The personal finance blogosphere has thousands of articles about money. That’s as it should be. The FIRE community talks about becoming financially independent and entering “early retirement” at an age much sooner than the norm (often in their early thirties). Here are five things I think are more important than money.
There is talk about paying off student debt, investing, saving, credit card hacks, side hustles, and numerous other topics. For anyone interested in becoming financially independent, there are resources galore from which to choose. ESI Money and my blog, Money with a Purpose are among the many voices available.
However, life isn’t all about money, is it? It might be much simpler if that’s all we had to consider.
Of course, it isn’t.
What if our pursuit of financial independence and early retirement bring other problems to our lives? How do we keep from obsessing over every little expense? How do we make space for living today while pursuing our financial goals?
I’ve thought about these things a lot recently. I examined my own life to think about my values and what things for me are more important than money.
What follows is my top five list of things I think are more important than money.
The list isn’t in any particular order except the first one – health. We get so wrapped up in the business of our lives that we neglect taking care of ourselves.
I could have easily written a full post on any one of these topics. I started with a list of ten and whittled it down to these five.
With that background, here’s my list.
One of the significant contributors to our health problems is stress. Stress, quite literally, is killing us.
A recent article from the Mayo Clinic on Stress Management lists three areas where stress can affect us – body, mood, and behavior. There are seven effects listed for the body (like headaches, muscle pain, fatigue, etc.), six for mood (like anxiety, restlessness, sadness or depression), and six for behavior (like overeating, drug or alcohol abuse, social anger outbursts).
What can we do to deal with stress? Here’s a partial list.
- Slow down – Start with simple breathing exercises or meditation. Slow, deep breathing lowers your heart rate and can calm the mind. Add quiet reflection to it, and the benefits increase even more. My wife uses an app called Calm. I don't use it but she loves it. You may have to try a few things before settling on what works for you.
- Exercise – Everyone knows this helps. Don’t think you have to join a gym or buy equipment. A simple twenty to thirty-minute daily walk will help. Start with a few sit-ups and push-ups. But start somewhere. There are tons of exercise apps, YouTube channels, that have anything you want to try. Do a search and I'm confident you'll find something that works.
- Diet – Again. It's not complicated. You don’t have to be on some hard to follow diet whose goal is fast weight loss. Cut down the portions you eat and stay away from processed food. Include plenty of fruits and vegetables. Drink lots of water.
The American Cancer Society cites excess body weight as a major cause of multiple health issues affecting Americans. They say that one in three Americans is obese. Another one in three is overweight. That’s two-thirds of the country struggling with their weight.
Intellectually, we all know being overweight is not a good thing. Food is a natural elixir when we’re feeling stressed, down, or in a funk. And unlike illegal drugs and alcohol, food is an easy way to self-medicate when we’re in that funk. They don’t call it comfort food for anything, right?
I’m not suggesting that we’re all addicted to food. We need it to survive. What I am suggesting is that many of us may not realize the impact our diets have on our overall well-being.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), excess body weight increases our risk for:
- Heart disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol levels
- Liver and gallbladder disease
- Sleep apnea and respiratory problems
- Abnormal menstrual periods and infertility in women
- Certain Cancers
By no means is this an extensive list. To me, stress is the number one problem with our health. It leads to numerous health issues. Self-medicating with food leads to weight problems and all the problems that come with it.
Not everyone comes from a healthy family or has healthy relationships with family members.
I don’t know of any perfect family, do you? However, we all know people who have good relationships with their families. These family relationships help us live a healthier life.
My parents divorced when I was twenty. Even at that age, it was hard. I held resentment for years after the divorce. My brother had an even harder time of it.
I found it hard to trust. My wife shares the same issue. We both brought that issue into the marriage. Because of the baggage, our first several years of marriage were hard.
In time, and through counseling, we were able to identify the issue and began to work on it together. Unresolved anger toward our parents was the culprit for both of us. Once we identified the problem, we had to figure out what to do to keep it from doing further damage. The solution was to have an awkward conversation with our parents – individually. It was one of the most challenging things either of us had ever done.
I'm proud to say that in February 2019, we will celebrate thirty-five years of marriage. The work and effort along the way are worth it.
I’m so glad we made the difficult decision to do it. It changed our relationships with our parents and helped us better understand our behaviors. As a result, we repaired these broken relationships that held us back from fuller relationships with our families.
What’s the point of all this? Families are important. They are also messy. In our cases, and I suspect in many, things that happened in our families in the past shaped who we are today, both the good and the bad. We learned that our parents loved us, even though we didn’t feel it at times. We learned the importance of forgiveness in repairing the brokenness.
Unresolved anger toward family member damages us far more than the offending person. We can’t control their behavior and reaction, only our own. Don’t let past hurts keep you from repairing broken relationships in your family.
