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Avoiding Financial Time Travel


the present moment is all that exists right now
❝The present moment is the only one over which we have dominion.❞ -Thich Nhat Hanh

It's 2003, and I'm in a finance class in college. Today we are learning about the power of compound interest. I've known about compound interest before but never really leaned into it like we're doing in class today. We learn about two different hypothetical investors. Amy starts investing $100 per month when she's 20 years old and stops saving when she is 30 years old. Bobby, on the other hand, wants to live his life in his twenties, so he doesn't invest anything until he's 30 years old, at which time he saves $100 per month all the way until retirement. By the time they retire, Amy has only put away $12,000, while Bobby saved $60,000. But, because Amy got a 10-year head start, she has almost twice as much money as Bobby.


Upon hearing this, I feel a lot of regrets. How stupid could I be? I started working when I was 14 years old. Most of the money I've made is gone, wasted on things that I don't even have anymore. I could have been investing for 10 years by now. I'm a fool.


Two years later, I am done with college and applying for jobs. The jobs I'm looking at come with salaries that are more than I've ever made before. Part of me feels successful in being able to make this kind of money. As I get closer to getting offers, though, I start to worry about how I'm supposed to handle this much money. I have a lot of debt from college, and I have an old car and college clothes. What are people at my new company going to think of me? Because I have so much debt, I can't buy new clothes and a new car. I feel really nervous about what other people - whom I've never met - will think of me.


I have direct experience with financial time travel. I was stuck in the past, wishing I would have done something differently and save more. I was stuck in the future, worried about what people would think about my financial situation and my financial decisions. In both cases, I clouded my mind with negative emotions and couldn't appreciate where I was. I couldn't appreciate the fact that I was in college learning the power of compound interest so that I could apply that going forward. I couldn't appreciate the fact that I was getting a job that came with the highest salary I've made at that point. My inner critic got the best of me.


Wandering Minds


Money is stressful, and it's made more stressful by our own minds. We, as humans, are constantly lost in thought. That means that we are talking to ourselves all the time, without knowing that we're talking to ourselves. Our heads are full of constant chatter throughout the day.


We inherited our genes from our ancestors. If you follow that chain far enough back, you'll find that our distant ancestors had to pay careful attention to the negative aspects of the world. As a result, our minds even today have a built-in negativity bias. We are wired to notice and pay attention to the negative aspects of our experience.


Since our constant chatter is primarily negative, people will refer to this as an inner critic. Your inner critic is the voice in your head that tells you you should be worried, afraid, and shameful.


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