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My Confession

Don Southworth

I HAVE READ THAT confession is good for the soul. I suspect it’s also good for our financial health—or, at least, I hope so. I have a confession to make as a usually loyal fan, regular reader and occasional contributor to HumbleDollar.

I’ve read less than a dozen of the site’s articles in 2022, and I’ve checked my portfolio just as infrequently. This is a new practice for me. I share it somewhat reluctantly because it may or may not be healthy.

When I was a regularly practicing minister, it was rare when someone came to me to spill their darkest secrets. My religious tradition doesn’t require regular confession.

When I counseled people in financial trouble, one of the first tasks I gave them was to write down everything they earn, spend, owe and own. In every case, I found that sharing honestly was not only good for the soul, but also for just about everything else in their life. Secrets and darkness often destroy; openness and sunlight give life.

As I reflect on why I’ve disengaged from finances this year, I realize I’ve learned some good things—and some not-so-good things. I hope you’ll find a truth or two for yourself in my confession.

Bad news isn’t fun and I avoid it. In years when the financial markets decline, I often stop looking at my portfolio. I do the opposite when the market is booming. Then I may check and recheck my balances multiple times a day.

The bad news is that frequent checking sometimes led me to act impulsively. I’d sometimes sell low or buy during what I thought was a dip. I wish I was more like Warren Buffett, who famously advised, “Be fearful when others are greedy, and greedy when others are fearful.”

Most of the time, unfortunately, I’m not like Warren. By not looking at my portfolio this year, I’ve missed some buying chances. But I’ve also avoided selling in a year when I probably just needed to sit still and be patient.

Greed is good—except when it isn’t. The bear market wasn’t the only reason I’ve stayed away from HumbleDollar and my portfolio this year. Last spring, I finished my third year as a seasonal tax preparer. I continue to learn and enjoy the work—most of the time.

Living with investment accounts, bank statements, W-2s and the other details of people’s financial lives for two months each year puts money front and center in my life. This year, when tax-filing season ended, I went on a two-day silent retreat to rest, meditate, pray and reground myself.

At the CPA practice where I work, the income of the clients is typically higher than my own—and that of most people. I don’t get to meet the folks whose returns I prepare, yet I imagine what their lives are like based on their tax returns and background information.

The financial person in me looks for ways that people can keep and enjoy as much money as they’re legally allowed. What they do with that money is, of course, up to them. The minister and spiritual searcher in me, however, reflects on the value of money, and how we can use it to bring more joy, peace, health and happiness into our lives and into the world.

But it’s also true that not all needs are met. We’re such a rich society, and yet there’s such poverty and despair among us. I wonder how we can justify one rich man spending $44 billion to buy a single company or, for that matter, collectively spending a record $16 billion on elections. I needed a break from the financial industry this year to focus a little more on questions like how much is enough, and how much do I want to share with others.

For me, these questions never get old, although in some years they seem more urgent. Reading and writing about financial struggles and strategies felt too heavy for me in 2022.

Planning and preparing give me options. I’ve been able to consciously disconnect from money this year partly because I have the privilege of knowing so much about it. The lessons I’ve learned over the years—from my experiences and from financial experts like my colleagues at HumbleDollar—taught me how to manage my money in a successful, non-stressful way.

I don’t have to sweat the market’s ups and downs because my wife and I have enough cash set aside to carry us through a minimum of three years. I’ve set up our finances so we don’t need any money from the bond market for at least three years, or from the stock market for at least eight.

This peaceful security is the result of lots of hard work and luck, and some spiritual practices as well. Regular meditation seems to help me focus on today, rather than on what might happen tomorrow.

I’m semi-retired now. Next year, when I turn age 65, I’ll have a myriad of financial decisions to make. I expect I’ll be spending more time with HumbleDollar to learn and share. The conversations and articles here have helped me prepare and be at peace more often than not.

I just hope I won’t forget the lessons I’ve learned by not paying so much attention. My soul feels better now. Thank you for hearing my confession.

Don Southworth is a semi-retired minister, consultant and tax preparer living in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. He recently completed his Certified Financial Planner education. Don is passionate about the intersection between spirituality and money, and he encourages people to follow their callings wherever they lead. Follow Don on Twitter @Calltrepreneur and check out his earlier articles.

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