After the recent discussion of stay at home parenting and the stellar response that it received, it became clear that the question about whether to be a stay at home parent wasn’t so much about money as it was about values.
In most situations, sound personal finance choices are in line with typical goals, such as buying a home or saving for retirement. However, many people are compelled to make long-term value-based choices that have negative long-term personal finance ramifications. I know we are, as we piece through whether or not it makes sense to have a stay-at-home parent.
This realization made me think deeply about what the purpose of The Simple Dollar is and the value of what I talk about on here. So often, this site takes the bottom dollar and makes it king above all else: what maximizes your pocketbook. The truth of the matter is that personal finance isn’t an end to itself, but merely a tool to help you achieve your dreams.
Like any tool, personal finance can be dangerous if you don’t wield it correctly; giving a person without a strong financial backbone a credit card is like giving a two year old a machete. However, in the hands of a mature person, personal finance is a precision instrument that can be used to turn an unfinished dream into a beautiful reality.
In other words, personal finance decisions should complement your dreams, not replace them or fight them. When you make a choice, personal finance management is a skill that can let you know how that choice will affect many of your other choices. Can I really afford this? isn’t merely a money question; it’s a question of how important is this thing to your overall life in comparison to other things.
In the past, I’ve spoken of a “switch” that goes on for people when they suddenly “get it” and start kicking their savings into gear and start eliminating debt. That switch has nothing to do with money; it is merely a switch from focusing on short term goals like a new sweater to focusing on longer-term goals like owning a nice home and retirement. At the core, it’s not a growth in personal finance skills, it’s a change in goals and values that lead to a person trying out new finance tactics.
Whenever you read a piece of advice on this site, take it in the context of what’s important to you. When I demonstrate a way to save ten dollars, ask yourself whether this is a tool you can use to achieve your dreams. When I talk about building an emergency fund or buying a mutual fund, ask yourself whether this matches up with your true values.
Remember always that “finance” is the second word in personal finance; the first word is “personal.” Let your own goals and values lead the way whenever you make a choice, and use personal finance as a tool to assist in those choices.