It's a Question of Why - close up of adult hands putting coins in piggy bank
Personal Finance

It’s a Question of “Why”

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If you believe everything you read online, saving money seems so simple! Yet, it isn’t necessarily as easy as it sounds. Sure, the steps are pretty straightforward:

It all sounds so stinkin’ easy, right? Still, it can be exceptionally difficult to pull off. Why is that?

Why It’s Hard to Save Money

Of course, there are as many reasons why it’s difficult to get your finances on the right track as there are reasons that Justin Bieber is a D-Bag. Perhaps you aren’t paying enough attention to your money. Maybe you need to learn how to create a budget. You might need help learning how to pay yourself first before you tackle your bills. All these things are techniques that you can learn and implement.

Still, there may be other reasons still that you can’t get your money situation ironed out. You may have experienced a debilitating sickness or injury in the family. Maybe you’ve lost a job and have been struggling to recover. Your car could have been totaled and you didn’t have enough money in your emergency fund. There are countless valid (and many more invalid) reasons why you may be struggling at the moment.  Regardless of the reason, the path to financial freedom almost always leads down the same familiar roads.

But, You Just Don’t Understand…

Sometimes financial coaches and bloggers get a bad rap for being heartless. Their “rah-rah” attitude and “everyone can do it” mentality often gets criticized for being too callous. It’s as if “understanding” each particular situation somehow would change the pain and sacrifice required of the financially responsible path forward.

I get it. I understand, and I know that there are often extenuating circumstances. Yet, while the causes of the illness are varied, the prescription for it is still the same. It doesn’t matter if you are $20K in credit card debt due to overspending or because of medical bills. The debt is still the same and the remedy is usually similar: Get on a budget. Track and cut your expenses. Save your money. Don’t spend on frivolous things. If you stick to the plan, it really does work.

In theory, it is one of the easiest things in the world to do. In practice, it can be one of the most difficult.

The All-Important Question: “Why?”

Even those of us who know all of the tricks and techniques have trouble saving money. We know what we should be doing, but we can’t seem to make it happen. Why? Well, maybe that is the exact question we should be asking ourselves.

It’s tough to motivate yourself by saying, “I need to get on a budget.” Hell, that sounds pretty boring, even to budget nerds like me! Even if you know it’s the right thing to do you probably won’t start with that kind of lame pep talk. You may be educated on why budgeting is beneficial. If you get started on the program, you may even get excited about some of your initial results. But results often only motivate us to continue for only so long. Even great results become stale after you’ve continued to see them over a period of time. If you aren’t careful, you’ll be sure to fall back into your old vices of overspending and failing to save.

(Related → Start Here: 5 Keys to Financial Success)

So, what is it that keeps us motivated over the long-term? What is the one thing that we can do to ensure that we are going to become savers for life? In my experience, there’s only one thing that is a constant motivator. There is one question that you must answer if you wish to dedicate yourself to a particular cause, and it the answer has to be strong enough to motivate you through the good times and the bad. It’s not a question of “how.” It is a question of  “why.

Why do you want to save money? Why do you want to become wealthy? Why? Your answer will determine your future.

The Strength of Why

The strength of your “why” is what’s going to propel you to ever greater heights. “I need to budget so that I can pay the electric bill.” Not very motivating is it? “I need to get on a budget in order to save enough money so that my children can have a nicer home, in a safer neighborhood, with a better school system.” Now that’s something that can drive you.

The question of why can be used in pretty much anything that you want to accomplish in life. Perhaps you’ve decided that you are going to start going to the gym? Why? The strength of your why will determine how long you’ll commit to your new project. If it is just to look good for summer, that is all you will get. If you’ve committed to living a healthier, longer life, you’ve made a much stronger commitment.

My Why

Why do I want to be rich? For me, getting our finances in order was the ticket to financial independence. What does that mean to me? It means never having to worry about how I’m going to cover the bills. It means that I never have to depend on anybody else to feed my family. It means that I am always in control of what I’m doing, where I’m going, and when I’m doing it. After years of working for it, obtaining financial freedom was the reason that I was able to quit my day job and work at home full-time. Now that I’ve experienced it, I never want to go back. And, it has all been possible because we got our finances together. That is what continues to motivate me. That is a big part of my why.

So, what is your why? Ask yourself, “Why do I want to be rich? Why do I want to make more money? Why do I want to save more? Why do I want to retire early?” You came here to get something…what is it – and more importantly – why?

I challenge you to come up with a strong, true reason that you can really commit to. If you can, you are truly on the path to accomplishing your goals.

(Next → How to Get Anything You Want in Life)

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33 Comments

  1. I couldn’t agree more. It looks so simple, but honestly it’s not especially once you have done all these initial things to do such as create a budget, track expenses, etc. The hardest part of this journey is how to stay motivated and consistent all the way until you achieve your goal.

    1. Staying motivated can be the hardest part of completing any long-term goal. Having a solid reason for your pursuit can be helpful during those tough times.

  2. People don’t want to sacrifice. The why at the moment is the new pair of shoes or a trip to Italy. The important why, the why that will keep you financially healthy, out of debt with money in savings and investments takes a lot of ups and downs. It’s almost like you need to hit rock bottom, like I did before you wake up and realize the why is keeping a roof over your head. Changing your financial situation is easy once you get your why in order and make it more important than the latest and greatest gadget out there.

    1. I agree. Obviously, you don’t necessarily need a why to do it. But if you find yourself struggling with any goal, it helps to fall back on that initial, solid reason for pursuing it in the first place.

  3. I agree. It would be much harder for us to be motivated to pay off our stinkin student loan debt if we didn’t have such a powerful why. Our goals and dreams hinge on completing this step, so the motivation is huge!

