I have two young children and one of the most incredible parts of being a dad is how incredibly fast time passes. My wife gets one of those Facebook notifications every so often with a picture from a few years ago and it never fails to make me think it was taken just last week. No matter what anyone with kids tells you, the blending of time is something we just cannot comprehend until we are living in it.
Being a parent has also given me incredible perspective in my “other role”, advising families on their financial lives. I had an epiphany on the things that matter when helping people plan. I call it “Big Picture/Little Things”.
Almost everything in the finance world is built around the BIG PICTURE. Saving for retirement? Yeah, that’s 30 years away. Starting a new job or getting recruited to run the new office in a new city? You may be focusing on taxes and employee benefits and not enough on the small ways that a big change like that will impact your lifestyle. I get calls all the time to help clients and their families figure out the answer to big picture questions. Most of you would guess I only get calls about the stock market or the latest Trump tweet, and yes, that is part of the day. Most of the time, though, those questions are actually just the small talk prelude to a big picture question.
The ultimate big picture question? Will I/we be ok? That is the question that keeps people up at night worrying. Will. We. Be. Okay.
Parenting is also filled with big picture questions. Will my kids be good people? Will they do well in school and make nice friends? What will they grow up to be as adults? Will we be okay as parents? Will. We. Be. Okay.
This is where the discussion shifts from the big picture to the little things. The big picture is what we focus our time on, but it’s the little things that make our life. This is as true in finance as it is in parenting. We absolutely should be thinking about the big things, but not at the expense of the little things.
Case in point - ice cream. My kids love ice cream. Who doesn’t love ice cream? Taking them to DQ for a dipped cone is almost always the highlight of their week. It is a family treat and it costs us about $16 each time we go. We probably spend more time just being a family, sitting in a booth together eating ice cream than we do at any other activity. My wife and I know that ice cream is a key ingredient to building a strong foundation of family with our kids.
Financially, ice cream is a frivolous expense and there are people that would advise me to cut back on “ice cream time” so I can meet my big picture plans. That is just terrible advice because it neglects one of the most important aspects of planning; you have to go through thousands of short-terms to get to the long-term. You have to live your life each and every day on your way to those big picture items. As Sheryl Crow sang, “If it makes you happy, it can’t be that bad.”
This is why I encourage you to plan for the big picture but build a life of little things that bring you joy and happiness. Save what you can to meet your big picture. Spend the rest on the little things. Parent to help your kids understand the big picture. Spend your time doing little things with them that bring them joy and happiness. You may just find out that the big picture isn’t as big as you thought, and the little things are what truly matter to you, your family and your finances.
I will end with this fantastic story about Dr. Alastair McAlpine and his tweet-thread that made me think about the “Big Picture/Little Things”. I hope you read it because if you do, it will certainly make you think too. Now, who’s up for some ice cream?