Why do I spend money?  Do you ever ask yourself this question? When presented with choices in your financial life, what are the primary motivating factors behind the decisions that you make?

Life does not come with instructions. Navigating the complexities of life is certainly not like putting together Ikea furniture or building with a set of Legos. Though they give you step by step instructions with pictures to guide you, sometimes its still kind of difficult.  Especially, when the instructions aren’t clear.

When we buy a “build-it-yourself” item, we know that if we want the object to look like the picture, (and actually work), then we need to complete each step. One after another, in order.

But life isn’t a series of linear steps with a guaranteed outcome waiting for us at the end. There are twists and turns and unexpected obstacles to deal with. And a seemingly never-ending number of choices to make.

If life came with instructions, I like to imagine that instead of the booklet you used to build your TV stand, it might instead be a lot like the Choose Your Own Adventure™ books that I used to love to read as a kid.

Remember those? They were the best. If you’ve never read one, as you reach different points in the story you must make a choice.  Depending on the combination of choices you make, the events in the story change accordingly.

A long and winding series of plot twists that lead to an ending which is ultimately determined by you, the reader. Which is probably why as kids we liked them so much. We got to rewrite the outcome of the story if we didn’t like it.

I think life is a lot like this. Especially when it comes to money. Think of all the financial decisions that we make. Each being important and potentially impacting the outcome of another decision down the road.

Do we choose what’s behind door number 1 or number 2? Is there a third door we’re not even aware of? Quick, what’s the right answer? And no reading ahead!

A good decision moves us closer to accomplishing our goals. A poor decision, however, might leave us disappointed – or worse.

We all make choices every day that can impact the outcome of our story.

It can sometimes feel like a dizzying number of options, each having its own set of potential rewards or consequences. All swirling around attempting to confound and confuse us. And as most things do, they come with a price tag attached.

Many of these decisions can have lifelong implications that affect not just us but our families as well.

And unlike the books of our youth, we can’t always rewrite an outcome that we don’t like by going back and choosing a different path. Or revisit a step in the instructions that we got wrong.

But, making decisions doesn’t always have to be difficult or overwhelming. The better that we understand the things in our lives that are most important to us, the easier these choices can become. These values can start to help inform the steps that we take on our journey through life.


Your Money Starts and Ends with…

How we make these decisions is largely a rational process of evaluating the choices we are given. Like the book, we attempt to choose the best outcome for ourselves by thinking about the options and choosing an action that seems to make sense.

But Why we make decisions is an emotional process and is driven by what we instinctively feel is most valuable from the choices we are offered. What makes us feel good in that moment or might make us feel bad down the road.

There are two parts of our brain when it comes to decision-making. One part works hard to make rational, mindful decisions that keep us going about our life in a systematic, orderly fashion. This is sometimes referred to as the “thinking brain.”

The other part is often thought of as the “feeling brain.” This part is responsible for our emotions and creativity, and also where our stress response resides.

Money is an emotional topic. When making a stressful money decision or when faced with too many choices – guess which side usually wins.

Have you ever stopped and thought about why you spend money on the things that you do?

Do you like the way it makes you feel? Does it stress you out?

When presented with the choices in your financial life that you make every day, what are the primary motivating factors behind the decisions that you make?

Pausing to think about this question each time you swipe your credit or debit card can be an informative, and helpful, exercise. Especially if you find that you don’t like the answer. Or you find yourself doing things with your money that aren’t productive.


Why Do I Spend Money?

 If you have kids or spend any time around young ones, you know that their favorite question to ask is “Why?

It can get exasperating after a while when each of your answers is followed by another “Why?”

But we can learn a lot about ourselves and our finances from “why.”

Children ask “why” questions because the answers help them better understand the world around them.

“Why” questions help to funnel information down to a level with which they are comfortable and able to make sense of the response.

“Why” helps us as adults determine the reasons and motivations behind our actions so that we can learn more about ourselves and the choices that we make.

The better we can understand the “why” behind the money decisions that we make, the more control we can feel like we have over the direction of our lives. A strong “why” illuminates the steps on the path forward.

Whether it’s changing our spending habits, or getting clearer about our goals, understanding our ‘why’ moves us closer to making better choices.

And makes it easier going forward to redirect dollars away from things that are not supportive of our values. Instead, they can be put towards the goals that help us live our lives the way we truly want.

Like the Choose Your Own Adventure Book™, it allows us to write our own story with the outcome we desire most in mind.

The Instruction Book for Life

Think of a financial plan as the instruction book for your financial life. It gives you the necessary actions to take and processes to follow to arrive at your goal. When paired with a strong “why”, it can help guide you towards getting the highest and best use out of each dollar that comes into your world.

There are ordered steps that help you navigate the inevitable twists and turns when life doesn’t go exactly as you’d hoped.

But it can also function like a Choose Your Own Adventure™  book. It may involve a series of choices and trade‐offs to implement the steps along the way. With the help of your Advisor, you get to choose the plan that makes sense for your situation. And the plan will show you the steps to take in the right order to get you there.

We understand that money is an emotional topic. And that life will be full forks in the road with hard choices to make.

Sometimes things feel off track, or the picture isn’t looking like the instruction booklet. We can help you choose a new path forward to rewrite the ending of the story.

Having an Advisor can even help take some of the emotion out of the situation and help you see it more objectively.

We can also remind you of your “why” when you might be tempted to do something other than what’s in your best interests. Or conflicts with your goals and values. 

What You Can Do

Next time you find yourself in a situation with a financial choice to make, or asking yourself “why do I spend money?” pause a moment and try to understand what’s really behind the decision you’re about to make.

What is the outcome you want to see happen?  What choices do you need to make to make it a reality? How would you like to see the story end?

Then choose a) to spend the money now or b) choose instead to direct it towards your long-term goals and be one step closer to achieving them.


Material discussed is for general informational purposes only and is not to be construed as tax, legal, or investment advice. Although the information has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, please note that individual solutions can vary. Therefore, the information should be relied upon only when coordinated with individual professional advice. This material contains the current opinions of the author but not necessarily those of Guardian or its subsidiaries and such opinions are subject to change without notice.