Striking a Balance

Luke Smith

LIFE IS THE ULTIMATE juggling act. We need to balance work, family, hobbies, friends, money and passions. All play and no work won’t keep the electricity on—but all work and no play will make Jack a crummy dad. To do both, we must have balance.

Balance can be observed in all areas of life. Grass needs water to grow, but too much and it’ll drown. Difficult experiences are hard, but often they make us stronger and wiser. Success is great, but it can make us complacent. Money can be a tool, but it can also become a tyrant. We need sunlight for vitamin D, but we can also get skin cancer from too much.

Balance is especially crucial when it comes to managing time. For everything we say yes to, there’s an equal and opposite no to something else. By deciding to spend an hour watching TV, we say no to reading a book. By deciding to work late every night, we say no to time spent at home. Who’s to say which are the right choices? The point here is that the equilibrium is indisputable—one always comes at the expense of the other. The scale is always balanced.

Money works the same way. If we spend $200 on a white tablecloth dinner at a swanky restaurant, we say no to spending $20 on 10 occasions at our favorite lunch spot. By spending $20,000 on a kitchen remodel, we say no to four $5,000 vacations. A dollar saved today is a rejection to all the options we could have spent it on. Conversely, the more we spend today, the more we sacrifice our future spending power. My contention: The important thing is to focus less on which choices are right or wrong—and more on whether we’re striking the right balance.

If we always live in the now, we won’t be prepared for our future financial needs. On the other hand, if we save every penny and never enjoy ourselves currently, we could leave life on the table. I see it all the time. Folks save their entire life, rarely spending frivolously to enjoy the now. Then retirement rolls around and, three months in, they get a terminal diagnosis.

That’s why I’m a big fan of financial planning and budgeting. If we know how much we need to save to achieve our goals, it makes it more comfortable to freely spend whatever’s left over. If we have a budget with a line item for guilt-free spending, we can enjoy that money without remorse. If we have a big purchase coming up that we save for over time, it’s much less stressful than the alternative—borrowing the money and paying it back.

Sometimes, I believe we can get entrenched in black-or-white, all-or-nothing binary decision making. That’s not how life works. We can take some risk out of a portfolio without selling everything we hold. We can have our favorite overpriced coffee drink and still achieve our financial goals. With planning, we can build a life that delivers what’s important to each of us, both now and in the future.

Luke Smith is a CFP® professional and practicing financial planner. He creates customized financial plans for each family he works with around the country. Luke pursued financial planning to combine his two favorite passions: finance and people. He spends his free time with his wife Heather and their family in Maryland. Outside of work, Luke enjoys the outdoors, golf, reading and writing. You can reach him at Check out Luke’s earlier articles.

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