Understanding why you work, spend and invest will lead you closer to your goals

Knowing the reason for living the financial life you do will help you embrace the process involved in achieving a dream

Illustration by Gary Clement
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"He who has a why can endure any how.” These are the words of German philosopher Frederick Nietzsche.

Know your why, then embrace it fully; I wish someone had pointed this out to me decades ago. What I mean is this: to know the purpose, or reason for, why you work, earn, spend, invest, live where and the way you do.

This thought occurs to me because I recently crossed paths with a few people who tell me they hate where they live. They live where they do because it’s convenient for school runs and work. It means their lives are less fraught, and their time more productive.

Why do you do what you do? Do you know? "To make money" is too vague an answer. It doesn't drill down to your values and unique take on life and success.

They appear to have forgotten their "why" - why they live where they do. What it adds to their life.

Sorting out the why is key for every aspect of life I believe. When it comes to work and finances, it’s crucial. Gosh. I spent decades working for work’s sake with no thought for what I was doing it for – yes to earn, but for what purpose?

Making money is a "what". How you use it to spend or invest is a "why". Why? Because your reasons feed off of your unique take on success.

Financial advisers often ask clients to define their why; what they’re asking is for goals – usually big picture stuff: when do you want to retire, where, how do you want to live? The answers shape your decisions and drive your behaviour – in theory. This information defines the kind of life you build for yourself to get you to your big picture where you can say, ‘I made it’.

The idea is that if you’re crystal clear about what you want out of life, then you’ll endure, put up with, embrace perhaps, the "how do I make it happen". To make it easier to stick to the big picture, ask yourself ‘why’ whenever you’re disgruntled, annoyed, or hate where you live. If you cannot answer the "why" in a convincing manner, or find it isn’t in keeping with the big vision you have for your life, then you’re in the wrong place – for you and your ideal life.

British-American author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek's Ted talk Find Your Why outlines the importance of the "why" factor. In it he takes us through "why, how, what". He talks about how we normally go from the clearest thing – the what - to the fuzziest thing – the why. He points out that great leaders start with the why; the ones who don't make it focus on the what.

The same applies to how we use money and make financial decisions, for example ‘I want a big house’ is a ‘what’. Figuring out why this is the case is key. Mr Sinek repeats the phrase, "people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it". Use this to figure out your financial life, and to get your nearest and dearest on board, making sure everyone is on the same ‘why’ page. People do what they believe, and believe in – if everyone’s on board, decisions will be so much less painful, and you’ll be able to stick to them – happily.

One of the people I know who hates where she lives is doing her place up (after seven years) so she can fall in love with it; I believe she has embraced her ‘why’ but struggles with accepting it.

The other person however, loves harping after what she doesn’t have – and appears not to enjoy what she does have.

It leads to many hours lost searching for an ideal home in an ideal place – that, if attained, will disrupt family life and cost a lot more money - and, possibly, still not make her happy.

Imagine if she broke life down into phases, and then deliberately decided what the priorities of each phase would be, with decisions made around spending and life in keeping with each period’s needs. She’d likely have her big picture ideal home (if it’s really that important) either at a later phase of life, or move her children to a school near to her dream home now.

In her case, I know the latter won’t happen because the school they’re at is the only one she will consider for her offspring. Therefore, just let go and embrace the current reality. Everyone, including her, will be happier as a result.

Why do you do what you do? Do you know? "To make money" is too vague an answer. It doesn’t drill down to your values and unique take on life and success.

Ask yourself "why" often, and make sure you have an answer. It’ll make it easier to follow through with your plans and ensure you embrace the "how".

Nima Abu Wardeh is a broadcast journalist, columnist and blogger. Share her journey on finding-nima.com