MY WIFE AND I ARE expecting our first baby in March. In preparation, we’re converting what used to be an office into a nursery. We’ve bought a crib, glider chair, curtains and dresser for the new room. But we also needed to find a place to put the desk and furniture that was in the office. We decided to move the office into what is currently a quasi-sunroom.
When we bought the home, our inspector disclosed that the sunroom was likely built by the homeowner and wasn’t up to code. But from what the inspector could tell, the homeowner was quite handy. I didn’t think much of it after that. I should have.
As we started moving office furniture into the sunroom, we realized that the vinyl floor felt soft. A contractor suggested that it was simply improperly installed and that replacing the flooring with some new planks would be fairly easy. He pulled up the vinyl, revealing the subfloor. The dark wood, stained by long-term water exposure, was veined with white mold and soft enough to push your finger through.
“You’ve got a real big problem here,” the contractor pronounced. While he may need some sensitivity training, I don’t think softer delivery would’ve helped much.
My wife got upset, and who can blame her? We have a baby on the way, we didn’t know where water was coming in, there was mold, there was nowhere to put the office stuff and the repair would be costly. This wasn’t good.
“Let’s make a plan to find where the water is getting in, fix it and repair the floor,” I told the contractor.
My wife took me aside later and asked, “How are you so calm about this? This is bad. This is going to be expensive.”
I hadn’t really thought about “how” until she asked. I pondered the issue for a few seconds and then it came to me: “What’s the point of money if not to solve problems? There are plenty of problems that money can’t solve. This isn’t one of them. Money can fix this. We work too hard to spend time getting upset about things we can’t control, but which money can fix.”
Three days later, we got the chance to replay this scene. Our central AC froze up and then melted, creating a large puddle on our bedroom ceiling. But I digress.
Life will throw curve ball after curve ball at us: flat tires, missed opportunities, rotten subfloors, car breakdowns. The list goes on. There are many problems that money can solve. While it may not be the way we want to spend our hard-earned cash, it’s what money is meant for—to solve problems.
But there are also plenty of problems that money can’t solve: lack of purpose, chronic unhappiness, lost loved ones. I believe we should save our worrying and mental focus for these problems, and let money take care of the problems it can solve.
Stress comes for us all, and money stress can be some of the worst kind. My advice: Try to fret less about money. It’s simply a tool—not our life’s purpose.
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 Luke.Smith@Wealthspire.com. Check out Luke’s earlier articles.
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Money is the least common denominator in much of life. It is the way work is translated into products, solutions are applied to problems, disagreements become settlements, and value is established for all sorts of things. When you think about it in that way, it is less the root of all evil than the seed of much good. Don’t invest it with characteristics or morals. It is a tool.
I´ve become a big fan of using money to solve problems since retiring to Mexico a few years ago. I love living here, but the amount of bureaucracy to do even simple things is overwhelming, and it´s much easier to just pay someone to handle such things. In another example, homes here require a ridiculous amount of maintenance, due to the hot, humid tropical climate. So I have a steady stream of friendly workmen who are familiar with my house. I understand not everyone has the luxury of doing this, but as I get further into retirement, I realize that I probably have more money than time. So it makes sense to spend more time enjoying the healthy years I have left, and less time worrying about problems that I can pay someone to fix.
Thanks for sharing this perspective, Luke. My wife and I are also expecting our first kid (May) and we experienced an unexpected financial setback of a similar magnitude. I’ve been feeling pretty down about it even though the only lasting impact will be a slight reduction in our cash savings. Your article was an excellent, encouraging reminder to view money as a tool and not get so worried about hoarding every last dollar. Thank you =)
“Try to fret less about money. It’s simply a tool—not our life’s purpose.”
An admirable attitude, no doubt – if you can afford it. You are in a fortunate position not shared by a lot of people in the US, never mind the rest of the world. Given the research reporting that more than half of Americans live pay check to pay check, I submit that most people are unable to follow your example.
I agree with mytimetotravel. I think sometimes HumbleDollar readers need a little perspective. Most likely the majority of readers are well off. I am puzzled when I read some posts lamenting having to pay the Medicare surcharges. Per Medicare the surcharges affect only 7 percent of (the most affluent) enrollees. I would feel fortunate if I were in that exclusive club, but alas I am not even close.
I think the author’s perspective is quite healthy, and one we should all try to keep in mind.
I’m not sure I agree with your “simply a tool” view of money”, but I think I get your point. Many things in life are far more important.
Don’t feel bad about the house though. When we bought our first house a long time ago there were no inspections. We thought we bought a house built in 1930s then I found the insulation in the walls – newspapers dated 1918. Most of the windows had no sashes and several no glass. We were told the oil burner was new, turned out it was so old it couldn’t be serviced. And it was a converted coal furnace. The lovely fireplace in the dining room turned out to be fake, etc. etc.
I had never lived in a house before and we were newlyweds looking through rose colored glasses.
Congratulations on the new baby, an endless stream of unexpected joy, punctuated by unexpected expenses. Your recent experiences highlight why having extra cash available when we need it can be a steady comfort.