Disruption is different for everybody.
In a complex concoction of timing, beliefs, history, personality, habits, and cultural norms, the big events that unfold (sometimes unpredictably) cause a unique ripple effect.
Whether it is the loss of meaningful employment, in pursuit of a retirement that affords her more time with family, friends, and personal creativity…
Or the loss of a child just after he leaves home for college.
Maybe it’s the loss of his first “steady” job because of a major pandemic…
Or the loss of time left in a 30-year marriage.
Life is chalk full of what some are too quick to label “fortunate” or “unfortunate” events. It is important to remember that grief can be experienced in both. The older we live, the more we experience, and the deeper our relationship with grief can grow.
And while our personal experiences may differ, there does come a universal clarification:
Disruptions beg our priorities to shift
Not to say our current priorities are misconstrued. But the parts of life that are most important to us can change, in a moment. Or a new importance could appear that we never thought was there all along.
And this is just as true about our faith, our family, our friends, our jobs, etc. as it is about our beliefs and habits around money.
Big disruptions can shake life up in a way that is out of our control, and sometimes it is our money spending priorities that see the biggest shift.
However, when our priorities begin to settle, there are two that remain most prominently:
Using Money to Buy Time
This is by far the most important money priority I see people tenaciously grip when life is disrupted. And it makes sense. One of my favorite quotes (actually song lyrics) of all time is:
What’s concealed in the heart of having is revealed in the losing of things
In other words, we don’t quite understand the depth at which we value something until we no longer have it.
You realize how important it was to take that trip with that person, or to buy your friend a meal. You wish you took the opportunity to uproot your family and move to that fun new town when you had the chance. When you lose time, you are instantly willing to do anything to get that time back. But as many wise people remind us, it doesn’t matter how much money someone has, no one has more than 24 hours in a day.
So, what does it mean to use your money to buy more time?
There are so many answers to this question. To name a few:
If there was a way to financially support your life without having to work in your current all-consuming job, would you explore it? What if it is just a change in role? Could you set pride aside in order to move “down” the ladder, if it meant that your expenses could still be covered while gaining back time in your day?
How can you turn spending decisions into time decisions? What can you outsource in your personal or professional life to gain back more minutes to your days? What can you spend money on to make the worst moments of your day a little more manageable?
Here’s a thought: Just because you can’t quantify a return on your money spent doesn’t mean it is a poor use. Think about the common adage, “spend money on experiences, not stuff.” Money’s sole purpose is to be exchanged, plain and simple. But exploring how it is spent is the whole reason I have a job!
Money supports life’s necessities, can improve quality of life, and can be used to show love towards other people. You can buy life experiences with your children or friends. That is money buying a pocket of time that you will never have in the same way ever again. Money thoughtfully accumulated (saved) can be used to do the same, but on a larger scale.
Your Brain Space:
Sometimes this applies to parts of life that are not necessarily exterior, but instead interior. A great example of this is worry. I am not saying that having more money will reduce your worry. But having a plan with your money could. I have heard people say they want more time with their family or friends, only to go spend a chunk of money on something that compounds their risk and worry (either for them or for their impacted people), causing them to actually be less present with those they love. Which leads me to our second priority:
Using Money to Buy Flexibility
I think there is something innate in all of us that wants to know exactly what our next move is going to be. But rarely does life work itself out in the exact way we were hoping. It can feel like most of our living is passive, or on the defense. How can money buy a more active life?
Options and Freedom
In most cases, when money is tight (meaning there is little margin between your income and expenses), so are your options. Some of the wisest money decisions I have ever seen made are those that open up more options both now and in the future. These decisions open doors, instead of closing them. I do believe this is partially due to a mindset…because even when we have significant money resources, we can still make decisions that keep our options tight (or at least seem tight).
If you feel claustrophobic in your decision making, maybe it is time to ask yourself if there are decisions that you could be making differently, that give you more options instead of locking you only into one path forward.
Tons of examples:
Having enough money to choose what the word "retirement" means to you, and when it could happen.
Having a big enough emergency fund to not have to take the first job that accepts your application.
Giving your non-retirement money a full-time job by investing it.
Not spending all of your money, all at once, just in case tomorrow you decide you want something different.
I also think of freedom from debt. Debt is a very personal subject, as it weighs on people uniquely. In consideration alongside financial facts, it might make perfect sense for someone to get rid of their debt as quickly as possible because of the emotional drag it causes them. It might make sense for a widow to pay off an entire mortgage with life insurance proceeds after their spouse’s death, because they wanted to, one day, own the house outright together.
When life is disrupted, priorities can be quick to shift, and that is perfectly normal. We may have a completely different lifestyle on the other side, including how we think and act with our money. For many, money becomes an even more powerful tool, buying things like time and flexibility, now that there is more clarity to what is most important.