Your money goals should match your life

Oct 03, 2022
An extract from Jordan Grumet's conversation with Morningstar's director of personal finance Christine Benz, and chief ratings officer Jeff Ptak.

We tend to view money in isolation. But money is so intricate to our sense of worth.

Jordan Grumet, a hospice doctor, has a lot to share when it comes to Work, Money, and Life. What I found particularly interesting is his take on identity and purpose, and how money fits into the entire equation. Read on.  

What you need to understand about purpose.

Working with the dying has really opened my eyes. In the hospice, we not only deal with physically what's happening to them as they get nearer to death, but we try to emotionally help them look back at their life and take stock of what happened. This life review is a process of asking a series of leading questions where you delve into what they accomplished; what they didn't accomplish; what they wished they had tried; what relationships were important in their life; what they still feel like they need to accomplish before they die.

This is something we should all be doing on a regular basis if we want to start understanding what our purpose is.

When you sit down and start talking to them about their lives, at some point, most people say, “I really regret that I never had the energy, courage, or time to dot-dot-dot.” What comes after those dots is your purpose.

Young people need to start asking this one question: What would I regret not having the energy, courage, or time to do?

It can be saving the whales or fighting climate change. It can be something very worldly. It can be something just personal to you, like a black belt in karate.

Purpose can be a lifelong thing, or it can be something that keeps you busy for a year or two and then you move on to something else. The key is to start working on those things that have deep meaning to you now as opposed to putting them off.

You can start with the thought experiment of how you would feel if you were told that you had a set amount of time to live, and then had to decide how to get those things done.

Related Reading: The reason you fail to live within a budget

Identity is a much deeper sense of who you are and what you're about.

A good exercise to try to figure out or start working on your identity is to finish the sentence “I am…”.

The first thing that comes to mind is what you do for a living (I am a doctor, a writer, a journalist). It could then move to relationships (I am a husband, a child, a mother). As you go further, you start mentioning achievements or awards. After doing this long enough, you get the deep answers of what you are and what's important to you.

After asking myself this question over and over again, I concluded that “I am a communicator. I am a podcaster. I am a writer. I am a public speaker.” These things describe more of who I am than vague and general descriptors.

This doesn't happen overnight. It's something you have to ask yourself regularly. You might even have to ask other people how they perceive you and how they see you.

Related Reading: What does it mean to be rich?

Money should be a tool to serve the above, not a goal in itself.

Instead of thinking about what money can do for us to search deeper for our meaning and purpose and connect us to people we love, we look at it as a goal unto itself.

As a result, we worry about our net worth and debate things like safe withdrawal rates and sequence of returns. These are important things, but what we're really doing is talking about our fear of running out of money and how to protect ourselves from that.

We're concentrating on the wrong things. We need to put money back where it belongs, which is as a tool to allow us to achieve those things that have deep meaning to us as opposed to being a goal unto itself.

We can't control everything about our money. We don’t know what's going to happen over the next 10 years in the equity markets. We don't know what unexpected expenses are going to happen that we can't foresee. There's lots of things that happen, for better or for worse, and I think if we focus too much on that "goal of a financial independence number," it leads to fear and worry as opposed to the freedom that we really are looking for.

Related Reading: The ONE reason you fail at saving

Don’t confuse achievement and wealth with meaning and purpose.

I will feel good about life when I get to this job level.

I will be OK once I reach this net worth.

This is low-hanging fruit. It’s simple to say. Easy goals. Maybe not easy to achieve, but at least easy to map out. And we know what to do to get there. It’s hard to face the fact that time on this earth is finite and there are some goals that are deeper than money and achievements. And we may or may not achieve those goals.

Accumulating wealth and achieving success in the workplace is not bad. But one thing I've really learned from the dying is when all of a sudden you're told you only have six months to live, a lot of those low-hanging fruit goals disappear, and you start asking yourself the much deeper questions like, “What did I want to do with my life, and did I achieve that?” I think we're really scared of facing that until we're pushed to. It's important that we start thinking about these things way more early in our trajectory, and then build our financial goals and structure around that to achieve some of those things.

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