As my grandfather walked the sunny streets of a war-torn France during World War II with his best friend, a gun shot suddenly rang out.
A few then men yelled what many had already realized, “Sniper!“
After reaching cover, my grandfather looked around to locate his friend. Only then would he realize, that his best friend lay dead on the ground after being struck by the sniper’s bullet.
A coin flip’s chance and I wouldn’t be here. The sniper picked the other guy, instead of my grandfather. From a young age, I was taught the lesson that life is too short.
Working in medicine, you don’t have to have my family’s experiences to know the limits of your own mortality. Knowing that any day could be our last, we should live the life we want to live. And I am here to tell you that you don’t have to wait to live the good life. You can do it today.
The Way Most Design Their Life
Most people live life going through the motions with very little intentional thought about what they are doing and why. Most have even less intentionality when they spend their money.
They wake up each morning, grab their cup of coffee, eat a quick bite, and rush out the door. They then arrive at a job (that they may not like) for the rest of their life.
With a mile long checklist, the job is completed as demanded by those in charge. Their current life often provides little satisfaction. But they take solace in the thought that “One day, it’ll all be better, and I’ll be able to live the life I want to live.”
After work each day, they grab the kids with barely enough time to decide whether to eat out or cook at home. With the kids in bed, they are already falling asleep, too, as they close the door. But then there’s the laundry, dishes, and the work that they took home.
They take care of all of the things that need to be done, and then finally get in bed.
Tomorrow they get to repeat it all over again – having not done a single thing that they actually wanted to do that day. They remind themselves, “One day, it’ll all be better, and I’ll be able to live the life I want to live.”
That is how most people live their lives. Constantly looking towards retirement when they’ll finally get to live the good life.
It doesn’t have to be this way, though. We can live the good life now.
Intentional Living Starts with a New Perspective
The story above doesn’t have to be “the way it is.” However, in order to change, a new perspective is required.
We’ve written before about how most physicians and other high-income earners have a spending problem. While doctors earn a high paycheck, many feel that once they finally got there they deserve to spend that money.
In medicine we have worked hard to earn that paycheck through years of sacrifice and delayed gratification. However, the spending problem we have is what prevents most people from living the good life.
The big houses, nice cars, private school education, designer clothes/gadgets, and failure to pay down our debt with the same money all leads to a bad financial situation.
The question is this. Does spending money on these things make us happy? Are we spending our money intentionally, or just following the example provided by others?
In the personal finance community, there is a quote that has made its rounds, and for good reason:
“We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.”~Dave Ramsey
Living an Intentional Life
The financial independence community has taught me one thing repeatedly: living the life you want to live doesn’t happen by accident. You have to intentionally design your life that way.
Instead of going through the motions blindly and hoping to one day get to the good life, the people in the financial independence community do just the opposite.
First, they sit down and decide very intentionally what they want their life to look like. They design it in their minds. The tool I most commonly recommend to acomplish this are the Three Kinder Questions. Using this tool, you can determine what actually makes you happy (hint: it’s not the cars, house, and private school education).
Next, they look at their spending to see if their financial choices reflect their values. And then, once they have a clear image in their mind, they start to make financial decisions that will allow that life to happen.
It usually means making changes to their current spending so that they can pay off their debt faster, obtain financial independence sooner, and start living that life today. They also follow their progress – I use personal capital to do this – to help provide encouragement and to stay on track.
While many of us won’t have to face bullets flying around us as we flee for cover, I hope it doesn’t require an experience like that to bring things into proper perspective on what truly matters to us.
Figure it out, and then chase after it with everything you have. Today.
If things that giant checklist begins to get in your way, then institute a Hell Yes Policy, which will allow you to focus on the things that truly provide value in my life. Then, design your backwads budget to reflect those values. If something is getting in your way – and it doens’t make you say “Hell Yes!” – just say no.
Have you spent some time intentionally thinking about how you spend your money and your life? What changes did you make? Leave a comment below.
Wow, your granddad was really lucky, and I guess so are you then. But that stuff doesn’t just happen in wartime, there’s the old phrase “what if I get hit by a bus tomorrow”. Dead is dead.
