Finish Lines Matter

 DAVID MUNN, CFP

DAVID MUNN, CFP

If you’re a runner, you know the feelings of excitement, encouragement, and relief when the finish line comes into sight at the end of a long race. 

A builder, or craftsman, understands the sense of accomplishment and fulfillment upon the completion of a project. And every student, past and present, can appreciate the celebration of a graduation after years of hard work and study. 

Finish lines matter.  They bring closure to one chapter and the commencement to another.

John D. Rockefeller was once the wealthiest individuals in modern history.  When asked, “How much money is enough money?”  He famously replied, “Just a little bit more.” In other words, his working life--his wealth building--did not have a finish line.  It was arbitrary and endless.

Imagine applying this philosophy to the aforementioned ventures of life.  A race that extends just a little bit farther.  A project that requires just a little more work.  A class that will last just a little longer.

The lack of a finish line robs the participant of accomplishment, rest and, ultimately, enjoyment, because the current endeavor is never enough.  Instead, the continual pursuit of an objective that will never be achieved leads to frustration, discontentment and exhaustion.

Unfortunately, this is the way far too many people approach their finances, especially in lifestyle and income.  Without an end objective in mind, the focus becomes simply, “a little bit (or a lot) more”.

Applying finish lines to each of these financial areas can be extremely liberating and satisfying, much like the completion of a race, project, or academic pursuit.

Lifestyle - Because there is always someone with a more opulent lifestyle, most people will at some point fall into a comparison trap.  Seeing the houses, cars, or vacations of others allows discontentment and envy to take over and become our driving motivation for a pursuit of “more” that will never be achieved.  Comparison rarely enjoys what one has but instead dwells on what someone else has and, consequently, obsesses over what one lacks.

There is nothing wrong with working to afford a particular purchase or lifestyle. But when that goal has been achieved, it will be most satisfying if it is seen as a finish line--even a temporary one--rather than a stepping stone to something bigger or better.   And having an attitude of gratitude for the comforts we are able to enjoy is key to appreciating what has been achieved, without concern or regard for those who may appear to have more.  

Not to mention that research has shown that overindulging on lifestyle expenses often actually leads to lower levels of personal satisfaction and happiness, even when increased levels of debt are not involved (which they often are).  We may attempt to fill a perceived void with physical objects, when the vacuum is itself relational, emotional, or spiritual in nature.

Once a lifestyle finish line has been reached, a greater focused can be placed on savings (if needed) or giving.

Income - Imagine a recent college graduate earning $30,000/yr receives a $20,000 pay raise to $50,000/yr. Now suppose a businesswoman earning $500,000/yr receives the same $20,000 increase.  Who would you expect to gain the most pleasure from their good fortune? The recent, college grad, of course.

Multiple studies over the years have shown that as income increases, individuals gain a correspondingly smaller increase in satisfaction and happiness.  Yet many people will sacrifice relationships, time with friends and family, hobbies, leisure, and personal health just to make more money than they would ever need and will never take the time to enjoy.  They adopt the same attitude of John Rockefeller in their endless pursuit for, “Just a little bit more”.

Conversely, establishing a finish line for income will both motivate hard work and allow the worker to enjoy the accomplishment and fruits of his labor.  Recognizing that earning more income does not necessarily equate to more personal happiness is key to avoiding the discontenment that so often drives the pursuit of “more”.  

Even in our daily lives, we apply finish lines on a regular basis: driving to a destination, eating a meal, having a conversation.  We encourage you to consider how this practice can be applied in your finances. When utilized mindfully, finish lines lead to contentment, balance and satisfaction. I know of nothing more despicable and pathetic than a man who devotes all the hours of the waking day to the making of money for money's sake. John D. Rockefeller

If your only goal is to become rich, you will never achieve it. John D. Rockefeller