Not too long ago, I was having a conversation with an old friend about life, the universe, and everything. We talked about career choices, our recent and upcoming travels, our families, and many other topics.
At one point, when the conversation briefly touched on money issues, I made an offhand comment about how my hope was that I could stop working at about age 45 as I hope to have enough money in the bank by then so that I no longer have to work for money if I don’t want to.
After about 10 seconds of silence, he dropped that little bombshell that makes up the title of this article.
“You shouldn’t go through life worrying about money. It’s not healthy.”
And we moved on to other topics.
Not surprisingly, that little statement stuck in the back of my mind. Worrying about money? Really?
I worry about money right now less than I ever have in my entire life.
The time in my life when I genuinely worried the most about money was in 2006, when I was practically drowning in debt. I was almost ill with stress at times. As I mentioned before, I stayed up at nights stressing out about money. Sarah and I constantly got into strenuous discussions and arguments about money.
As we started to take control of our finances, our worry started to melt away. We got rid of debts and I started The Simple Dollar and, eventually, we bought a house.
We thought more about money, but we worried a lot less about it.
Right now, we have no debts. If either one of us became dissatisfied with our work, either one of us could change career paths or go back to school without any real stress. I’m completely confident that there is almost no scenario in which my children would have to go without anything that they might need or want.
What is there to worry about regarding money right now?
Of course, one could simply say that when my friend was talking about “worrying about money,” he was simply referring to “thinking about money.”
Well, here’s another shocker: Aside from my professional needs regarding The Simple Dollar, I think less about money than I ever have in my adult life.
My investment strategy is on autopilot. I almost never think about it.
My buying habits are well under control. I almost never even think about wasteful purchases. I just walk on by 99% of the stuff I would have considered buying just a few years ago.
I don’t have to wonder about whether we have money when there’s an important and urgent expense. I just pay for it and fix up any problems later on.
I just don’t think about money very much. I don’t need to.
Of course, one could simply say that when my friend was talking about “worrying about money,” he was simply referring to “having fun by spending money.”
Again, that doesn’t make any sense. I pretty much do everything I actually want to do in life.
To me, a truly happy day is one where I do something fun with my children and have an hour or two just to hang out with my wife. It might involve doing something with my friends, but what exactly we do isn’t really important – I actually enjoy dinner parties and game nights. I enjoy curling up with a good book – I don’t have to own it, a library book is fine. I enjoy playing one of the board games we have on our shelves. I like making stuff, especially food items. I like wandering around state parks and hiking on trails. I’m in a few community groups and I like doing activities with those groups.
Those elements, in some combination, make for a pretty good day for me. Almost none of those things require me to spend much money at all.
What about “special treats”? If there’s a special treat that I want, I buy it. The thing is, I really don’t want many “special treats.” I’m pretty happy with what I have and don’t really want more.
In the end, the only way that this question makes sense is if I assume that my friend simply has the wrong idea about personal finance success. He must believe that having a personal finance plan is worrying and miserable in some fashion.
The thing is, I think I know what he’s talking about.
Let’s roll the clock back to where I was back in, say, 2005. During that period before I hit financial bottom but while I was making a lot of spending mistakes, I did worry a little about money. In fact, I wrote an article about that very thing, entitled “September 23, 2005.” I highly encourage you to give it a read.
At that time, I didn’t really think too much about money as I was spending it. I wanted stuff, I spent money on it, I moved on with life. Sometimes, though, I would step back and look at my overall financial state and it would really worry me. I couldn’t see a path from where I was at to where I wanted to be.
However, I was keeping my head above water – kind of – so I’d usually try to step away from those worries. Those kinds of worries were the “before bed” worries, the kinds of things I would find myself thinking about as I went to sleep. They’d keep me up a little bit.
The bigger worry, though, was when unexpected events would come up and cause us financial trouble. If we needed a car repair or needed to pay a tax bill or something, we usually didn’t have enough money to just pay for it.
So, our lives had financial worry, but not a whole lot of financial worry.
The real worry didn’t kick in until we hit our financial bottom and began to really reassess our financial state. That was the truly worrying time.
I stayed up late reading personal finance books and looking at our financial state. Sarah and I talked about all kinds of solutions. We constantly looked for ways to spend less money and ways to come up with money to pay our bills.
Thinking about our finances in the disastrous shape they were in was a very painful thing, and it ate up a lot of our time. It was absolutely very worrisome and stressful and it probably wasn’t too good for our health at the time.
Eventually, though, we crossed that wave of worry. We started paying off some bills, and some good choices started to become automatic things. Our thoughts about personal finance ceased to be purely full of worry and slowly became more optimistic.
As time went on, most of the worry went out of our personal finance thinking. At the same time, we spent less overall time thinking about our finances.
In fact, it soon reached a point where we worried about personal finance far less than we did before we reached bottom.
So, our worry followed something of a curve. Before our financial meltdown, our worry was at a medium level. During the start of our financial turnaround, our worry peaked at a high level. After that turnaround took hold, our worry eventually went down to a very low level.
Thus, if I step back to where I was at before our meltdown and I look at someone who went up that mountain of trying to turn their finances around… I see worry. Lots of it. And I’d be right.
But that worry passes. Once you start getting your finances in good shape, the worry about money melts away. At the same time, so does your worry about your career. You fight less with your spouse, so your worries about your marriage melt away, too.
So, let’s go back to that conversation with my friend. When I hear him make that statement, what I realize is that my friend is on the other side of Worry Mountain from me. When he looks down the path to financial independence, he sees that giant mountain of worry ahead of him. It doesn’t seem pleasant – and he’s right, it isn’t.
But what he doesn’t see is the other side of the mountain. On the other side of that mountain, the worry drops off and it goes even lower than it was before. That’s where I’m at now.
So, what’s my advice to my friend? “Sure, finances are worrisome for a while as you’re getting things in order, but after that, it’s almost worry free. I managed to make it to the other side of that mountain, thank goodness, and I don’t really worry about it any more. The path getting here had a lot of worry involved, but when you get past it? Things are great.”
That’s my advice to you, too. It might seem like fixing your finances is full of worry and stress and difficulty. It is, at first, but once you start figuring things out, all of that worry starts to melt away rather quickly.