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The 1 Question You Should Always Ask Yourself Before Making Any Personal Finance Decisions

Jessica Stillman

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Whether you’re aiming to start a business, expand an existing one, retire early, or just upgrade your lifestyle, an essential first step is getting your financial house in order. And there is no shortage of tools out there to help you. A million and one retirement calculators, budget apps, and helpful rules of thumb offer to guide you toward long-term security and success.

Many of them are excellent. But according to a recent interview with Ramit Sethi, finance guru and author of I Will Teach You to Be Rich, you still shouldn’t touch any of them until you’ve done one essential step first.

Your financial goals are probably terrible.

In the interview with The Cut’s Charlotte Cowes, Sethi explains that lots of folks shy away from financial planning because it feels so dour and dreary. There are very few people who like to be lectured about not buying lattes or entering the $1.57 they spent on chewing gum into a spreadsheet. As a result, too many of us ignore money issues or alternate between do-gooder commitment and ostrich-like denial.

If that sounds like you, then you don’t need more information or another tool. What you need, according to Sethi, is a vision of your personal version of financial success. “Most people have never been asked what a rich life looks like to them,” he claims, and when asked, they often give the same simplistic and unsatisfying answers.

Many people will say something like, “I want to do whatever I want,” Sethi reports. But when pressed about what exactly it is they want to do, they can’t answer. Another unlucky bunch just dream about getting out of debt, which is understandable but deeply uninspiring.

Finally, many people have a dollar figure in mind. “I want to have a million bucks,” they’ll tell Sethi, but when he asks “OK, where did that number come from? What does that let you do?” he gets “silence, because of course a million dollars in Brooklyn is different from a million dollars in Kansas City. It’s different if you’re 30 or 60. Most people don’t know what to make of that.”

What you should ask instead.

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Jessica Stillman

Top Inc.com columnist/ Editor/ Ghostwriter. Book lover. Travel fiend. Nap enthusiast. https://jessicastillman.com/