Big Financial Decisions- Managing Data and Emotions


    Tracy and I are in the beginning stages of building a new house, and with that a new home office. It is not something that has popped up out of the blue, as you might expect, I am not given to impulse often, and certainly not with something as momentous as a housing change.  Thus the design meeting we have next week is just another chapter in a several year long plan.

    This entire process, unfinished as it is, has been extraordinarily enlightening and helpful upon introspection.  As a financial planner, I feel it has been one of the most educational periods of my career,at least, since the financial crash and the "great recession" over a decade ago.  

    I have plenty to write about if I would take to time to do so. Perhaps I will one day. Today, I will just briefly mention one thing, not so much a surprise, I knew of this objectively, but the experience of it gave me a new appreciation to how clients may receive our advice. There is no amount of data sufficient to remove the emotions of a financial decision.  

    In our case the lack of data is not a problem.  I happen to be pretty good at record keeping and managing our day to day affairs.  Call it an occupational hazard, if you will, but I know what is going one with our finances. 

There is no amount of data sufficient to remove the emotions of a financial decision.

    What I found myself doing, over and over and over is scrubbing the data because my emotions distrusted it.  I found myself doing exactly what I warn out clients about, trying to plan away uncertainty.  You can't, I know that in the head, but the heart, that euphemistic seat of emotion wouldn't stop trying. 

    I even recognized what I was doing yet I persisted. I read books to self medicate my problem.  Wonderful books like Factfulness, Thinking in Bets, The Behavioral Investor, and An Economist Walks Into Brothel to help reel me in, but every weekend, I ran another spreadsheet, evaluated another pay stub, once again explored the impact of tax deferring my retirement contribution versus contributing to my ROTH. I spent all that time, for something we have been planning for, hoping that the uncertainty would dissipate.  It didn't. It hasn't. It will not.

    Life is uncertain. Planning can help build in buffers to mitigate unexpected shocks, but it can not prevent them. Our decision to build a new house was not birth from discontentment or of a pursuit of some extra happiness that was lacking.  It did not originate from some unnamed fear.  It was a recognition that life changes, our current situation, as comfortable as it is, was not sustainable, and at some point life would force a change. As we tell our clients, it is always better to be proactive rather than reactive, and this was our own personal embrace of that advice. 

    Windows of opportunity open and shut throughout life. Tracy and I have worked hard to be in a position where we have the financial ability to choose which of those opportunities to accept and which to decline. All opportunities are not created equal and not every opportunity brings with it the same amount of possibility.  On this occasion, the opportunity and our ability align.  The data says we can do it, the gut feels like we should do it, but the heart still aches.  The heart wants a slam dunk and those, my friend, are three standard deviations out from life's way of working.  

    So we embark on our next risk, a new house and office, not too far from our present one, but still new.  I am working hard to be excited, but in my more honest moments, I am still feel scared.  Scared of the change, scared of what I do not know, even worried about some things I do know.  I can not plan this away, for this is what it means to live. To accept the uncertainty, to take risk, for where there is no risk neither is there reward. 

    And if it all goes to pot, the worst case scenarios all play out, still I am a better planner for it. I can truly look at my clients and honestly say, "yeah, I really do understand."