  4. Having a “Why” when setting any goal helps give it meaning. Our why when paying off $100k of debt was to build a better future for our family. If that isn’t motivating I’m not sure what is.

    1. Absolutely. Giving meaning to your goal gives you a reason to stay committed.

  5. I guess we should save a lot less then. We have no why. And searching for one seems silly and only likely to bring unnecessary angst.

  6. I’m still young in my professional life, as a mom, etc, so I define my why in terms of options. I want to be wealthy so that my family can make big choices (dropping to a single income, starting a business, relocating, building a custom home, etc.) without money being a concern. Achieving that goal is one part money and two parts mindset, but the money part still has to happen.

    1. Having options is a good reason. That is one of the main reasons I like saving.

  7. Now, if I could just transition the budget motivation to continued weight loss. I definitely have the why. I just need to do it. The problem is, I don’t have to spend money. I have to eat!

  8. I think having kids is a huge why. I’d never want my daughter to have to struggle with debt because she thinks that’s what normal people do.

  9. Now that a little more money has been coming in, it’s tempting to have lifestyle inflation creep in, like, “man, I have NOT had a pedicure in six months and my feet are atrocious!” But then I think back to a couple months ago when I was worried I would even be able to pay my rent. Not a place I want to go back to so having any extra cash is better than having pretty feet. My why is feeling that if something were to happen I’d at least be OK financially. I also want it to be the motivating factor in saying no to certain projects and clients that I don’t enjoy working with.

  10. Hi Greg
    Have you checked out Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why” book or TED Talk? It’s an amazing/inspirational read and watch via TED Talk and can apply to all aspects of our lives.

  11. Couldn’t agree more with this post! Examining what you want and asking why is so powerful, but it seems like a difficult habit to get into for most folks. Learning the what is easy, figuring out how can be a challenge, and nailing your why takes some serious soul searching 🙂

  12. I couldn’t agree more with this! The “why” is absolutely what propels me in my own financial journey, as well as pretty much anything else in my life. It’s easy to get off track when you lose sight of WHY you are actually wanting to accomplish something.

  13. Great post! Having a “why” is what keeps me going. Of course, I still have setbacks now and then, but for the most part I’m moving forward all the time.

  14. This is exactly what I talk about in my post comparing goals vs. vision — you NEED to have a why. Otherwise, you won’t care enough. It gets really good if you peel the layers back and continue to ask why, because you end up getting really deep to the crux of what defines you and matters most to you.

  15. Couldn’t agree more. I didn’t save until I realised I needed to get my backside in to gear if I ever wanted to have enough for a deposit on a house. That motivation along with setting goals and targets is what’s helping me move forward.

    Good post!

  16. “Lieutenant Dan got me invested in some kind of fruit company. So then I got a call from him, saying we don’t have to worry about money no more. And I said, that’s good! One less thing.” – Forrest Gump. Life is full of stress and things to worry about. If you don’t have to worry about money, you can concentrate on things that bring you joy and happiness instead!

  17. The answer to my Why? is freedom! We were crunched for 6 long years after managing money “like everyone else” and losing income. Never want to go back to the constraints and stress of those years. Ever. (My youngest daughter is not convinced that Justin Bieber is a “D-Bag”. She is still considering getting married to him.)

  18. I’m definitely getting better at tightening the ole’ purse strings back up now that we’re staring down a huge medical bill coming next year. You’re right that the goals keep you motivated when nothing else will.

    Heck, I only started exercising last year because I needed to fit into my pants at FinCon!

  19. My why was simply that I didn’t want to suffer from the stress of working on Wall St. for longer than 18 years (around age 40). The stress and 5:30am work times made it easy for me to save and invest like a crazy person. Luckily, I discovered blogging at the age of 31, and the rest is history!

    Without a pain point, it’s much harder to do more b/c life is pretty comfortable in America!

  20. I literally challenge myself before I spend money to stop and ask myself why I am doing it. It’s amazing how much the simple process of asking why will not only prevent you from spending money (because there really aren’t that many great reasons to spend it) but will help keep you focused on what’s important like bigger picture goals.

  21. catherine says:

    if you don’t have a definitive reason in life your goals won’t mean anything. For us it’s the life we want with our daughter. That’s enough to motive us into getting out of debt!

  22. Why is definitely the question to be asking! I’ve read many books that state the same thing – if you are doing something for a reason you believe in, it’s easy to suffer a little in the short term. Very well written and interesting article. Thanks for sharing!

  23. Usually subconsciously, we make a choice each time a dollar passes through our hands: spend this now, or spend this later (i.e., save it). Nearly every message we hear–and we’re bombarded–urges us to spend that dollar now! Only our sensible conscience and a relative few personal finance ‘experts’ who are overwhelmed by marketers urge us to spend that dollar later. Consumption has become a cornerstone of our culture. Spending and consumption = fun! and social status! and cool! while in our culture saving = dull and old fashioned. It’s a wonder to me sometimes that in this context any of us save much of anything!

  24. Great post! Putting your ‘why’ into perspective is a great motivator to push and work hard to meet your financial goals. My why is paying off all my debt and achieving financial freedom so I can spent my days how I’d like, work as little or as much as I want, travel freely, and spend more time with my child and working on projects that I’m passionate about.

  25. I appreciate this, especially because defining the “why” can vary for each person. It allows for less of a cookie-cutter formula to reach the goals of “why.” Right now at age 25, my “why” encompasses having the financial freedom to spend time & take care of my family & friends, take on a venture with having the additional capital to do so, making charitable contributions at any time, and ensuring that my future family will be taken care of as well. I also recognize my “why” can change 5 years from now, but the willingness to determine what I am working towards now is important!

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