By Mary Martin, PhD
My writing career is heavy on a few topics, with the heaviest being the financial and psychological components of money. A series of events in the 1990s brought me to South Florida to collaborate on Sudden Money: Managing a Financial Windfall (Wiley, 2000), and the subsequent 15 years were filled with more than I ever wanted to write—or know—about financial planning as well as what we think about and how we behave around money.
What does the photo of two greyhounds and one fat cat (not to mention a courtyard in need of pressure washing) have to do with my writing career? They’re the perfect examples of something I learned while writing about money: If you want to know what your priorities are, look at where your money is going.
About a decade ago, The Husband and I were childfree, with successful careers that left us with a comfortable amount of disposable income. We were the owners of a spectacular special needs kitty, Emily Fokker (she’s a carrier of Feline Infectious Peritonitis), and we decided to adopt a special needs greyhound. Violet Rays (the red brindle in the photo) was diabetic and her cataracts were maturing so she would either go blind or we would fix her eyes. To make a painfully long story short, there was a year when we spent over $10,000 on Violet’s health. No year was under $3,000. My point is that, other than our mortgage, she was our single greatest expense for much of eight years.
And when we decided to rescue another greyhound, we pursued one without special needs in the event that Violet needed yet more expensive health care. That backfired in a stunning turn of events that required back surgery for the initially healthy second greyhound, Charles Hobson Booger, III.
However, my point with the decision to adopt Charles stands, regardless of what actually occurred. Decisions and priorities usually have financial components, and when they do, those financial components should inform–or even drive–decision making. (Another lesson is to be prepared for the worst by always having an emergency fund.)
When you look at your household’s monthly expenses (you do review them, riiiiiight?), what are the largest single ones? And what percentage of the monthly expenses are they? And what group of expenses is a large percentage? Eating out? Groceries? Car payments?
You might think you have certain priorities and values. But when you look at your monthly expenses, they tell the real story. From fixed expenses that you planned (how much do I want to spend on a mortgage/rent?) to disposable income (how much do I spend on vacations?) to wants versus needs (I need a car, but not a Tesla), to whether or not you are fully insured (which can easily appear to be a waste of money, until you need it), your money reveals an uncomfortable amount of detail about you.
Take a long look at where your money goes. Are you working to support a gadget habit or a shoe habit? Do you have to use credit to pay for your child’s private school tuition yet you seem to have endless funds for weeklong yoga and meditation retreats? If someone were to look at where your money goes and then describe you as a person, would you like that description?
Is what you say about what’s important to you reflected by the various destinations of your money?
Mary Martin, PhD has been writing and editing nonfiction books for 25 years. She lives in South Florida with her husband, their daughter, one retired racing greyhound and one obnoxious cat. Her questionable work-life balance is achieved through constant exercise and meditation. She is the less likable of the Martin sisters.