Great stuff here, motivation to start the day!
I’ve actually had a few of those stories in my life time. My dad was shot in a hunting accident five years before I was born, too. Massive blood loss, neurological damage, etc. He very much should have died, too.
Guess someone didn’t want me to be here. But since I am, I am gonna make the most of it!
Couldn’t agree with your message more. The trouble is that Intentional living towards financial independence is tough. If takes discipline, a bit of sacrifice and an ability to delay gratification as a bigger goal is strive for.
The marshmallow challenge is a lot harder when you replace the marshmallows with iPhones and fancy dinners.
It takes practice to train yourself towards saving and investing and much introspection to figure out what your “enough” is. Not to mention finding balance so that the path to financial independence is as enjoyable as sailing past your number. I’m still working on this part!
Behavioral finance is the toughest part of all of this for sure.
My trouble isn’t in discipline but in the opposite direction of loosening the purse strings. My wife and I recently put an offer on a house after I realized we were going to be paying off our loans four months earlier than our original goal (200k paid off in two years was the original goal). Buying the house with our current student loan burden does push us back to our original goal, but it was the right house, right location, at the right (ridiculously low) price for the house.
It’s all about balancing living now with accomplishing our financial goals for the future. All I ever ask is that people do these things intentionally after analyzing all of the available information.
It is an interesting phenomena. Growing up most physicians display great discipline and indeed have an intentional life as everything we did was in order to get into medical school and residency to become a doctor.
We intentionally sacrificed time and often money to pursue this goal and each one of us succeeded in doing so.
It seems that as soon as we completed this goal intentional life went out the door and replaced with immediate gratification philosophy. It is probably just a rebellious thing we do because of the I deserve it now because I sacrificed so much philosophy.
Very hard to counter that change in mentality and it is easily justified in our minds. But those who can really set themselves up for a fresh life later on. Those who can’t will be forced to work at a job that may have lost its shine for a lot longer than they want
It is a funny transition isn’t it? I completely agree that we should be good at this, but there is only a certain length of time it seems where the delayed gratification can last for some. Possibly it’s an education problem.
That’s an intense story to start off your post but it illustrates an important point… I think a lot of folks get on a path and just keep going because they’re on that path. It’s not intentional.
A lot of folks have an epiphany because of a tragedy to their family or someone close to them. It’s that proverbial “wake up call” but what if we could have that call without the tragedy? It seems like a lot of folks could benefit.
I agree. I wish people didn’t commonly need the wake up call.
Part of the problem is that people don’t know that they need to search for this information. Getting them interested and atuned from the beginning is tough.
This is a tight rope to walk. How do you personally balance out frugality and delayed gratification with the acknowledgement that life is short and you might very well not be around to enjoy said gratification?
I think you have to be really intentional about what brings you joy. That’s what I encourage people to do. Often people just throw the kitchen sink at happiness and hope something works instead of actually examining their life and discussing it with others in their life
Trying to be more mindful and making small behavioral changes can make a big difference. For example, I drive my kids to school everyday and make it a point to be home for dinner every night. I also chaperone their field trips. Those things are important to me so I plan my work around that.
That’s a great example of how to be intentional, or mindful. And I bet your kids love it!
Excellent commentary on our ultra-consumerist society and how it is not making us any happier or bringing us any more fulfillment.
Your bit on “The Way Most People Design Their Life” reminds me of an old Raptitude article “Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed” by David Cain. It’s powerful stuff and an article that got me thinking of a different way to look at things. A new perspective.
If you haven’t seen that article, here’s the link:
I had never read that before, DMF. That’s a good one. And it makes sense. There is certainly a culture behind making more and spending more without even thinking about it.
I think I’m definitely guilty of living too much in the future sometimes, but at least for now retiring early isn’t on the table. I’m making some changes to my life that will free up a bunch of money, so I’ll have to see where that leaves me. In the meantime, I think it’ll be about finding ways to enjoy life now without depriving either myself or my bank account. It’s a delicate balance, but I’m working on it.
Yeah, it can definitely go either way. Have to find the right balance and make intentional decisions.
P.s. really appreciate you stopping by!