Updated on 10.29.07

The Eternal Question: Am I Doing The Right Thing?

Trent Hamm

About four or five times a week, a reader will send me a very extensive explanation of what they’re doing financially and simply ask me if I think it’s okay – and virtually every time, it’s just fine. Even though some of the themes are repetitious, I actually quite like these emails, as it shows there are a lot of people out there making good, strong financial choices.

What I find interesting is what all these emails have in common: a general sense of “I think I’m doing this right, but I’m not sure.” I have this same exact feeling as well, quite often, when it comes to my financial planning.

Why is this sense of unease so universal? If I feel it and a fair number of my readers feel it, there must be something to it. I think there is a pretty deep fundamental concern for “getting it right” among people who are getting their financial house in order.

For me, I made some big financial miscues earlier in my life. These miscues taught me one key thing: I certainly don’t have all the answers when it comes to money, and because of that, I’m often concerned I’m not following the right path.

However, there are at least three big factors that make me feel better about this.

First, no one has all the answers when it comes to money. There are a lot of financial gurus out there, as well as some great financial role models. Guess what? None of them have all the answers. The best thing you can do is learn, synthesize, and figure out what’s right for you.

Second, there’s only one absolute truth in all of the information. Spend less than you earn. Everything else from personal finance stems from that. Frugality? That’s all about spending less. Career building and entrepreneurship? Earning more. Investing? Earning more (and a bit of spending less, too). If you constantly use that rule of thumb as your guide, you’ll do just fine.

Finally, we’re not alone in this struggle. I often look at others and think, “They really have their head on straight.” Meanwhile, others look at me and think the same thing. What does that all add up to? We’re all in this together, making little mistakes, but largely following a strong financial path.

If you’re sitting there worried about your financial plan, you really only need to ask yourself a few things. Are you spending less than you earn? Are you actively looking for ways to spend less and earn more, and practicing some of them? Are you protecting yourself against a big increase in spending or a big drop in earnings in the future? If you’re doing these things, rest assured – you’re in pretty good shape.

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  1. wealthy_1 says:

    Great post! I worry all the time. I think you’re right. We often look at others thinking they have it all together.

    I’m going to post those questions in a prominent place in my home as a reminder when I’m feeling unsure.

  2. whatwuzIthinking says:

    I think we also like someone else to look at what we are doing, as they may see something that we don’t. It’s like proof-reading and important document – you want someone else to check for stupid spelling mistakes.

    I will often show my plans to my Mom for a second opinion. Sometimes she sees things that I don’t because I am too close to the situation, and/or too tired from going over it over and over and over… I think that’s also why so many people contact you – you are neutral and can see it with ‘fresh eyes’.

  3. Tyler says:

    What good is The Simple Dollar now? You just gave your readership away since these are the answers to it all. Just kidding! Great article.

  4. Toxic says:

    I also made some BIG financial miscues in my life. I am not proud of them, but they have made me open my eyes and realize that I cannot live like that forever. My husband and I are battling debt for almost five months now, and it feels great to know that we’re not alone in this. We have learned A LOT in these five months, and we’re eager to learn more and be financially more responsible.

    Your blog is a true inspiration, and I will add you to my blog as soon as I find out how :)

    Thanks for sharing your experiences with us and letting us learn along the way!

  5. rstlne says:

    I think it’s good to have doubt. There is more than one way to manage your financial affairs and what works now may not work as well in the future. Keep checking your assumptions. That’s the way to ensure that your financial plan remains sound.

  6. debtdieter says:

    I one of those ‘am I doing the right thing?’ people too.

    The question that’s running through my mind at the moment is when do I save for a home of my own? Post debt payaff obviously, but before or after fully funding my emergency account, before or after fully funding my superannuation (retirement)accounts?

    There always seems to be an assumtpion in the PF world that ou already have a mortgage, but I don’t?

    I do smile though as I’m 3 years from my debt payoff, but I’m already worrying! :-)

  7. Chris says:

    The reason I think most people are unsure of what they are doing even though it’s good is a combination of 1) you are you own worst critic, and 2) you can not see the forest for the trees. I know in my life, I often times need someone from the outside to look at my situation and offer some unbiased insight.

  8. 60 in 3 - Fitness and Health says:

    It’s odd, but the people who are most concerned about doing the right thing are the ones usually on the best course. I run a little fitness blog and I get similar emails from readers asking me about health, exercise and such. The odd thing is that they all have the lives in good order. They’re in shape and doing the right things. It’s the one who don’t send in questions that I worry about.

    Essentially, once you get to the point of reading these blogs, you’re already on the right track. You know you’re doing something wrong and you want to improve it. That’s the most important step right there. Everything else is just fine tuning your strategy.


  9. 144mph says:

    The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt. – Bertrand Russell

  10. Peter says:

    The first thing to do is ‘something.’ So many people get frozen by inaction wondering if they are doing the ‘best’ thing possible. The key is to start with ‘anything’ and then work from there. You’ll get the hang of it in no time and then you’ll start tweaking your plan to what is best for you.

  11. Katy says:

    Spend less than you earn – to that end, my husband and I are doing a 2-week experiment, trying not to spend ANY money beyond regular bills. As our decision to try this out was spontaneous, we have also pre-approved spending on toilet paper if needed! For us, it’s just a reminder of how to live within our means. I’m happy to have anyone check out our two weeks – we’re only on Day 2 (Nov 4).

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