We don’t do enough thinking about our finances.
I’m not talking about financial anxieties. You think a lot about your debts. They keep you up at night. If you’re married, they might cause a lot of fights.
You’re concerned that there’s not much in your retirement account, if you even have one. Your children’s grades or athletic abilities aren’t likely to win them enough money in scholarships, so you’re not sure how you’ll pay for college. And potential health-care expenses make you sick with worry.
Since 2001, Gallup has asked Americans how concerned they are about seven financial issues: paying for the medical costs of a serious illness or accident; covering normal health-care expenses; maintaining a certain standard of living; saving for retirement; having enough money for monthly bills; housing costs; and making minimum credit-card payments.
Gallup’s 2016 report found that people are most concerned about retirement costs, followed by covering a major health-care crisis and sustaining a certain standard of living.
Present and future financial costs occupy a lot of people’s thoughts. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: “Can anybody remember when the times were not hard, and money not scarce?”
As 2016 comes to a close, I have some year-end financial advice that won’t require you to do anything but think. Spend some time and answer the following questions.
What do you value? Think about the most important things in your life. Do you value family or spending time with people? Is your career, faith or marriage something you want to prioritize?
If you say you value family, what does that really mean? Does it mean being just a provider? Or does it also include spending more time with them? And if your family does need more time from you, consider whether you’re working so hard to provide them with things that you aren’t home enough to enjoy their presence. And even when you are home, are you working too much?
If someone looked at your life, would the way you spend your time reflect your values?
What will it take to make your values a priority? For this question, think about how you want things to be, not how they are today. I want this exercise to be positive. Don’t beat yourself up.
This is a chance for you to think ahead. What does a good family life look like? What could you do to carve out protected family time in your schedule? What about family movie night? How about setting aside the same week — or two — every year to vacation together?
If you want to be a better spouse, what do you need to change?
If you want to be a more active church member, what would it take to make that happen?
What can you do with your money to show how important your values are in your life? The first two areas in this exercise naturally lead to the question of how you allocate your financial resources. Because how you spend your money should reflect your values.
One of my favorite scriptures says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
If you want to test what you value — your heart’s desires — just look at where your money goes. Are you spending your money in the areas you truly value?
If family is important, save up for vacations so you can have some fun time. And I said “save.” You may be taking a regular trip, but do you come back with the stress of paying for it because you put it all on a credit card?
Perhaps helping extended family is something you value. If so, first secure yourself financially so that you can give in a way that lifts them up without pulling you down.
If you want a better marriage, invest in some marriage courses or counseling. Do you want your children to get a college education? And if so, do you want them to graduate without debt? If so, what are you doing to ensure they won’t have to spend decades — perhaps as you have — struggling to manage college loans and living expenses?
People who achieve a certain amount of peace in their lives do so because they think about what’s truly important. Then they create a plan to live out their values.
You can be rich in money but poor in spirit. Use this time at year’s end to reflect on your past and figure out how you can make your future less worrisome. It starts with what you value and ends with how you use your financial resources to demonstrate your life’s priorities.
Readers may write to Michelle Singletary at The Washington Post, 1301 K St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or email@example.com. To read previous Color of Money columns, go to wapo.st/michelle-singletary.