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What’s Your Story?

Jonathan Clements

AS SOMEONE WHO HAS marched through life—and made money along the way—by putting one word in front of another, maybe it’s no great surprise that I’m a big fan of writing things down.

My challenge to you: Follow the example of the 30 HumbleDollar writers who contributed essays to the book My Money Journey, and devote a few thousand words to detailing your financial journey, including your mistakes, triumphs and the lessons you learned along the way.

For some, the writing will come easily, while for others it’ll be a daunting exercise. But either way, I think it’s worth the effort—because it can help us answer three crucial questions.

What helped and what hurt our financial progress? Our recollections fade over time and our memories are often unreliable, so answering this question may be harder than it seems. Still, I believe it’s instructive to look back and think about who and what influenced our financial journey.

We’re talking about factors such as our parents, mentors, luck, health, hard work, skill and thrift. And there are, of course, times when the absence of such things likely set us back. Perhaps we suffered ill-health, or we got unlucky in our choice of employer, or we discovered we didn’t really know what we’re doing.

My hunch: Those who have enjoyed a reasonable degree of financial success will find that the key contributors to their wealth weren’t big career breaks or a fabulous investment or two, but rather the prosaic business of collecting an income over three or four decades without too much interruption, and then regularly socking away a healthy chunk of that income.

What do we value? An honest assessment of our financial life won’t just offer pointers on what we should or shouldn’t do in the years ahead. It’ll also tell us about what we value, and that can help us to be wiser in our future spending and investing.

As we look back on our financial journey, have we been mostly concerned with building wealth or avoiding poverty? When we look at how we use our money—what we spend our dollars on, how much we save, and how much we give away and to whom—what does it say about what we consider important?

What do we want future generations to know about our life? There is—for better or worse—almost no aspect of our life that doesn’t somehow involve money. That means that, when we write about our financial journey, we inevitably write about our life’s journey.

What would you like your children, nieces, nephews and later generations to know about your time on this earth? What can you tell them that might be useful for their financial journey?

Our only immortality in this world will be the memory of others. I know a fair amount about my grandparents, but very little about my great-grandparents. Their stories, alas, are now largely lost. Would I like to read their words describing their financial—and life—journey? You bet.

A suggestion: As a first step toward writing about your financial journey, consider drafting your own obituary. That’ll help you lay out the basic facts of your life, and it’ll be useful to your heirs after your death. Stash your obituary with your estate-planning documents, and be sure to specify where you’d like it to appear. What if you decide to take the next step, and write a longer essay describing your financial and life journey? Include a printout with your other important papers.

If you’re happy with the essay and would like to see it appear on HumbleDollar, also consider emailing a copy to me at jonathan@jonathanclements.com. I’m not making any promises. But if I think your essay is worthy of publication—meaning it’s well-written, honest rather than self-congratulatory, entertaining and potentially helpful to others—I’ll let you know. Before you hit send, be sure to review the site’s guidelines for contributors, including HumbleDollar’s style guide.

This, incidentally, was also an offer I made to readers of My Money Journey. Since the book’s appearance, the site has published three essays from readers—Mike Finley’s Free to Give, T.V. Narayanan’s Come a Long Way and E. Smith Smallwood’s My Savings Journey.

Jonathan Clements is the founder and editor of HumbleDollar. Follow him on Twitter @ClementsMoney and on Facebook, and check out his earlier articles.

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