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Grandad’s Cure for Financial Restlessness

Grandad’s Cure for Financial Restlessness

March 21, 2024

“Just because you got it doesn’t mean you got to spend it.”

When I graduated college and began working, my grandad, who did not have the privilege of going to college, began bestowing the financial wisdom that can only be acquired through the school of hard knocks: “Don’t be afraid to save a dollar son, it ain’t gonna spoil;” “It cost to live.” Those are two of his sayings that I still frequently quote in my home (Sorry Heather 😊). The one I opened with though (“Just because you got it doesn’t mean you got to spend it”), is one I am appreciating more as the years go by and realizing its potential effectiveness in helping fend off financial restlessness- the inability to sit still with your money. This condition is one I have seen frequently plague high income earners and those that come into an unexpected windfall of money. Let me explain…

An early bout with financial restlessness usually occurs after we begin earning a paycheck: we embark on our career, start saving a little money, then soon thereafter we get antsy to transition out of the apartment into our first home and then out of our parent’s hammy down car into one of our own. This transition is exciting but often comes with some initial financial discomfort. I was able to save when I was splitting rent with a roommate and not having to pay a car payment; now I have both a mortgage and a car payment to factor into my monthly budget. Over the course of a typical career path though, many of us find our income growing due to promotions, merit raises, longevity bonuses etc. As a result, we find ourselves being able to balance the bills again with saving and the ability to afford more things. We reach a temporary level of financial security. We are willing to embrace this security for a period but the relentless marketing of the latest and greatest becomes harder to keep fighting. The newness of our car and home begins wearing off. Society has recognized the growth in our income by allowing us to borrow more money (Woohoo!). Not to mention, our co-workers have already ‘upgraded’ their situation so it must be time for us to do the same.  In essence, we have become financially RESTLESS. We trade in our car for a newer more expensive one and we transition out of our ‘starter’ home into what we’ve rationalized in our head to be our ‘forever’ home (or the home we hope to raise our kids in). Bigger bills start rolling in every month forcing a squeeze on our monthly budget.  We operate in this state of financial discomfort until we start getting use to budgeting with (or around) these larger expenses alas transitioning back into a state of security.

As illustrated above and perhaps as you may have experienced, this feeling of restlessness can lead to ongoing oscillations between security and financial discomfort. There is a strong correlation too between one’s income trajectory and the number of bouts of restlessness one may have to wrestle with. I’ve been privy to several seven figure income earners who have grown financially restless and found themselves even at that income level experiencing a state of financial discomfort. Taking the glass half full perspective, this unease can keep us motivated and force us to continue working hard. An emptier glass perspective may suggest if we keep caving to this feeling of restlessness, we may find ourselves working a lot harder and for a lot longer to support an inflating lifestyle.

While there is certainly no right or wrong, my only ask is that you consider paying my grandad tribute for what would have been his 80th birthday next month by giving his words some thought. Next time you think about making a large purchase that could swing you from financial security back to financial discomfort…maybe try sitting with the decision just a little longer and remembering: “Just because you got it doesn’t mean you got to spend it.”