deep into who I was and what I wanted as a person. Because I’d never done that kind of self-exploration, I was easily swayed by the suggestions of others. I didn’t have roots in the ground, so the breeze blew me in all sorts of directions.

Part of going through my personal finance crisis was simply rethinking the things I wanted out of life. What was really important to me? I found, after a lot of reflection, that the things I valued most were either experiences shared with others or time spent learning something new.

Today, my desires usually revolve around those things, not material items. If I had to name the top things I want on the top of my head, it would be to bake something for a friend of mine, play a board game I already have with my wife and a few other friends, curl up somewhere and read a book, or practice on the piano.

Those are the things I want. Those are the things that fill my mind. None of them, save the ingredients from baking, cost any money at all.

I see the same issues with readers that I have. Often, I’ll see emails from readers who will say things along the lines of “I’m trying to get my finances in order, but I want stuff.”

It is very difficult to get your finances in order if your strongest desires directly cause you to spend significant amounts of money.

If you’re in that situation, personal finance advice won’t really help you. What will help is self-analysis and introspection.

What do you want out of life?
What moments in your life fill you with the most happiness?
Why do those moments fill you with happiness?
From what source do the things that you desire appear in your life? Who or what influences you? Is that an influence you really want?

These questions don’t have easy answers. However, the answers you find by following up on those questions might just lead you to a different set of desires, which in turn will lead you to the successes you’ve dreamed of in life.

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  1. Johanna says:

    The implication seems to be that enough self-analysis and introspection will always cause you to realize that what you *really* want are things that don’t cost any money. But what if it doesn’t? What if you think deeply about what brings you the most happiness, and the answer is still “stuff”? (Or other things that cost money, like travel, or eating at restaurants, or going to concerts?)

    I’m mostly playing devil’s advocate here, since I have fairly inexpensive tastes myself, and “don’t spend money on stuff you don’t want” has always been enough to keep me in a good financial place. But not everybody is me.

  2. Jamie says:

    Johanna: I agree that those wants can definitely be financial. For example, I like to leave the country with my boyfriend every year. This used to be a challenge, since we’d only start saving for the vacation about a month before we left (Whoops!).

    I also really like going out to eat with friends, so that’s where my money was going. Once I self-analyzed and had some introspection, I realized that I’d really prefer to go to Mexico with Boyfriend once a year than go out to restaurants with Friends a few times a week. Now I only go to restaurants a few times per month, and the money I save goes into a travel fund. We’ve already saved our goal amount for a trip we’re taking in November!

    I think Trent’s main point (that is not spelled out very clearly) is that the act of spending money is not that fun in and of itself– it’s what you get with the money, and the joy that you get from what you’ve bought. I can’t get the same joy of traveling to foreign countries without spending money, but I can get the same joy of having dinner at restaurants with my friends without actually going out to an expensive meal.

  3. Pat S says:

    Too true… money won’t fill the void, neither will shopping.

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