I’ll leave this topic with a quote from one of our favorite television shows, Criminal Minds (don’t judge me)
“Our scars define where we’ve been. They don’t have to define who we are.” SSA Rossi (Joe Mantegna)
All our relationships are meaningful. I know lots of people who claim large groups of friends. But how close are those friends? Are they individuals you can talk to about anything? Or do they keep things on a surface level?
Either way is fine. We all need different kinds of relationships. We are built to be in relationships with one another. When we deny that to ourselves, it can create problems.
I have lots of friends and connections, personal and professional. I’m grateful for that. However, there is only a handful with whom I share my life. And that’s all I need. These are the ones I know I can call on any time day or night, and they will be there for me, and I for them.
I've seen friendships broken over silly things. The political climate today and the hard-line positions some take destroy long-standing friendships. I've heard stories of it tearing apart families too. Digging into a particular position combined with the inability to listen to another’s view damages relationships. We seem unable or willing to consider changing the way we think about things. When we do that, our relationships suffer.
Facebook seems to be taking over as the platform for political rants. It’s full of people shouting at each other. I don’t know about you but having someone yelling their view to me doesn’t make me inclined to change mine. Quite the contrary, it makes me go the other direction. I know of a couple of friendships lost in political arguments that take place on the news feed. Does that make sense to you? It doesn't to me either.
So, the next time you’re tempted to enter into this kind of discussion, ask yourself this question. Is digging in my heels on a position worth running a friendship? I think not. If we paused before reacting, we would all be better for it.
Developing and nurturing essential friendships will help us live a healthier life. Don't take them for granted. We should put in the effort to keep them healthy.
Everyone has values, whether stated or not. It’s essential your values align with your money.
It’s even more critical that you know your purpose, your “why” in making decisions.
Another way to look at values is to look at your passions. What excites you to jump out of bed in the morning and start your day? If you can't answer, here's another way to ask the question.
What are you working to accomplish? Is it to get a paycheck? If so, there is no passion in that, and you will quickly become dissatisfied and hate getting out of bed and going to work.
Another finding is that “51 percent aren’t engaged at work — meaning they feel no real connection to their jobs, and thus they tend to do the bare minimum.” That means that over half of those who work for employers don't like their jobs!
If you feel trapped in your work and get your self-worth from your job, that's a dangerous path to follow. If that describes you, think about where your passions lie. Is there another job that would be more suitable for your passion? If not, is there a way to turn your passion into a business?
Being stuck is not a fun way to live. If you are miserable in your job, it will carry over into the other parts of your life – your family, your hobbies, and other leisure activities. Take some time to pause to think about what's important to you. If married, include your spouse in the exercise. Make a list of those values. See if what you think about, how you spend your time, and how you spend your money align with those things.
If they don't, develop a plan to make the changes necessary to get them aligned. You'll feel much better about things. Your relationships should improve. You should be happier.
Have you thought about what kind of legacy you want to leave? For the moment, let’s not talk about a financial legacy. How do you want to be remembered? What will you leave behind so that people will know?
For many parents, their legacy is carried on in the lives of their children. Equipping them with an education, and passing along their values cements that legacy for many parents.
Others have a passion for a particular cause like breast cancer, helping abused children, or another worthy cause that makes people’s lives better. I know people who have composed and left behind their life’s manifesto for posterity. It’s something their kids, friends, and others can turn to for inspiration and guidance.
By definition, legacy is long lasting. Something that is long lasting takes time to plan. It takes time to develop and mold to the way we desire. It has to be intentional.
Our values will shape our legacy. They define who we are and should guide our decisions in every area of our lives.
Of course, if someone has wealth and wants to leave a financial legacy that represents those values, then, by all means, use the money for that purpose. Build a wing on a children’s hospital. Set up a scholarship fund for kids who can’t afford to go on their own.
Funding a wing on a children’s hospital is out of reach for most of us. Consider a donor-advised fund that you can contribute to regularly. The funds allow you to donate small amounts of money at regular intervals to build up a fund over time. When you're ready to give, you can have them send the money to the charity of your choice.
Public foundations, many universities, and community foundations offer donor-advised funds. Most mutual fund companies now offer them too. A recent article from Drew ad FI Introvert does an excellent job of describing the ins and out of these funds.
You don’t have to be wealthy to leave a meaningful, lasting legacy to the next generation. You do have to think about and plan for how you want people to remember you.
There are many essential things in life. And the pursuit of financial independence is a worthy and noble goal.
I’ve seen too many people let the pursuit of all things financial cause health problems due to stress and lack of attention to diet and exercise. I’ve seen it strain marriages, relationship with kids, and other people we once thought essential to us.
If nothing else, I hope this list will help you think about what you’re doing. I hope it will encourage you to examine your priorities. I hope it will lead to a healthier, more fulfilling life in your pursuit of FI.
If our pursuit leaves us alone in our efforts and damages relationships, what have we gained?
Now it's your turn. What's missing for you on this list? What things are more important than money to you? How do you find balance in pursuing your goals?
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