Excellence is NOT the goal
January 20, 2023 |Scott Kubie
How well do you want to manage your finances? January is resolution time and saving more money often ranks in the top four most popular New Year’s resolutions. To save more money, common resolutions are to track your spending better, cut back on expenses that are too high, and be more careful about money in general.
“Do you want to be very poor, poor, fair, good, or excellent?”
In a Sunday morning class, I asked a group of twenty-somethings how well they wanted to manage their finances and offered a set of choices. “Do you want to be very poor, poor, fair, good, or excellent?”
Most of the group wanted to be excellent or thought excellent was the correct answer. They were surprised when I told them that somewhere between fair and good was generally a better choice. There are three reasons why pushing to “excellent” is further than most people ought to go.
1. Excellent financial management takes too much time. Excellent financial management requires detailed budgets and frequent monitoring. Closely tracking your spending takes time. Analyzing it takes more time. Setting the amounts for each budget category takes even more time. After tracking every receipt for years, my wife and I grouped some major expenses into a general expense category that included gas, food, dining, and household products. The precision in our budget dropped, but the time it took to track those items plummeted. For us, good was better than excellent.
2. Excellent financial management can lead to a risk-averse mentality. When I have sought to be excellent at financial management, wasting money upset me more than it should. Recently, I convinced my family to try a new restaurant in a city we drive through multiple times a year. It was terrible. Most of us didn’t finish our meal. I felt guilty. Yet, the next new restaurant we tried on the same route was good, and we’ll stop there many times. If we weren’t willing to risk wasting some money, we would never be able to enjoy the second restaurant multiple times each year.
3. Excellent financial management leads to money becoming a core part of our identity. What we do shapes who we become, whether tracking our finances or reading our Bible daily. Financial wealth is particularly trapping because it is easy to keep score. The practice of watching our money can cause us to deemphasize relationships with God, family, and neighbors, which are less quantifiable. Paul writes, “Those who want to be rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”1 Timothy 6:9 (NIV).
What we do shapes who we become, whether tracking our finances or reading our Bible daily.
The rich young ruler’s (we’ll call him Rich) interaction with Jesus (Luke 18:18:23) shows how the downsides of excellent financial management are manifested. Rich still desires a connection to God, but money has become part of his identity. He prioritizes it over a relationship with Jesus. Rich is a poor investor as he turns down taking a faith risk and exchanging his wealth for a return that Jesus promises a few verses later that will be many times as large.
Finding the right balance is vital. Craig Groeschel introduced the idea of GETMO at The Global Leadership Summit several years ago. GETMO stands for “Good Enough To Move On.”¹ The concept captures the diminishing returns from being excellent at money. It also recognizes that our time and focus can frequently be better invested in another aspect of life.
Unless you are deeply in debt, rather than aiming for excellence, resolve to be somewhere between fair and good, and put the time into something else, like the next New Year’s resolution on your list.
Scott Kubie, CFA