Values and Dollars

post by Jessica

I started writing this while we were packing, but it never got finished. It was inspired both by the tragedy in Norway as well as a more personal sadness, the sudden, very serious illness of an older family friend leading to his death just a few days later. As it turned out, one of our last activities while we were in town was to attend a funeral, although both R and I were glad for the chance to go. I find myself still thinking about it, especially with Tisha B’Av yesterday and our annual session of depressing documentaries.

As I was packing, R and I spent a lot of time discussing the various monetary decisions that go into moving. At the same time, we were contemplating the value choices that go into spending money. It can be as simple as how much time one is willing to spend to save some money on the grocery bill all the way to how often we plan to visit our family now that we are about 900 miles farther away. Combined with my recent push to consider mortality and the way life works, and I feel pushed to create a working theory about setting priorities.

There are two competing aspects, sort of like that old tale (maybe in the Talmud?) that man should have two pieces of paper in his pocket, one that says the universe was created only for him and the other saying that he is nothing but ashes. First, if I think about my life. On average, if I died tomorrow, what would I regret about my past? At this stage in my life, I would clearly regret not getting to live out the rest of my life, but if I reflected backward, what then? Would I regret not seeing family? Not taking the time to develop this or that relationship or this or that skill? Those are the things that I need to pay attention to, especially when creating a budget. If visiting my family is that important, I have to budget that way – fewer nights at a restaurant, refraining from this or that purchase – so that things balance out.

The key, though, is to not dwell on that kind of thinking. If death tomorrow is all you are thinking about, how do you plan for the future? Current sacrifices might seem for naught if you might not get to see the fruit of your labor. For most of us though, even though the journey of life is incredibly uncertain, we must plan and work toward the future. The saddest thing to hear someone say is “I should have done Y or Z ten years ago” when the opportunity has already passed. Time is finite and your ability to take something on might be finite. No one is clairvoyant enough to never have regrets, but this kind of thinking (as I mentioned in my previous post when I talked about my financial goals) is  immeasurably useful in making sure that your budget is working for you.

So, with those two thoughts, we have been slowly reconstituting our lives in a totally different city. It’s been an adventure so far, with more to come, and I look forward to sharing with you!

What helps you set priorities? Both in life and in your budget? 

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