Any new concept that we learn can be addictive and personal finance is no different. The subject is so vast and has so many different aspects that it is very easy to get sucked into it and spend time with the myriad calculators and investment options. I can recognize this easily as at one point of time, I was dangerously close to this.
My introduction to goal based investing was in 1998 when I read a book by Monica Halan. It was a simply written book that illustrated the basic process of figuring out your financial road map through goals and a way to get those achieved. For a few weeks I was consumed with calculators and was thinking of all kinds of goals and how I was to achieve them. When I put the grand plan together, all on my own, I saw that if I were to think of every eventuality and try to plan for those with the standard inflation figures then it would constrain me significantly in my lifestyle. At 34 with children who were 1 and 4 years old, I did not want to spend my next 20 years, focusing on financial investments rather than living our lives the best way we could.
The financial knowledge was helpful as I could make plans to secure our future by making the right investments, but I was very clear on my priorities. We had to first secure the lifestyle that we were comfortable with and desired to have. There was very little point in saving for events 20 years hence unless you are reasonably happy today. I know this is kind of obvious but so many people miss this point.
Let me give you some examples of situations that many people find themselves in. You can reflect and see if you fall into any of these categories:-
- People who have high incomes but most of it goes into EMI, SIP and regular expenses leaving almost no room for any discretionary expenditure today.
- People who are planning to take a grand family vacation outside India in future and are saving for it, but they do not have time or ability to take a week’s vacation every year.
- People who are investing aggressively for their children’s education but do not understand the importance of putting them in the right kind of school and associated coaching, which will groom them for such future opportunities.
- People who are actually happier seeing their portfolio value as opposed to going for a nice dinner with their family.
- People who spend most of their time in reading about personal finance, participating in such groups and whose conversations are centered only around these.
Do not get me wrong. Investing for the future is important and all of us need to do it well. However, it is only a part of your life and it is more important as to how you lead your life today, rather than obsess about what may or may not happen 20 years hence. For all we know we may well not be alive after 20 years. Yes, we will absolutely need money when we retire but think of the limitations on how you will be able to spend that money.
Here is some food for thought on how you can look at your present, if you are not obsessed with investments:-
- If you want to do something passionately, go for it now. After all you will not be very successful at learning Golf or going on an arduous trek when you are 60.
- Vacation time with family is precious and any money spent on it is worthwhile. Your children will most probably not be around when you retire, make the most of your time with them. Vacations are great for family bonding.
- Do plan for your children’s college education, but focus on the grooming they need in the school going years. Best way will be to spend time yourself if you have the time and confidence. If not make suitable arrangements for good school and other stuff. Do not worry about the money spent, this is also investing in them.
- Whatever lifestyle you want to have, understand this well – your lifestyle will peak between 30 and 55 and go down thereafter. I am not talking money here, purely the kind of activities you will be able to do and enjoy. If you love food, experience the culinary pleasures now. If you love travel, make sure you have been to all the places that you want to go before you lose the zeal to hop from one place to the other.
- Do not bunch up all activities that you would dearly love to do thinking that you will get to them once you take care of the financial investments, it never really works that way.
Finally, the best way to ensure your financial security is by creating value in yourself. If you are valuable to others because of some skills or expertise you possess, then people will seek you out and money will follow. Investment is important but make sure it is only a part of your life, that it can be put pretty much in an auto-mode after the planning is done and you review it once in a while, not look at your portfolio value every morning.
For those who will say that their real pleasure comes from a constant tracking of their portfolio and thinking of what they can do about it, I will ask you to go back to the beginning of this post and read it once more.